Automobiles are the most common form of personal transportation worldwide. In the United States alone there are about 1.4 billion passenger cars in operation, with more than three trillion miles being traveled each year. The modern automobile is a complex technical system that employs thousands of components designed with specific functions. Its evolution has been driven by advances in a variety of areas, including electronic computer control systems and new alloys of steel and nonferrous metals.
The automobile has become a symbol of the promise and the pitfalls of modern life. Its ability to transport people and goods has brought prosperity and convenience, but also environmental damage through exhaust emissions and the use of scarce and valuable land. It has stimulated many businesses and social activities, such as tourism, leisure industries, motels, restaurants and fast food outlets.
It has also encouraged urbanization and suburbanization, putting more people in closer proximity to work, schools and shopping centers. It has created jobs in automotive manufacturing, transportation and repair. It has stimulated new services and entertainment activities such as amusement parks and golf courses. It has also contributed to the development of leisure habits such as travel, recreation and personal health and fitness. It has led to changes in laws, government regulations and social attitudes, such as traffic rules and safety features.
In the late 1800s, Karl Benz was first to perfect the modern motorcar. His Benz Patent-Motorwagen used a four-stroke internal combustion engine to power a carriage that drove the wheels. Until the early 1910s, however, most cars were custom-made and expensive. It was only when Henry Ford developed mass production techniques that automobiles became affordable for the middle class.
Today there are dozens of different types of automobiles, ranging from compact economy models such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla to large sport utility vehicles like the Subaru Ascent and Hummer. Many of these cars offer a combination of car-like handling with SUV cargo space and off-road capabilities. However, they often suffer from poor fuel efficiency, and they are not as enjoyable to drive as most sedans.
Despite these problems, the automobile remains a very important and popular form of transportation. Some experts believe that it will become even more dominant in the future, as it can carry more people, and the development of autonomous cars could make driving safer and more pleasant. In addition, there are some people who have no choice but to use the automobile because they do not live near public transportation routes or work locations. The automobile allows these people to get to their jobs in a reasonable amount of time. In addition, the automobile gives them independence from family and friends, since they can drive themselves to places without the need to rely on others. This kind of autonomy has helped some people overcome mental and emotional difficulties. It has also helped some people with disabilities and other problems gain more self-confidence.