Automobiles are wheeled vehicles powered by engines that use a mixture of fuel and air to create combustion. They are a crucial part of modern life, transporting people and goods across long distances at high speeds and providing access to places not previously reachable. They have shaped urban design, created new industries and jobs, and given rise to services such as traffic control and refueling stations. In the United States alone, cars are driven over three trillion miles (five trillion kilometres) every year.
Automobiles have transformed human society in ways that few other inventions have in recent history. They are so widespread that it would be difficult to live without access to one, and they have changed the shape of government policies and public services such as police, fire, and highways. They have shaped economic activities such as manufacturing and retail, and they have created many new recreational activities such as shopping and vacation trips. They have also changed how we work and play, making it possible for people to commute across long distances and to change jobs frequently.
The scientific and technical building blocks of the automobile date back several hundred years. In the late 1600s, Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens invented a type of internal combustion engine fueled by gunpowder. By the late 1800s, Siegfried Marcus developed a two-stroke internal combustion gasoline engine and used it to power a carriage. He later modified the engine to run on kerosene, and he built a prototype of the first gasoline-powered automobile in 1870.
By the early 1900s, automobile manufacturing had reached a critical mass in Europe and the United States. The advent of the Ford Model T and the Daimler-Benz Mercedes in 1901 made it possible for most families to afford their own automobiles. This allowed them to travel farther, to move more easily between jobs, and to develop more sophisticated social connections.
Having your own car allows you to go where and when you want, and to visit friends and family members who might be out of range of public transit. It also means that you don’t have to rely on taxis or rideshare services, which can often be unreliable in emergencies. Having your own car gives you the freedom to come and go as you please, and it can also save you money on gas, maintenance, and repair costs.
Automobiles have become essential to the modern world, but they have also brought with them their own set of problems. For example, the rapid movement that automobiles allow can encourage sprawl — a form of low-density development that degrades landscapes and produces traffic congestion that tends to immobilize the cars that make it possible. Also, because automobiles are essentially engines that burn fossil fuels, they can contribute to global warming and climate change. Despite these challenges, most experts believe that the automobile will continue to be an important part of human transportation. It is important to keep in mind, however, that other forms of transportation are available and that the automobile can be used responsibly.