Among the most universal of modern inventions, automobiles—or motor vehicles, as they are more commonly called in the United States—are a powerful symbol of the promise and the pitfalls of human technological advance. The modern car, invented in the late 1800s, has revolutionized industry and technology while changing daily life by giving people greater freedom of movement and choice and requiring new industries to supply parts and services like gas stations and restaurants. The automotive industry also developed some of the first mass production techniques and spawned industries in plastics, rubber, and petroleum. Almost every aspect of American society has been affected by the automobile: from urban design to police, fire, and utility services to family vacation travel.
Automobiles have revolutionized the way people live in America and throughout the world, giving them the ability to travel long distances at the touch of a finger. This has allowed people to live in one place and work in another, and it has opened up a wide range of new social and recreational possibilities. The automobile has made it possible to have a much wider social circle and the freedom to choose where to go in a given amount of time, to expand work opportunities, and even to change careers.
The automobile was largely developed in Europe, but it was in the United States that its greatest influence has been felt. In part this was because the country’s vast land area ensured great demand for transportation and because a less-hierarchical income distribution encouraged individual ownership of cars. Moreover, cheap raw materials and a tradition of industrial mechanization shortened the manufacturing process.
Today there are a great many different kinds of automobiles. They range from tiny two-seaters like the Mazda Miata to large seven-passenger SUVs, but they all have some things in common. The majority burn a liquid fuel to make an internal combustion engine run, and the power from this engine is transmitted to the wheels by a transmission system.
The choice of what kind of automobile to buy is based on a wide variety of factors, including the amount of passenger space needed, comfort features, power and efficiency, and safety features. A person can find a model to suit nearly any need. But there are some basic things that must be kept in mind when shopping for an automobile: