Motor vehicles

This section provides the latest statistics on vehicle numbers and the average age of vehicles in New Zealand.

Motor vehicles produce air pollution, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and other gases. These air pollutants can have adverse health effects, including cardiovascular (heart) and respiratory (lung) diseases.

Diesel vehicles, older cars and cars not well maintained tend to produce more emissions.  Recent evidence also shows that diesel engine fumes can cause lung cancer [1].

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More vehicles on our roads
Vehicle emissions have dropped
New Zealanders have a high car ownership rate
Road transport pollution was associated with about 250 deaths in 2006

More vehicles on our roads

The number of vehicles on the road has increased over time, to 3.67 million vehicles in 2014 [2]. About 78 percent of these vehicles (2.88 million) were light passenger vehicles (such as cars and light vans).

Figure 1

See information about this data below

Diesel vehicles make up about 17 percent of all light vehicles in 2014, and almost 100 percent of trucks and buses. Diesel vehicles produce more particulate matter (measured as uvSmoke) and nitrogen dioxide than petrol vehicles, but less carbon monoxide [3]. 

Vehicle emissions have dropped

From 2001 to 2012, estimated emissions from on-road vehicles decreased for all key pollutants [4]. Since 2001, emissions had dropped:

  • 39 percent for carbon monoxide
  • 36 percent for nitrogen oxides
  • 25 percent for PM10
  • 26 percent for PM2.5
  • 49 percent for volatile organic compounds.

This is despite an 11 percent increase in vehicle use over this time. These emission reductions are due to improvements in fuel quality and in our vehicle fleet.

New Zealanders have a high car ownership rate

In 2014, New Zealand had 744 light vehicles per 1000 people, higher than the previous peak in 2007 (734 light vehicles per 1000 people)

Internationally, New Zealand has a high number of passenger cars per capita, compared with similar countries. In 2011, New Zealand's car ownership rate per capita was similar to Australia, and higher than the United Kingdom.

Figure 2

In New Zealand, light passenger vehicles were 14.3 years old on average, and light commercial vehicles 13.2 years old, in 2014. Older cars tend to release more harmful vehicle emissions [5]. In 2011, New Zealand had an older vehicle fleet than Australia and similar countries (Figure 3).

Figure 3

See more information about this data below

Road transport pollution was associated with about 250 deaths in 2006

In 2006, air pollution from vehicles in New Zealand was associated with an estimated [6]:

  • 256 premature deaths
  • 142 extra hospital admissions for respiratory (lung) and cardiovascular (heart) disease.

Read more on the health effects of air pollution webpage.

Information about the data

Vehicle numbers and average age

Source: Ministry of Transport – The New Zealand Vehicle Fleet Annual Statistics
Definition: Number of vehicles in the New Zealand vehicle fleet.  Five categories of vehicles are used:

  • light passenger vehicles (passenger cars and vans)
  • light commercial vehicles (the following if under 3500 kg: goods vans, trucks, utilities, buses and motor caravans)
  • trucks (the following if over 3500 kg: goods vans, trucks, utilities and motor caravans)
  • buses (those over 3500 kg)
  • motorcycles (including mopeds).

International comparisons of average vehicle age

International comparisons of the average age of vehicles are confined to similar countries to New Zealand (Australia, Canada, United States). These countries have high levels of motorisation and similar patterns of development to New Zealand. The United Kingdom has not been included as its motorisation level is comparatively low.  

Vehicle emissions

Source: Ministry for the Environment – 2014 Air Domain Report
Definition: Estimated tonnes of emissions from on-road vehicles, including from vehicle exhaust and brake and tyre wear. Emissions included carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, PM10, PM2.5, and volatile organic compounds.

Pollutant emissions were estimated using modelling, based on the types of vehicles on the road, and distances and speeds they travel.


1. Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Baan RA, Grosse Y, Lauby-Secretan B, El Ghissassi F, Bouvard V, et al. 2012. Carcinogenicity of diesel-engine and gasoline-engine exhausts and some nitroarenes. The Lancet Oncology 13(7): 663-664. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(12)70280-2

2. Ministry of Transport. 2015. The New Zealand Vehicle Fleet 2014: Annual fleet statistics 2014. Wellington: Ministry of Transport. Available online:

3. Kuschel G, Bluett J, Unwin M. 2012. Trends in Light Duty Vehicle Emissions 2003 to 2011: Auckland Council technical report TR2012/032. Prepared by NIWA and Emission Impossible Ltd for Auckland Council.

4. Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand. 2014. New Zealand's Environmental Reporting Series: 2014 Air domain report. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment.

5. Ministry of Transport. 2011. Aging of the light vehicle fleet. Wellington: Ministry of Transport.

6. Kuschel G, Metcalfe J, Wilton E, Guria J, Hales S, Rolfe K, et al. 2012. Updated Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand Study. Volume 1: Summary report. Prepared by Emission Impossible and others for Health Research Council of New Zealand, Ministry of Transport, Ministry for the Environment, and NZ Transport Agency. Available online: