An automobile, also called a motor car, is a wheeled passenger vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. It typically seats one to seven people and has four wheels. The automotive industry has made enormous contributions to world history and culture. The branches of engineering that deal with the design, manufacture, and technology of automobiles are known as automotive engineering.

The automobile has become a major force for change in twentieth century America, the country that has been called “the automobile nation.” By the 1920s it was a top employer and the backbone of a new consumer goods-oriented society. It was a main source of energy, the chief customer for steel and petroleum industries and other ancillary businesses, and the chief catalyst for changes in American lifestyles.

In 1902 Ransom E. Olds established the first large-scale automobile production company, which introduced the assembly line concept. In the 1910s Henry Ford introduced the Model T, which made cars affordable to a wide range of Americans. At the same time, many smaller companies were developing proprietary technological innovations. Automobile technology continued to evolve rapidly, with improvements such as electric ignition and the automatic self-starter (both invented by Charles Kettering for the Cadillac Motor Company in the 1910s), independent suspension, and four-wheel brakes. Various pistonless rotary engine designs were unsuccessful, but the conventional piston and crankshaft design eventually won out.

With its huge land area and a hinterland of scattered settlements, the United States was well suited to automobile transportation. Cheap raw materials, an absence of tariff barriers, and a long tradition of manufacturing encouraged the development of automobile factories. Automobiles quickly became the main means of transport in the United States, and demand was stimulated by a much more equitable distribution of income than in Europe.

It is often argued that the automobile has had a negative impact on society, and it can certainly be true that there are many safety hazards associated with their use. However, the positive side of automobiles is that they can provide people with a great deal of freedom. They allow people to travel more easily and make more frequent visits with friends, family members, and colleagues. They can also provide access to many more job opportunities than would otherwise be available.

The benefits of owning a vehicle should be balanced against the costs. There are a number of factors that should be taken into consideration, including purchasing costs, fuel and maintenance expenses, insurance, and parking fees. It is also important to consider the environmental impact and traffic congestion. In many cases, the advantages of owning a car outweigh these concerns. However, the decision to purchase a car should always be based on individual needs and requirements. In some situations, it may be a better option to rent or take public transportation. A good way to compare the advantages of each option is to calculate how much it will cost a person to own and maintain a vehicle.