Automobiles are wheeled vehicles that are driven by an internal combustion engine, powered by a fuel such as gasoline or diesel fuel. Automobiles have a broad range of uses, from transporting people and goods to moving people and their belongings around town, for pleasure or work. They are of many shapes and sizes, but all automobiles have four wheels and are designed to be driven on a road.
The invention of the automobile, by which people can travel great distances and go wherever they want with relative ease, opened up new social, economic, and political opportunities for individuals. It made it possible for people to work in towns or cities far from their homes, and it allowed them to move freely from one job to another, thereby opening up broader possibilities for careers, family life, and social involvement. The automobile also brought with it new industries and services, including car factories, gas stations, garages, and convenience stores. It also encouraged family vacations and gave urban dwellers a chance to rediscover pristine landscapes, and it facilitated the development of leisure activities such as swimming pools, amusement parks, drive-in movies, and fast food restaurants.
There were few barriers to the production of automobiles in the United States, whose vast land area guaranteed great demand and allowed manufacturers to sell cars at relatively low prices. In addition, cheap raw materials and a strong manufacturing tradition encouraged the mechanization of industrial processes. This in turn created a number of different companies that offered consumers a wide variety of models. The era of the annually restyled road cruiser ended with federal regulations imposed on safety, emissions of pollutants, and energy consumption; rising oil prices following the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979; and increasing penetration of the American market first by Japanese automobiles based on functionally designed, fuel-efficient, small cars and then by German and British cars with similar characteristics.
A modern automobile, sometimes called a motorcar or car, is a complex technical system with thousands of subsystems. It is usually of steel or other metal and has four wheels. It is designed primarily for passenger transportation, but it may also be used to carry cargo or to pull trailers. Automobiles are classified according to their size, shape, type of propulsion, and body style. They are usually designed to run on roads, although some have been built to operate on air, water, or other surfaces. The term “automobile” is also used for other mobile vehicles such as buses, trams, and trains. The word auto comes from the Latin term for “of itself,” and refers to an object that can be moved independently from its base or fixed point. Other examples include locomotives, aircraft, submarines, and wheeled carts such as shopping carts or wheelchairs. The word auto is also applied to machines that are capable of operating by themselves, such as washing machines and refrigerators. A common saying is that you can’t take an auto to work because it won’t start without its owner.