Automobiles are powered by internal combustion engines and use gasoline or other fuel to turn the wheels and power electrical systems. They are designed to transport people and cargo over long distances. There are many different kinds of automobiles, but the most common are passenger cars and trucks. Other vehicles include emergency automobiles, such as police and fire engines and ambulances.

The automotive industry generates significant global revenue and requires substantial resources from other sectors, including the production of steel, petroleum, plastics, and rubber. It also creates jobs, particularly in rural areas, and is a major contributor to the economies of developing nations.

The technological building blocks of the automobile date back several hundred years. Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in the late 1600s created a type of engine sparked by gunpowder. By the end of the 1800s, automobile technology had reached a critical point. The development of the internal combustion engine enabled vehicles to achieve much higher speeds than horse-drawn carriages, and by 1920 the gasoline-powered automobile had overtaken the streets and highways of Europe and America.

Modern life would seem inconceivable or at least highly inconvenient without the automobile. It allows for greater mobility, which opens up opportunities in work and recreation. It lets individuals choose where they want to live in relation to their jobs, and it enables them to expand the circle of people with whom they have social contact.

It allows families to travel together on vacation, and it gives rural residents access to urban services such as schools and medical care. It ended rural isolation and brought suburban amenities such as shopping and restaurants to small towns, and it has stimulated tourism and travel-related industries worldwide. The automobile is the biggest consumer of steel and petroleum products, and it is one of the largest employers in many countries.

A car is an intricate machine with a wide range of mechanical parts that all must work together. These are contained within a body that is usually made of metal, fiberglass or strong plastic. The body provides protection for passengers and keeps the mechanical parts safe from the elements. It can be shaped to make a coupe, which has two doors and two seats; or a minivan, which has more rows of seats and can hold up to nine people. In addition, a variety of accessories can be attached to the body to enhance the vehicle’s performance and appearance.

The automobile industry is responsible for millions of jobs. Millions more are employed in ancillary businesses such as gas stations, restaurants, and motels that serve travelers. In addition, tens of thousands of people die in traffic accidents every year. These and other problems have led to government regulations regarding safety, pollution, and energy consumption, as well as requirements for licensure and insurance. Still, the automobile continues to be an indispensable mode of transportation worldwide. In the United States, for example, there are more than three trillion miles (4.8 billion kilometers) traveled by passenger cars each year.