A modern automobile is a complex machine made of thousands of individual parts. Each part has a specific function, and the functions are combined in a manner similar to the human body. The engine, for instance, contains analogous circulatory systems for cooling fluid (mostly water) and lubricating oil as well as tubes that deliver fuel to the cylinders. These systems work together to make the car run, reduce noise and pollution, and prevent the car from overheating. The chassis, or skeleton, of the automobile supports the various systems and components and provides safety, comfort, and protection from the elements for its passengers.
The automobile revolutionized twentieth-century society by providing people with a means of personal transportation that could be adapted to their changing needs and lifestyles. It allowed people to move more quickly and easily to jobs, places to live, and services. It also contributed to the development of leisure activities and provided new opportunities for industry. In its heyday, it was one of the largest employers in America and required an enormous amount of petroleum, steel, and other materials to keep production going. It was the primary driver of many ancillary industries that produced the necessary products and services, such as road construction and maintenance, gas stations, restaurants, fast food, and motels.
Although the automobile was first invented in Germany and France in the late 1800s, American companies came to dominate the industry by the 1920s. This was largely due to Henry Ford’s innovations in mass production and his Model T car, which was built on a standardized assembly line. His car sold for less than half the average annual wage at the time and put cars within the reach of most middle-class Americans.
Automobiles are driven by a variety of different engines, ranging from electric motors to steam turbines to internal combustion engines. The most common are gasoline-powered, though there are alternatives that use a variety of fuels such as vegetable oil, natural gas, and electricity.
There are currently about 1.4 billion vehicles in operation worldwide, and three-quarters of them are passenger cars. As demand continues to increase, environmental and energy problems of a scale previously unimagined promise to arise. It is not unreasonable to ask whether the automobile should continue to play its dominant role in society. The answer will depend on whether technological advances can be applied to overcome the problems the automobile currently poses. In the meantime, people should be encouraged to purchase vehicles that are safe, efficient, and environmentally sound. This will help reduce the negative impacts of automobiles on the environment and public health. In the end, it is in the best interest of both manufacturers and consumers to work together toward a goal of sustainability for this vital mode of transport.