How Many Americans Own Cars?

Last modified: March 20, 2021

How many Americans own cars? Are there any US households that don’t? What are the best-selling cars in the country?

Given America’s legendary love for cars, questions like these are common. Other countries with rich automotive histories, such as Germany, Italy, and Japan, indeed are home to world-famous car makers, but Americans have a special relationship with cars as well. 

From providing employment for millions of people to playing an iconic role in Hollywood classics, car ownership has been one of the mainstays of American life for a century. This article looks at this bond between Americans and their automobiles by covering all the relevant information on vehicle ownership in the US. Take a look.

Top editor’s picks

  • In 2019, the state with the highest number of cars was Georgia, with 34,4 million registrations.
  • The first car to find widespread acceptance was the Model T developed by Henry Ford in 1908.
  • According to Hedges & Company, there were 284.5 million registered vehicles in the US in 2019. This number is projected to go up to 287.3 million in 2020. Moreover, about 35% of all registered vehicles in the US are cars.
  • The average age of a new car buyer has increased over the past decade and is currently at around 53 years. If new SUV buyers were divided by age group, those at 65 or above account for 31% of purchases, those between 55 and 64 account for 26%, those between 25 and 54 account for 43%, and those aged 25 and less account for just 1%.

Car Ownership in the US 

In 2019, the state with the highest number of cars was Georgia, with 34,4 million registrations. That is a drastic change compared to 2018 when the state with the highest number of automobiles in 2018 was California, with over 15 million registrations. The states at the second and third positions, with nearly half this number, were Texas and Florida. These two had about 8.2 million and 8 million automobile registrations, respectively, according to the 2018 data. 

On the other end of the range, the states with the lowest number of automobile registrations as of 2018 were Alaska (183,270), Wyoming (203,546), and Vermont (218,302). While this data does not directly reflect the number of cars in the US, it can be a proxy for understanding the pattern of ownership of cars across US states.

You would note that the overall number of registrations matches the population numbers to a large extent. California, Texas, and Florida are the states with the highest populations. Wyoming, Vermont, and Alaska have the lowest. The higher the population of a state, barring any major differences in economic status, the higher the number of cars the state is likely to have.

There are other factors that could account for the pattern seen in the number of cars in the United States. These include the income levels of the people residing in the state, the condition of public transport, and historical or cultural trends. 

These patterns are also reflected in the variation of per capita ownership of cars across the states, which are quite different from the data on absolute numbers of vehicles per state. Here, states like Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana rank at the top, while Maryland, New Jersey, and New York are among the lowest in terms of US vehicles per capita

As an example of how these trends play out, let us consider New York and Florida, states that are very close in terms of their populations. However, New York has nearly half (4.7 million) the number of vehicles registered compared to Florida. One major reason could be that New York City and other urban areas in New York have more extensive use of public transport, as well as higher costs of keeping a car.  

 

When Did Cars Become Common

While cars have been around since the late-1800s, the early versions, including the gasoline-powered automobile developed by Karl Benz, the German inventor, in the 1880s, were expensive and used only by some affluent people.  

The first car to find widespread acceptance was the Model T developed by Henry Ford in 1908. Regarded as the first affordable automobile, this product from the Ford Motor Company made car travel possible for the average middle-class American. Ford produced the Model T from 1908 to 1927, and by the 1920s, cars became common across the US.  

How Many Registered Vehicles Are There in the US

In the US, all passenger and commercial vehicles intended to be used on the road need to be registered with the concerned state’s department of motor vehicles. Vehicles that are not meant for use on public roads, such as tractors and those used only on private property, are sometimes exempt from registration. 

According to Hedges & Company, there were 284.5 million registered vehicles in the US in 2019. This number is projected to go up to 287.3 million in 2020. Moreover, about 35% of all registered vehicles in the US are cars. 

How Many Cars Are Allowed per Household? 

There is no limit on the number of cars a household can own in the US. If there is space on your property for 20 cars, you are free to own as many. However, there are restrictions in some areas on parking your car outside your property, especially on public thoroughfares. 

In the US, the average number of cars owned per household is about 1.88, according to the US Department of Transportation. This figure has remained more or less constant since the late 1990s.

How Many Americans Own 3 Cars or More? 

About 24% of American households own 3 or more cars or other light vehicles. This includes 3.4% that own more than 5 vehicles. 33.5% own 1 car, 33.1% own 2, while there are also close to 9% of households that don’t own even a single car. 

Among households that do not own a car, most are those where the members are older citizens who do not form a part of the current labor force. Only 3% of households with workers in the US have no cars. 

What Percentage of Americans Own a Car?

Note that the data on the number of households owning a car is different from that on the number of individuals owning a car. While conclusive data on the latter is more difficult to come by, according to a Pew Research Center survey from 2015, 88% of Americans own a personal car or belong to a household that does. This places Americans at the second position in terms of the percentage of citizens owning a car, next only to Italians, 89% of whom reported owning a car. 

