An automobile is a self-propelled motor vehicle designed to transport passengers on land. It has four wheels and is powered by an internal combustion engine fueled most often by gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. The modern automobile is one of the most universal and widespread of modern technologies, and it has restructured entire societies. The design and manufacture of automobiles is a complex process that requires balancing many factors. The arrangement and choice of components must be adapted to the use that the automobile will be put to.
The most basic elements of an automobile are the engine, fuel system, transmission, electrical system, cooling and lubrication systems, and chassis. The chassis is the skeletal framework upon which all other parts are attached. It must be strong enough to support the weight of the car and flexible enough to withstand the stresses and shocks it will encounter in driving, turning, and road conditions. The chassis also provides safety, comfort, and protection from the elements for the car’s occupants.
Thousands of individual parts make up the modern automobile. Like the human body, it is arranged into several semi-independent systems, each of which performs a specific function. The engine is the “heart” of an automobile, and it is comprised of pistons and cylinders that are connected by tubes to deliver fuel and coolant. These tubes also provide a path for escaping exhaust.
Most of the other major components of an automobile are attached to the chassis, including the wheels and steering assembly, suspension, braking system, and body. The chassis is analogous to the skeleton of the human body, and it must be sturdy enough to hold the car’s many other parts while providing safety, flexibility, and comfort for its occupants.
A major reason for the popularity of the automobile is that it allows people to travel independently of other people. The ability to make long distance trips on a daily basis without needing to be dependent on other people has opened up new opportunities for work, leisure activities, and family life. It has also created new services that cater to the automobile market, such as motels, hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks. The automobile has also brought its share of problems, such as traffic congestion and air pollution. It has strained resources for highway construction and maintenance, and it has depleted the world’s supply of fossil fuels.
In the late twentieth century, issues about the nonfunctional styling of American-made cars and complaints about their fuel efficiency caused some Americans to turn to imported vehicles from Japan and Germany. These Japanese cars were functionally designed, well built, and economical to operate. The automobile continues to be a mainstay of the American lifestyle, but it no longer acts as a progressive force for change. Instead, new technologies–the electronic media, the laser, and the computer probably chief among them–are charting a different future.