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Many drivers likely aren’t familiar with the term “livery,” but all have undoubtedly seen one on the road or in popular media, from TV shows to motorsports events. So, what is a car livery, how are they applied, and what are their many uses?

What is a livery, and how is it different from a car livery?

The term livery can take on several meanings, and not just an adjective to describe something that looks like, well, a liver.

According to Merriam-Webster, the noun livery originates from Latin as liberare, or “to free.” Its original use was used to describe provisions, or effectively, an allowance, to servants. However, its automotive-related use is based on more recent use of the livery, which is a distinctive color, pattern, or clothing type, such as a uniform, say, one worn by a butler or member of law enforcement.

As such, a car livery is based on “an identifying design” used on the exterior of a vehicle. Therefore, a vehicle livery can be used for a wide number of applications; though typically, they are used to either make identifying vehicles easier, including emergency vehicles like police cruisers or ambulances, or to identify a car for a specific company or to advertise.

Considering a car livery describes identifying characteristics of the vehicle, company, team, etc., a livery can take on many forms. Perhaps the most popular modern liveries are vinyl wraps applied to vehicles. These vinyl films are applied directly onto a car’s bodywork and can cover either small sections or the entire exterior.

A car livery may also take the form of magnets applied to a car’s bodywork, painted onto the exterior, or any other form of giving the car a specific design, according to 5 Diamond. Ultimately, any vehicle that has a distinctive design, no matter how the design is applied, can be considered to have a livery.

What are the uses of a car livery?

Car liveries have various applications, many of which can be seen on the road.

One of the most recognizable liveries is those applied to emergency vehicles or other vehicles used by government agencies. Typically, emergency vehicle liveries include reflective materials to make them easier to spot at night.

Ambulances, police cruisers, various types of fire trucks, and vehicles are made easily identifiable by specific liveries. Depending on where you live, some regulations could be in place that require specific identifying marks to be present on emergency vehicles. However, as most have seen while traveling, emergency vehicle liveries can be distinctive to specific municipalities, counties, or states.

Car liveries are also widely used to identify company vehicles and to serve as advertising space. Often, these liveries include the company name, contact information, services, and a unique color or pattern scheme that makes them easily recognizable as belonging to a particular company.

One popular example is the “yellow cabs” of the United States.

Motorsports fans are likely to know the term car livery more than the non-fans, as liveries have essentially been used on racing cars since the advent of motorsport. Originally, racing car liveries sported national colors; for instance, British vehicles were identifiable as they’d be painted green, and Italian models were red. However, as sponsorships and advertising became commonplace in motorsports, so too did more intricate liveries that helped specific vehicles, teams, or manufacturers stand out.

Liveries are used to just about all modern racing cars. In some forms of motorsport, such as F1 and typically sports car racing, a single livery is used across all vehicles from the same team. In NASCAR, however, each car typically has a unique livery, which could change week-to-week depending on the main sponsor for a vehicle during a specific race.

Of course, not all car livery applications are commercial in their intent. Vehicle owners can also apply liveries to their rides to make them stand out or otherwise make them recognizable.

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