An automobile (or motor car) is a wheeled passenger vehicle that carries its own engine. It is generally powered by an internal combustion engine fueled most often by gasoline, although it may also use other types of fuel such as electricity or natural gas. The modern automobile is one of the world’s most widely used consumer technologies and has changed society in many ways.
The first cars were designed and built to allow people to get around without being dependent on horse power or other animal power. The modern automobile has a number of features to provide comfort and convenience, as well as safety for passengers. It is a complex system, and engineers must balance several factors when designing a new model.
Automobiles must be durable and have a high resistance to overloading and extreme conditions. They must be safe, offer comfortable seating for passengers and accommodate their needs, and provide engine performance that optimizes high-speed handling and stability. Engineers must also consider cost when designing an automobile, since some features that increase safety or comfort may make the vehicle too expensive for most people to buy.
Modern automobiles have thousands of parts that are arranged into a series of semi-independent systems, similar to the human body. For example, the engine—the heart of an automobile—contains a circulatory system for coolant, lubricating oil and fuel. The fuel system delivers the liquids to the engine to be burned for energy, while the cooling system keeps the engine from overheating and burning too much oil.
Another important aspect of an automobile is the suspension system, which allows the vehicle to absorb shocks and variations in the road surface. Most automobiles have front-wheel drive, but more and more are now using independent rear suspension. This makes for a smoother ride and improves handling, as the rear wheels can follow different paths at the same time.
The body of an automobile provides protection for the passengers, offers storage space and houses the other automotive systems. It is usually made of steel or aluminum, but plastic and fiberglass are sometimes used as well. The body of an automobile must be strong enough to withstand the forces of a crash, but it must also be lightweight to keep the car’s overall weight low.
As technology has improved and laws on driver safety have become more strict, the auto industry continues to make improvements to its vehicles. New systems include airbags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control, which are standard on most cars sold in the United States. Other systems, such as blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control, are becoming more common in automobiles as their associated costs come down.
For most Americans, an automobile is the primary form of transportation. Besides providing a means to travel from point A to point B, it also facilitates the economy by enabling people to shop at stores and visit businesses. The automobile has facilitated the development of leisure activities, such as amusement parks and other recreation, restaurants, hotels, and service industries.