Automobiles are wheeled vehicles used mainly for the transport of passengers, usually with seating for one to seven people. Typically, they have four wheels and are powered by an internal combustion engine using a volatile fuel. Modern automobiles have complex technical systems that require careful integration of many different subsystems and components with a variety of design functions. These systems include the engine, fuel system, transmission, electrical and braking systems, chassis, suspension, and body. Each of these automobile parts and systems has evolved over time as a result of scientific and technical breakthroughs, new materials such as high-strength plastics and metal alloys, and consumer demands.
Early automobiles were steam and electric powered, with gasoline internal combustion engines becoming dominant in the 1910s. They have shaped society in numerous ways, including reshaping land and air transportation networks, creating new industries and jobs, and revolutionizing the way we work and live.
There are few inventions that have had as much influence on human life and culture in modern times as the automobile. With 1.4 billion cars on the road worldwide, automobiles are an integral part of daily life in nearly every country. Whether it is traveling to work, running errands, going on vacation, or visiting friends and family, the automobile gives us freedom of movement that we otherwise could not achieve. It can also save us time, enabling us to do more in the day and spend less time waiting for a bus or taxi or driving through crowded traffic.
The first automobiles were crude and had a number of shortcomings, such as insufficient power to carry passengers or cargo and a tendency to roll over when driven at speed. In addition, there were often accidents that resulted in severe injuries or death. One of the earliest documented automobile deaths was Joseph Cugnot, who crashed his steam-powered “Fardier” into a wall in 1771. Other early automobile accidents included the crash of Siegfried Marcus’s two-stroke gas engine car in 1870 and the crash of Karl Benz’s gasoline-powered automobile in 1885.
The most important feature of an automobile is its ability to safely and reliably transport passengers over long distances. In order to accomplish this task, an automobile must have a strong chassis and body structure, efficient and safe engine, effective braking system, and safe steering and handling. Passenger safety is achieved by a combination of structural support that can withstand the forces of a collision and design features such as seat belts and windshields. Other automobile safety features include doors that are designed to crumple on impact and fire-resistant materials that protect passengers in the event of an accident. Finally, the body of an automobile, which provides space for passengers and storage as well as houses the other vehicle systems, must be attractive and aerodynamic. For these reasons, the design of an automobile is a compromise that tries to satisfy as many needs as possible. As the automobile evolves, there are new technologies being developed and introduced that are expected to improve performance, safety, and comfort.