Automobiles are a vital part of our lives today. Millions of people around the world work in factories making them, and more work at gas stations, restaurants and motels that travelers stop at. But cars also create problems. They can kill people in car accidents, pollute the air we breathe and make it hard to find parking places in cities. Despite these problems, it is hard to imagine modern life without the automobile.
The scientific and technological building blocks of the automobile started several hundred years ago. By the late 1600s, the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens had invented a type of internal combustion engine that ran on gunpowder. This engine was the ancestor of the internal-combustion engines used in most automobiles today.
In the 1890s German inventors Gottlieb Daimler, Nikolaus Otto and Karl Benz built gasoline-powered cars. These were followed by the Model T, introduced in 1908. By then, Henry Ford had innovated assembly-line production techniques that reduced the price of his cars to levels affordable for most middle-class Americans.
Today, there are more than 73 million vehicles on the road in the United States. Most are passenger cars, but there are also cargo vehicles such as trucks and minivans and special-use vehicles such as fire trucks, ambulances and police vehicles. These vehicles are classified by their purpose as passengers or goods carriers and their body systems. The vehicle’s engine is one of the most important parts. It produces the power that turns the wheels and provides electricity for lights and other systems.
Besides the engine, other important parts of an automobile include the transmission system, suspension and brakes. Some vehicles are equipped with a computer that monitors and controls the performance of the vehicle’s various systems. For example, the computer can tell the driver if the car is overheating or its oil pressure is low. It can even detect problems with the steering and braking systems.
Most modern automobiles have safety features such as seat belts and air bags. In addition, they have systems that help the driver keep track of speed and location. Many have GPS (Global Positioning System) that allows the driver to locate their car, and to navigate unfamiliar routes. Some of these systems are optional, while others are standard features.
In the future, cars may be able to drive themselves. This would save drivers time and money. It could also reduce traffic congestion and pollution. And it could allow people to spend more time at home with their families instead of commuting to work and school. This would be a great improvement for our society.