Automobiles are wheeled vehicles designed for the transport of people and goods. These vehicles are powered by engines that use gasoline, diesel, or kerosene to ignite the fuel in a cylinder, and then drive a crankshaft to turn the wheels of the vehicle. In addition, automobiles incorporate many other systems such as suspension, brakes, power steering, cooling, and air conditioning to make the vehicle comfortable, safe, and practical to operate. Almost all automobiles are manufactured by industrial production processes such as the assembly line and a number of other technological innovations that have made car ownership more affordable to middle-class families.
Few inventions have had as great an effect on the history, economy, and social life of the world’s population as the automobile. Some 1.4 billion passenger cars are in operation around the globe, covering more than three trillion miles (five trillion kilometers) each year. The automobile has become the principal means of transportation for most people, and it has dramatically changed the way we live.
Early experiments with motorized carriages began in the late 1600s, but it was not until the late 1800s that Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz developed automobiles using internal combustion engines. Their designs differed from each other, but they proved that an engine could provide the power to propel a moving carriage. These developments led to the first production automobiles.
Several kinds of cars have been produced since the advent of the internal-combustion engine, and each has had its advantages and disadvantages. Steam-powered cars, for example, were very heavy and moved slowly, and they required a lot of time to start because the water had to be heated. Electric cars were much lighter, but they were not able to travel at high speeds and needed to be recharged.
Henry Ford introduced the assembly line in 1908, which greatly accelerated car manufacturing. This technique allowed manufacturers to produce the same model of car over and over, and it kept the price of automobiles down until they became affordable for most middle-class families. In the 1920s, automobiles became even easier to operate and more comfortable. The engines were more efficient, the seats and doors were larger, and heaters were included.
In the 1970s, consumers were attracted to smaller, more economical automobiles that used less fuel. In addition, environmental concerns caused a revival of interest in electric and hybrid-electric cars.
Automobiles have had a positive influence on society, providing employment and allowing people to visit distant locations. They have also contributed to the development of new industries and technology, such as road construction, auto insurance, and safety equipment. On the negative side, however, the automobile has led to congestion and pollution, and its use contributes to global warming. There are also safety risks, such as car accidents and the potential for the release of toxic chemicals. These problems can be reduced by limiting the number of automobiles on the roads, improving traffic management systems, and promoting the use of alternative fuels.