Automobiles are complex systems with many moving parts. They allow people to travel rapidly between places with a degree of flexibility that has profound implications for the way we live. The automobile has transformed the landscape of cities and rural areas, created new industries and made possible new types of work and leisure activities. It has also dramatically altered the economics of personal transportation. In addition to the initial cost of the vehicle, there are operating expenses, repair costs, taxes, fuel, depreciation, and the expense of disposing of the car at its end of life. Moreover, it is important to consider the indirect societal costs of the automobile, including pollution and healthcare costs associated with accidents.
Automobile technology has advanced rapidly over the past century. The first automobiles were steam and electric powered, but gasoline internal combustion engines gained dominance in the 1910s. The large-scale production of affordable automobiles using assembly line techniques was introduced by Ransom Eli Olds and greatly expanded by Henry Ford in the 1920s.
The modern automobile consists of thousands of individual parts, which are arranged into several semi-independent systems. For example, just as the human body has a circulatory system to deliver coolant, the engine contains an analogous system for delivering fuel and lubricating oil to the pistons within the cylinders. The engine is the heart of the automobile, and its functions are to transport passengers and cargo, reduce noise, and minimize pollution.
Most automobiles have a brake system to stop the car quickly and efficiently in an emergency, and to prevent it from rolling when parked. Some vehicles have regenerative brakes that convert the energy of braking back into electricity to charge the battery.
The chassis is the frame on which all other car components are mounted. It provides a stable platform for the suspension and engine, allows the driver to maneuver the car, and gives the vehicle its basic shape. It may have a number of doors, the trunk for storage, and other features, depending on the model.
The body of the car is what most people think of as the “car”. It consists of the front and rear bumpers, the grill and headlights, the hood and windshield, the storage trunk, and all windows. The body also determines the appearance of the automobile, and is designed differently for each model.