Automobiles are four-wheeled motor vehicles designed primarily for passenger transportation and commonly propelled by an internal combustion engine using a volatile fuel. Modern automobiles are complex technical systems involving many subsystems with specific design functions. These include the engine, transmission, electrical system, cooling and lubrication system, wheels and tires, steering and braking systems, chassis, and body.
These systems and components are all integrated into a functional whole by an architecture reminiscent of the human body’s skeletal structure. Like the skeleton, this architecture supports and protects the passengers. The most basic automobiles were steam and electric powered, with the gasoline internal combustion engine gaining dominance in the 1910s. Various pistonless rotary engines, such as Mazda’s Wankel engine, have been introduced, but have had only limited success.
The ability to move rapidly from one place to another is transforming our societies. Economically, it offers the potential for a great deal of flexibility in daily activities and allows for the creation of new industries and jobs. Socially, it creates new lifestyle patterns based around the freedom of movement conferred by automobiles and the flexible distribution of goods made possible by trucks.
Despite the benefits, there are also costs associated with automobile ownership. These include initial purchase and maintenance costs, gasoline, depreciation, parking fees, taxes, insurance, and indirect societal costs such as pollution, health care costs due to accidents, and the cost of disposing of the automobile at the end of its life.