Automobiles are four-wheeled transportation vehicles that run on an engine to move forward. Automobiles come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from family cars to sports models. Modern automobiles are a significant part of the world’s economy and everyday life, with more than 1.4 billion of them in operation and 70 million new ones built each year. Despite their usefulness, they are also a source of pollution when too many are used in a small area. Automobiles are sometimes prone to accidents that can harm or even kill the driver or passengers.
Inventors first began creating automobiles around the late 1800s, starting with Karl Benz of Germany, who developed his four-stroke internal combustion engine to power a vehicle in 1885. Others, including French engineer Emile Levassor and American businessman Henry Ford, improved upon the car’s design. They introduced manufacturing methods that made the cars more affordable for middle-class families.
The automobile revolutionized the way people live, work and play. For example, it allows errands to be done at a time that suits the individual, rather than having to rely on other people’s schedules. But an individual can also become dependent on his or her vehicle and overuse it. This leads to problems with traffic and air pollution. Automobiles also are vulnerable to mechanical problems such as broken parts or a faulty transmission.
Cars are designed with a wide range of safety features, but they are not always safe, especially when driven at high speeds. Moreover, there are problems with human drivers, who make mistakes or drive recklessly. Vehicles can also have a tendency to roll over due to their high centre of gravity.
Some cars are equipped with safety belts to prevent the occupants from being thrown out of the vehicle in an accident. Other features include brakes to stop the automobile quickly, and regenerative brakes that turn the energy of the car’s movement back into electricity to recharge the battery.
In the United States, the most popular type of automobile is the passenger car. It is estimated that there are more than three trillion kilometres (1.9 trillion miles) driven in the country each year. The car is the main form of family transport, and is a symbol of modern life. However, it is important to remember that there are alternatives to cars, such as buses, trains and trams.
The history of the automobile has been an exciting one, with the technology advancing rapidly as companies competed to produce affordable vehicles. Automobiles have been in use for about a century, and by the 1920s they had overtaken horse-drawn carriages on the streets and byways of Europe and the United States. By the late 1930s, mass production techniques such as those pioneered by Ransom Eli Olds at his Oldsmobile plant and later by Henry Ford at his Ford Motor Company had made the cars affordable to the masses. The auto industry continued to develop with innovations such as electric ignition and self-starter, independent suspension, four-wheel brakes and the pistonless rotary Wankel engine.