Automobiles are powered by internal combustion engines that run on gasoline, diesel fuel or other petroleum-based fuel. Often they also use other types of energy to operate electrical systems. They are used to transport people, but they may be designed to carry goods as well. The branches of engineering that deal with automobiles are called automotive engineering or motor vehicle engineering.
Almost everyone in the world depends on automobiles to get them from one place to another. They commute to work or school in them, drive them around on vacations and take their children to school and extracurricular activities. There are millions of people employed in the industry, and it is a major part of the economy of many nations.
The history of the automobile goes back hundreds of years. The earliest vehicles were steam-powered, but they became obsolete as the internal combustion engine was perfected. Several different inventors contributed to the development of the automobile. Among them were the German engineers Nikolaus Otto, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz who built petrol-powered cars. They competed with the American Henry Ford who revolutionized car-making by developing the assembly line where each worker had a specific task and car parts passed through on a conveyor belt. This allowed him to make a car quickly and at a lower price, making it affordable for the middle class.
Cars were a major force in the growth of the middle class and the emergence of consumer culture in America in the 1920s. They gave people more freedom and access to jobs and leisure activities, but they also brought harm to the environment through pollution and the destruction of undeveloped land to build roads and parking lots. They also required new laws and government regulations, such as seatbelts, highway rules and drivers’ licenses. Many ancillary industries and services developed to support the automobile, such as steel, rubber, gasoline and oil production and convenience stores.
Modern cars are usually driven by a water-cooled, piston-type internal combustion engine that is normally mounted in front of the wheels. The engine drives a crankshaft that drives the wheels via differential gears. The car may be rear-wheel or four-wheel drive, and it can use either gasoline or diesel fuel. The modern automobile can be equipped with a variety of safety systems, such as electronic stability control and antilock braking.
Automakers are always looking for ways to improve the safety of their vehicles. New technologies, such as blind-spot monitoring systems and automated emergency braking, are being introduced. These are usually optional, but they will soon be mandatory on some vehicles in order to meet government safety standards.
The automobile is a complex machine, and every system must work together to make it safe for passengers. Some of these systems are controlled by the computer, which can make adjustments in response to changing conditions. A significant amount of research is going into the creation of semi-autonomous or autonomous vehicles, which would be able to navigate the road without any direct input from the driver.