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Aliens discover Earth but are mistaken who the real inhabitants are: i.e. the aliens think that humans are parasites or something and that the real Earthlings are cars or something else.

Is this an old joke or a real story?

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Is there anything else you remember or can recall about the story? – OghmaOsiris Aug 17 '11 at 21:59
If I remeber correctly it was a story on a television show that was a joke or a cartoon or some cheap short scifi part of something else. I liked the idea though of aliens coming to earth and not recognizing that humans are the real earth inhabitants – Programmer 400 Aug 17 '11 at 22:42
up vote 19 down vote accepted

UPDATE: Found it!

I believe the work you are referring to is the animated short What on Earth! (1966). You can watch it here.

Old answer:

It sounds like you're describing a scene out of the beginning of the movie "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (2005):

FORD: Remember when we met? That car was racing toward me, I was trying to greet it, you pushed me out of the way?

QUICK CUT TO A STREET - MID-DAY: Ford stands in the middle of the road, extending a hand to a fast approaching car. Arthur drops his shopping, dives at him and tackles him out of the way as the car zooms past.

FORD: Didn't you find it a little strange that I was trying to shake hands with a car?

ARTHUR: I assumed you were drunk.

FORD: (shaking his head) I thought cars were the dominant life form. I was trying to introduce myself.

(PDF of the script can be found here)

This is a specific instance of a general trope: "Mistook The Dominant Lifeform". As mentioned in the examples at the above link, the more specific cars-as-dominant-lifeform trope has cropped up in Transformer comics and Carl Sagan's book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), but there are probably a number of other works it has appeared in as well.

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So why would Ford appear as a human? Either that's his normal body form, in which case why wouldn't he think humans were dominant - or Ford's normal form is different, and he modified it to look human. But then, why wouldn't he modify it to look carlike? – John C Aug 18 '11 at 13:51
@John C: Considering Ford's "semi-half brother" Zaphod Beeblebrox also (outwardly) appears human, along with other aliens featured in the movie, then I think it's safe to assume that Ford's appearance is his normal form. As to why he wouldn't assume humans (who looked like him) were the dominant species, consider that he's been around the galaxy, and maybe has seen plenty of cases where the human-like species isn't always dominant. Also, in the movie humans were actually only the third-most intelligent species on Earth, behind dolphins and, well, I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it. – gnovice Aug 18 '11 at 14:58
2005? The BBC series is much older than that. – SeanJA Aug 18 '11 at 21:12
@sean I just started watching the BBC serie, and I don't recall the car-salutation incident. – Loïc Wolff Aug 19 '11 at 9:50
The first book was published in 1979. There's a plethora of versions in different media since then. – StuperUser Aug 19 '11 at 15:28

There was a Donald Duck comic where Scrooge sold the "1-2-3" product, an evolving car, over the whole world:

Scrooge ended up unknowingly saving the world as aliens approached and identified the 1-2-3s as the real inhabitants of the Earth. They attacked the 1-2-3s with their shrink rays and left without harming any humans.

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This could be what I saw, if it's old – Programmer 400 Aug 18 '11 at 21:01
I think I read it in a Donald Duck collection at least six years ago. The comic itself is probably older. – user1320 Aug 18 '11 at 21:51

The Day The Earth Stood Still (movie) loosely matches this description. The earth was going to be destroyed because the parasite humans were destroying it.

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Gort and Klaatu weren't confused about human status - they were concerned about humans developing, and using nuclear weapons against them. – John C Aug 19 '11 at 15:43

There was a book of physics jokes that I saw in the 1980s, though it was published much earlier that contained this story as one of the jokes.

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Given that the OP has already answered his own question, this should have been a comment rather than a separate answer – Valorum Jul 27 '14 at 22:05

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