What if you never—ever—had to wash your car again?
That’s not as outrageous an idea as it sounds. You may one day be able to drive through a mud puddle or park under a bird-filled tree and have your car remain sparkling clean. And it would all be thanks to your car paint.
Paint that helps a car clean itself is just one of the many innovations happening in this arena. Driven by technological breakthroughs and increased concern for the environment, manufacturers are producing innovative new car coatings that last longer, keep the environment safer and look cooler.
Kirsten Keenan, design director at Trichromatic Studio and an expert in color, material and finish design, believes that car paint has advanced to the point where it’s basically colorful tech. “Exterior paint is evolving into almost ‘smart paint,’” she says. The result? Saving time, helping the environment and making driving even more fun.
While you’re imagining what you’ll do with the time you won’t spend washing your car, check out the cool innovations happening in the world of auto coating. Trust us, it’s more interesting than watching paint dry.
Self-Cleaning Car Paint
How does a car clean itself? By not getting dirty in the first place. “Self-cleaning” car paint features a layer of microscopic “peaks” that make it very hard for water or dirt to cling to the surface. Also known as “superhydrophobic,” this paint repels moisture just like the coating on a nonstick skillet. “Think of it like a stain-resistant suit,” says Keenan.
Status: Introduced in concept cars in 2014, self-cleaning paint is still a few years away from being on production vehicles.
Color-Changing Car Paint
Refractive paint pigment, which causes the car’s apparent color to change depending on the light source and viewing angle, has long been popular with show cars and custom-car manufacturers. The next development in color-changing car coatings may be thermochromic paint, which changes color depending on the temperature.
Status: Not yet on the market for consumers.
Scratch-Eliminating Car Paint
Scratches may also become a thing of the past. Coatings made from oxetane and chitosan—derived from chitin, the material found in crab shells—react to the sun’s ultraviolet light and stitch themselves back together when scratched, leaving no sign of the original damage.
Status: Still in the development phase.
Environment-Friendly Car Paint
For environment-conscious consumers, waterborne paints have been replacing solvent-based paints because they possess fewer toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Even better, Keenan says, is powder coating, an affordable and environment-friendly approach to painting your car that uses free-flowing powder instead of traditional paint. It’s already popular for painting rims, and Keenan hopes it will eventually be used to coat a car’s entire exterior.
Status: Available now for certain applications.
Beat-the-Heat Car Paint
You get into your parked car on a summer day—and the interior is so hot, you can’t even touch the steering wheel. Sound familiar? You may one day be able to remedy the issue with heat-reflecting paint, which mixes traditional paint materials with potassium silicate, causing the paint to bounce UV rays off rather than absorbing them. This will give you relief from the heat even when the air-conditioning is off, says Keenan, which will help save money on gas.
Status: Available now in some markets.
Read More: Once you’ve chosen the perfect paint for your car, protect it by following these Surprising Car-Washing Dos And Don’ts.