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In the United States and other wealthy countries, it’s easy to take owning and driving a car for granted. It’s such a common thing that many of us could never imagine life without our vehicle. However, for most of the world, owning a car is a luxury. The number of people worldwide who own a car is much less than you might expect. 

The percentage of people in the world that own a car is very low

America grew up with the automobile, with many cities across the country built around roadways. Cars are a big part of everyday life in the U.S., whether driving to work, running errands, or traveling on long trips. For many, the vehicle that one drives also forms an integral part of their identity. 

However, in much of the world, the percentage of people who own and drive a car is very low. Any vehicle is a luxury for most people on the planet. The expense of buying one, along with ownership costs such as fuel, maintenance, and insurance, is not something that is affordable or makes much financial sense. 

Furthermore, many other countries have better public transportation. Additionally, the population centers are less spread out than in America. This makes riding the bus, a train, a bicycle, or walking a more practical alternative compared to those in the U.S.

An estimated 18% of the world’s population own a car

In 2022, there were around 1.446 billion cars in the world, as detailed by PD Insurance. That’s a massive number of vehicles, right? However, the global population is multiple times larger, surpassing 8 billion in 2022. This means that only a tiny fraction of the world’s population owns a car. 

Based on these figures, an estimated 18% of people in the world own a car. This equates to around one out of every six people. 

However, the number of people who own a car is likely even lower. For one, some people own two or more vehicles. Also, there are a considerable number of fleet vehicles, such as long-haul semi-trucks and delivery vans. There are also many rental cars. Accounting for all these things, the percentage of the world’s population owning a vehicle is probably closer to 10% — or around one in 10 people. 

What country has the highest percentage of car owners?

Unsurprisingly, among major countries, the U.S. has the highest percentage of car owners in the world, as detailed by Hedges Company. On a per capita basis, the U.S. has 0.89 cars per person. That just edges out New Zealand (0.88).

However, only one country officially has more than one vehicle per person: the Republic of San Marino (1.3), a tiny nation surrounded by Northwest Italy. However, many of these cars are not actually in San Marino. The country is a tax haven, so many drivers in Italy and other European countries buy and register their vehicles in San Marino — but keep them elsewhere. 

The Principality of Monaco, another tiny nation located on the French Riviera, also comes close to one car per person (0.91). Additionally, there’s Andorra, a small principality on the border between Spain and France. As another tax haven, Andorra sometimes makes the list of countries with more than one vehicle per person. However, the vehicle registration data in Andorra is challenging to obtain, so we can’t officially verify its percentage of car ownership. Overall, the countries with the highest per capita numbers of cars are in North America, Europe, and the Southwest Pacific (Australia and New Zealand).

Regarding the highest number of cars, though, China has the most, with 302 million vehicles, followed by the U.S. with 267 million. However, the population of China (1.412 billion) is significantly higher than the U.S. (332 million), so the Asian country has a much lower per capita number of vehicles (0.21).

What country has the lowest percentage of car owners?

The country with the lowest percentage of car owners is the Democratic Republic of Congo — with only 0.004 cars per capita. This translates to only one car for every 250 people that live in the African country. Also, Africa ties with Antarctica for the continent with the lowest per capita number of vehicles (0.05).

So, if you drive and own a car, consider yourself lucky. You’re in a small minority. By global standards, you are wealthy if you own a car, even if it’s an economy or budget model.