How Many Americans Own Smart Cars? 

Smart cars (not to be confused with a discontinued car brand called Smart) are vehicles that can sense their environment and move safely with little or no human input. Such cars are variously referred to as autonomous vehicles (AV), self-driving cars, connected and automated vehicles, driverless cars, robocars, and robotic cars. The autonomous system in these cars works on the basis of different sensors, such as radar, sonar, GPS, and odometry. 

The Society of Automotive Engineers has divided cars into six categories based on smart capabilities, from Level 0 to Level 5. Currently, US cars from Level 0 to Level 2 are widely available. However, truly self-driving cars, which fall under Levels 3, 4, and 5 are still not available commercially.  

As of 2019, self-driving car statistics show that more than 1,400 self-driving cars, trucks, and other vehicles were being tested on the roads across US states by more than 80 companies, with a significant chunk of this testing taking place in California. Some of these companies, such as Alphabet’s Waymo and GM Cruise, have clocked more than 25,000 km of hands-free rides in testing. While, in the past, there have been projections of 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020, recent data shows that it will take some more time for this to become a reality. 

There are no publicly owned smart cars in the US currently. A late-2019 survey by Adobe Analytics does show that about 40% of adult Americans are interested in buying self-driving cars, pointing to potentially significant sales of these cars whenever they become available. 

How Many Americans Own Electric Cars? 

While electric vehicles (EVs) have been around since the mid-19th century, they have really become popular in their present form since the early 2000s. The resurgence of electric cars from this period is owed to technological developments, increased focus on renewable energy, and government incentives. 

In the US, there are about 1.3 million electric cars, as of 2019. In 2019, electric cars accounted for close to 2% of the overall car sales in the country, with California seeing an 8% share. Note that these figures include both all-electric and plug-in hybrid varieties of electric cars. 

The most recent data on how many cars are sold in the US each year shows that the top electric car models in the country are Tesla Model 3, Tesla Model S, Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius Prime, Ford Fusion Energi, and BMW i3. According to electric car statistics, the most popular electric car maker in the US is Tesla, selling nearly 10 times the number of electric cars sold by its nearest competitor. 

There were around 5.5 million electric cars worldwide by 2019, and EVs accounted for 2.5% of the total vehicles sold in a year. By 2030, there are expected to be 125 million EVs globally. China is the biggest market for EVs, followed by the US.

US Car Owner Demographics 

By age: The average age of a new car buyer has increased over the past decade and is currently at around 53 years. If new SUV buyers were divided by age group, those at 65 or above account for 31% of purchases, those between 55 and 64 account for 26%, those between 25 and 54 account for 43%, and those aged 25 and less account for just 1%. 

Data on car ownership by age shows that this division is 27%, 21%, 51%, and 1%, respectively for new sedans, and 32%, 22%, 46%, and less than 1% for electric vehicles. 62% of all new cars in the US are bought by Baby Boomers, up from just 31% in 2001. 

On the other hand, in the 18 to 34 age group, the percentage of new auto registrations have fallen from 24% in 2001 to 13%, per the latest car ownership statistics in the US

By income: Households with income under $50,000 per year (generally single-person households) and over $100,000 account for most new car purchases in the US across different car categories. The average buyer of a new car earns about $80,000 per year. The average income of a used car buyer is about $48,000 per year. Moreover, homeowners tend to constitute more than 90% of new passenger vehicle buyers.

By gender: Men account for about 56% of new sedan and SUV purchases but over 85% of new truck purchases. The percentage of make buyers for electric vehicles is also much higher at 75%. 

By race: 19% of African Americans and 14% of Hispanic Americans report living in a household without access to a car. On the other hand, only 4.6% of households with white American members have access to no car

The fact that Black and Hispanic households are much likelier to lack access to a vehicle reflects the disparity in income levels between communities to some extent. For new car purchases in the US, while white Americans account for nearly 65% of the buyers, Hispanic Americans account for about 12%. African and Asian Americans make up less than 15% of new car buyers.   

 

Some Interesting US Car Usage Statistics 

  • The Ford F-Series trucks were the best-selling cars in the US in 2019. 

US auto sales statistics show that a total of 896,526 vehicles in this series were sold in the country in 2019, beating the likes of Ram pickups, Chevrolet Silverado, Toyota RAV4, and Honda CR-V, the other top-selling cars. 

The F-Series of trucks has been in production since 1948 and has been the highest-selling vehicle overall in the US since 1981, generating more than $40 billion in annual revenue for Ford. Apart from being the most popular car in America, the F-Series is also the top-seller in Canada.

  • The average price of a new car in the US was $34,217 in October 2019. 

