An automobile, also called a motor car or a carriage, is a four-wheeled passenger vehicle with seating for two to eight people. It is usually propelled by an internal combustion engine that uses a volatile fuel. The modern automobile is a complex technical system that employs many subsystems with specific design functions. Its development has been driven by advances in science and technology, including electronic computers, high-strength plastics, new alloys of steel and nonferrous metals, and other breakthroughs. In addition, automotive engineers continue to develop improved safety systems, engines, and suspensions, while reducing the weight of cars through the use of lightweight materials.

Automobiles have had a profound impact on society and culture. They changed the economy, making it possible for workers to commute long distances and to work in locations other than their homes. The invention of the automobile also created new industries and jobs, such as those that produce tires and gasoline, and services such as gas stations. The automobile also brought more independence to the individual, allowing him or her to travel and shop as he or she pleases.

Invented and perfected in Germany and France toward the end of the nineteenth century, the modern automobile has become the dominant mode of transportation worldwide. American Henry Ford innovated mass production techniques, and his model T automobile made the car affordable to the middle class. Other manufacturers, such as Ransom E. Olds, introduced one-cylinder models that were basically motorized horse buggies. By the 1920s, however, the auto industry had consolidated into a few large companies that produced a majority of the cars sold. During World War II, producers shifted their factories to producing military vehicles. After the war, they reverted to producing civilian automobiles, although some complained that their cars were not as functional and safe as they once had been.

Automobiles are still important today, but questions have arisen over their environmental impact and their draining of the world’s oil resources. Some people have turned to alternative forms of transportation, such as trains and buses. Others have chosen to purchase hybrid or electric vehicles that run on less fossil fuel. Regardless of the type of vehicle, every automobile manufacturer continues to devote considerable resources to research and development.

Automobiles are a major source of greenhouse gases, and the emissions of certain types of cars can cause air pollution that is harmful to human health. Some experts believe that limiting the number of automobiles on the road is the best way to limit global warming. However, most people find it impractical to abandon their personal transportation needs. As a result, cars will continue to dominate the roadways for some time to come. To help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, drivers should drive fuel-efficient automobiles and maintain their vehicles properly. They can also reduce the number of trips they take by walking or riding a bicycle. They can also use public transportation when necessary.