The rate of car ownership in the U.S. has been trending upward.
We found that 91.55% of households reported having access to at least one vehicle in 2020, up from 90.82% in 2015.
Some states, however, are bucking this trend with a decline in the number of registered vehicles in the same period.
National vehicle ownership statistics
According to an analysis of 2020 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey data, 8.45% of U.S. households don’t have access to a vehicle — a decrease of 0.73 percentage points from 2015.
Northeastern states, including New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey, tend to have the lowest car ownership rates per household. For example, 29% of New York households don't have access to a car — behind only the District of Columbia at 35%.
States with lowest rates of car access
% of homes without a car
|1||District of Columbia||35%|
Total number of registered vehicles per state
California, Texas and Florida lead the nation with the most registered vehicles, accounting for 26% of the U.S. total. This is fitting, considering these states make up 27% of the U.S. population.
Oklahoma, South Dakota and Montana saw the biggest increases in vehicle registrations from 2015 to 2020. These states have logged increases ranging from 19% to 25% during this span. On the other end of the spectrum, Vermont saw the biggest drop in registrations — decreasing 7% over the same period — one of only 12 states to see a dip.
# of registered vehicles 2020
# of registered vehicles 2015
% change in registered vehicles
|District of Columbia||356,537||322,929||10.4%|
Registered vehicles per capita by state
Great Plains states Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota have the largest rates of vehicle registrations per capita, according to 2020 Census Bureau figures.
Montana has 184 vehicles registered per 100 people in the state — the most in the nation.
That's nearly two vehicles per resident, and more than triple the rate in New York, which has only 58 registered vehicles per 100 residents.
About 10 states have more registered vehicles than people, while New York and the District of Columbia are the only places to contain fewer than 60 cars per 100 residents.
Metros with the highest rates of vehicle ownership
Of the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas (or metros) in the U.S., Raleigh, N.C., has the highest percentage of households with access to at least one vehicle.
However, it's not the metro with the most vehicles per household — that's Riverside, Calif. There, the average household owns 2.14 vehicles — one of only three (joining Salt Lake City and San Jose, Calif.) with more than two cars per household.
# of vehicles per household
% of households with access to a vehicle
|8||Oklahoma City, OK||1.89||95.1%|
|10||Salt Lake City, UT||2.04||94.7%|
|11||San Jose, CA||2.04||94.7%|
|12||San Diego, CA||1.96||94.6%|
Figures come from 2020 U.S. Census American Community Survey.
Metros in the Northeast — including New York, Boston and Philadelphia — rank lowest for vehicle ownership.
New York ranks as the metro with the lowest rate of vehicle ownership, with 31% of households lacking access to a car.
The low rate of car ownership in New York could be partially due to its sophisticated public transportation network as well as the high cost of car insurance in the city — among the highest in the nation.
Data on vehicle registrations by state is from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration. To estimate state- and metro-level car ownership, we utilized U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey five-year estimates for 2016-2020 and 2011-2015. We considered households that reported having access to five or more vehicles in their home as having five vehicles.