Automobiles are motor vehicles that use an engine and wheels to move and transport passengers or cargo. They are usually four-wheeled and have an internal combustion engine using volatile fuel, though some are electric. The modern automobile is a complex system with thousands of subsystems. Many of these have specific design functions, and others are the result of advances in technology such as electronic computers, high-strength plastics and alloys of steel and nonferrous metals.
Benz and Duryea invented the first automobiles, but Henry Ford brought them within the reach of most people. He used mass production techniques to make them cheap. Ford’s Model T was so popular that it is sometimes referred to as “The car that put America on wheels”.
The automobile has had many effects on society, from the flexible movement of goods and people in commerce to the reorganization of urban planning around them. Its convenience has made it an important mode of long-distance travel. The flexibility of its use has reshaped lifestyles and changed the nature of work. It has also helped to create new industries and services such as fast food and tourism.
While the automobile has many benefits, it has also created problems such as pollution and traffic congestion. Accidents can be fatal for drivers and their passengers. Safety measures have been introduced to mitigate these hazards. These include seat belts and laws requiring their use, airbags, specialized child restraint systems and structural changes to improve vehicle handling.