This was a new record for the average price of a new car, the previous one being $33,924, set in December 2018. Despite a continuous decline in sales volume, the reason for this increase in average price is that customers in the US are buying more trucks and SUVs than smaller cars. The average new car price, not counting trucks and SUVs, is well under $30,000, but the sales of these cars dropped 7% between October 2018 and October 2019.

  • In the US, the New York-Newark-Jersey City metropolitan area has the highest percentage (30%) of households with no access to vehicles. 

Among the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the US, the NY-NJ-PA area also has the lowest number of vehicles per household at 1.24, according to car ownership statistics by city. The highest number of vehicles per household (2.00) is in the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area in California, while the metro area with the lowest percentage of households with vehicle access is Raleigh, North Carolina. Only 4.22% of households do not have vehicle access here.

  • The average monthly cost of owning a new car in 2018 was $878. 

This is why, as shown by car ownership statistics, US Millennials in large numbers are choosing not to purchase cars, given the rising cost of living and the growing cost of education. The cost estimation includes certain assumptions such as the car running for 15,000 miles per year and annual registration renewal costing $145. 

The cost includes expenses on gas, insurance, maintenance and repairs, registration, taxes, and miscellaneous items. For a used car, data show that the monthly cost under the same assumptions was $727. 

  • More than 30% of all new vehicle transactions in the US are leasing. 

Leasing cars, which is cheaper than buying them, has consistently gained popularity since the 2008 recession, new vehicle lease registrations rising from just over 1 million in 2008 to nearly 4.5 million in 2016. 

Comparison of data on how many Americans own cars with how many choose leasing shows that the trend is even more obvious among Millennials, one-third of whom prefer leasing over buying. 

Reasons for this trend include fast-evolving automotive technology making cars obsolete quickly, the popularity of ridesharing, and notably lower costs involved in leasing. The average monthly payment for a new leased vehicle in 2019 was $536, with figures much lower for sedans. 

US Car Ownership Data and Its Correlation to Key Industries 

The changing patterns of ownership of cars in the US are expected to impact-related industries, as well. For the players negatively affected by these changes, the only option is to adapt to these trends quickly or be left behind.

  • Ridesharing Industry:  In the US, as in many other countries, the emergence of the ridesharing industry has negatively affected ownership rates. Multiple studies show that people, especially Millennials, in large numbers now prefer living without a car or delay the purchase of one because easily available ridesharing services serve most needs fulfilled by a personally owned car while doing away with hassles like paperwork, regular maintenance, etc. 

Only about half of US Millennials get their driver’s license now before they turn 18; more than 20% of people in the 18-64 age group say they plan to delay buying a car, and the percentage of households with two or more vehicles per household is expected to come down to 43% by 2040 from the current 57%.

  • Auto Insurance Industry: There are three main car ownership-related trends that will shape the near future of the auto insurance industry. The potential introduction of autonomous cars is expected to make driving safer, thus leading to a loss of business for insurers. 

The second trend is the growing popularity of mobility-on-demand. It is reducing the number of car owners in the US.

A third trend that is likely to affect the insurance industry in a major way is the increasing presence of OEMs as insurance providers.

These three factors are expected to cause the auto insurance industry to shrink by 70% or $137 billion by 2050, according to KPMG.

  • Manufacturers and Dealerships: Reduced ownership rates, along with greater price transparency driven by online players, are expected to lower car prices in the USA and put margin pressures on car manufacturers and dealers. 

According to a report by McKinsey, profit margins for dealers are expected to decrease by 9% on average in the next 10 years. An increase in the number of cars in the US and a rise in the price of car parts will offset some of this drop in profit margin, as dealers will be able to make money through maintenance services and selling car parts. 

However, as autonomous cars become popular, the frequency of maintenance and repair is expected to come down, further depressing the profit margins for dealers. 

Final Word 

The information covered in this article on how many Americans own cars shows that while the American love for cars is not going away anytime soon, there are certain fundamental changes occurring in car ownership. These changes also affect several related industries and will require the entire ecosystem—from OEMs and dealers to insurers and other service providers—to adapt quickly to remain relevant.

FAQs

Does everyone in America own a car?

No, there are about 9% of households in America that do not own a car.

How many people drive in the US?

As of 2019, there are about 227.8 million licensed drivers in the US. 

How many cars in the US are sold each year?

A little over 4.7 million passenger cars were sold in the US in 2019. Total car and light truck sales were around 17 million, which is more than 22% of the total units sold worldwide.

 

Are there more cars than people in America?

While the US has one of the highest numbers of motor vehicles per capita in the world (about 840 per 1,000 people), the overall number of cars is still less than the country’s population. Of course, as the above article shows, the data on how many Americans own cars varies considerably based on the particular state and city. 

For instance, there are some states, such as Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota, where the per capita availability of cars is above 1, while there are others like New York and New Jersey, where it is closer to 0.5.