Automobiles are the main means of transportation in most parts of the world. They can be driven by people or be powered by an electric motor. They usually have four wheels and can seat one to eight people. Most automobiles burn fuel to make their internal combustion engines (called motors) run. This fuel is usually a liquid petroleum product called gasoline, but it can also be diesel fuel or another fossil fuel. The energy from the engine is sent to the wheels of the automobile through a transmission, which can make the vehicle go faster or slower than it is traveling.
Automobile technology is continually changing and improving. Some cars have self-driving features, which can help people save time and effort. Other innovations have made automobiles more environmentally friendly, such as cleaner fuels and engines that produce less pollution. There are also many ways to modify automobiles for special uses, such as wheelchair access or police and fire vehicles.
The modern automobile was developed in the late 1800s. By the early 1900s, it had overtaken horse-drawn carriages as the most popular means of transportation in the United States. Early models of automobiles used steam, electricity, or batteries to power their engines. Steam engines allowed cars to travel at high speeds but had limited range. Battery-powered electric cars had a 38 percent share of the market in 1900, but they could take a long time to recharge, and they were difficult to start. Gasoline-powered cars were much easier to start and had a wide availability of fueling stations.
The development of automobiles enabled more people to live a more varied lifestyle. They could travel to work, shop, and visit friends and family, all without relying on the unpredictability of public transportation or coordinating a ride through another person. People who did not have automobiles could only live where they lived, since they had to rely on expensive taxis or public buses to get around.
In addition, automobiles allow people to move to new areas with ease. In the past, moving to a different part of the country was often impossible or at least very inconvenient for most people. The automobile changed this, making it possible for people to move to different towns and states to pursue their careers or to find better living conditions.
Today, automobiles are available in a wide variety of styles and sizes to suit almost any need. Small, inexpensive automobiles such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic provide excellent fuel economy and passenger space at an affordable price. SUVs and trucks provide rugged durability and cargo capacity at a cost that is within reach for most families. Cars like the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition deliver dependable performance, while the Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-9 rank high in customer satisfaction surveys for their reliability and user-friendly infotainment systems. In 2019, automobiles are continuing to evolve, with many offering more driver assistance and safety technologies than ever before.