Motor Vehicle Census, Australia methodology

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Reference period
31 Jan 2020

Explanatory notes

Motor Vehicle Census

1 This publication presents statistics relating to vehicles which were registered with a motor vehicle registration authority at 31 January 2020.

2 Motor Vehicle Censuses (MVC) have been conducted periodically from 1971 on each of the following dates:

  • 31st January for the years 2011 through to 2020.
  • 31st March for the years 2001 through to 2010.
  • 31st October for the years 1996 through to 1999.
  • 30th May for the year 1995.
  • 30th June for the year 1993.
  • 30th September for the years 1971, 1976, 1979, 1982, 1985, 1988 and 1991.

Scope and coverage

3 The 2020 MVC includes all motor vehicles that are registered with an Australian state or territory Motor Vehicle Registry (MVR) for unrestricted use on public roads as at the census date, 31 January 2020.

4 The scope of the MVC excludes:

  • recreational vehicles such as trail bikes, quad bikes, and sand dune buggies intended for off-road use;
  • veteran and vintage vehicles registered for restricted use only;
  • consular vehicles; and
  • vehicles registered by the defence forces.

5 Data provided to the ABS includes road-registered caravans, trailers, tractors, plant and equipment. These particular vehicle types are out of scope and hence are not included in the Motor Vehicle Census publication. From 2013, data for road registered caravans, trailers, tractors, plant and equipment are available in TableBuilder product, Microdata: Census of Motor Vehicles, Australia (cat. no. 9309.0.55.003).

6 Coverage currently extends to data collected by all eight Australian state and territory MVRs.

7 Vehicles whose registration has lapsed up to 30 days prior to the MVC snapshot date are deemed to be in scope. This is because payments may be processed by MVRs within this time and the vehicle treated as being continuously registered.

8 In Victoria and Queensland, recreational vehicles such as trail bikes, quad bikes, and sand dune buggies are required to be registered. These vehicles are included in the MVC as they are not able to be discretely identified and removed. In these states, trail bikes are included in motor cycles while other off-road vehicles could be included in various vehicle types depending on how the MVR coded the body type.

9 Veteran and vintage vehicles with restricted use for all states and territories are excluded in the count of registered vehicles, except for two states. In New South Wales, these veteran and vintage vehicles with restricted use are included in the count as there are no distinguishing identifiers in the data supplied by the MVR to enable their exclusion. For Victoria, where possible, data on most veteran and vintages vehicles are excluded.

10 Motor vehicle registration statistics are derived from data made available by various state and territory MVRs. Registration data reported to the ABS reflect the information as recorded in registration documents by the relevant MVR. Unusual movements in registration counts are queried and confirmed with the relevant MVR.


11 The estimated proportion of motor vehicles, excluding motor cycles, taken off the register since the previous MVC is referred to as the attrition rate. The attrition rates in the following table have been calculated using MVC and new motor vehicle sales data. Motor cycles are excluded from the attrition rate calculation as they are not included in new motor vehicle sales data.

Estimated attrition(a), state/territory - census years

 Between 2015 and 2016Between 2016 and 2017Between 2017 and 2018Between 2018 and 2019Between 2019 and 2020
NSW262 4264.9262 8724.6287 9984.9314 4165.2262 9794.4
Vic.207 9244.4209 4954.2214 4084.2236 4294.5215 7284.0
Qld159 1884.2139 0623.4135 9353.3146 6333.4144 0703.3
SA52 7443.950 4343.549 4703.452 9493.651 1803.4
WA84 0193.989 7553.985 5003.785 4803.758 1132.5
Tas.12 8442.87 9271.78 4331.77 7161.57 0631.4
NT7 6034.813 0917.83 6212.211 6376.79 7705.7
ACT13 2984.611 5003.711 6053.712 5093.913 8744.3
Aust.800 0464.4784 1364.0796 9704.0867 7694.3762 7773.7

a. These estimates exclude motor cycles. For more details on calculation of the attrition rate refer to the Glossary.


12 The 2020 MVC is a count of all in-scope vehicles registered with a state or territory motor vehicle registration authority (MVR) at 31 January 2020. All records are compared to previous MVC data for vehicles that match (on-going registrations) and details are updated for these vehicles where applicable.

13 The unmatched records (new vehicle registrations) undergo editing of individual data items. The editing of on-going registrations is limited as these records have been edited in previous years. Aggregate data is checked across time, states/territories and vehicle types to ensure coherency.

Data quality

14 The MVC provides the survey frame for the Survey of Motor Vehicle Use (SMVU). Editing of the data is designed to maximise data quality to the level required for the SMVU. The size of the fleet (over 19 million vehicles) dictates that quality assurance of each record is not possible. Therefore, while the data are made available at a detailed level, the ABS is unable to guarantee that it is necessarily sufficient for all purposes for which it may be used. There is also some variation in the reporting from different state and territory MVRs and care should be taken when comparing data across jurisdictions.

15 The information provided to the ABS and included in the estimates for any year may be revised or corrected in later years. Where corrections are made to original data they will be identified by the annotation (r) revised.

Statistical geography

16 Geographic data available from the MVC are postcode of owner and state or territory of registration.

17 If analysis of regional data based on postcodes is being undertaken, the following considerations need to be taken into account:

  • there are some instances where the postcode of the vehicle's owner is in a different state or territory from that in which the vehicle is registered. For example, the postcode of the owner of the vehicle could be in Sydney, yet the vehicle could be registered in Queensland;
  • some official postcodes (PO boxes, competition postcodes) do not correspond to residential areas; and
  • some postcodes could be invalid.


18 This publication draws extensively on information provided freely by the state and territory motor vehicle registration authorities. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated. Without it, many of the transport statistics published by the ABS would not be available.

Related publications and products

19 Users may also wish to refer to the following publications and products which contain information relating to motor vehicles in Australia:

ABS data available on request

      20 As well as the statistics included in this publication, the ABS has other relevant data available on request. Inquiries should be made to the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070. The ABS Privacy Policy outlines how the ABS will handle any personal information that you provide to us.


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