Automobiles are wheeled vehicles that carry people or goods. They use an engine to propel them forward and have a steering wheel for turning and brakes to slow down or stop. Most of them burn a fuel like gasoline, but there are also some that run on electricity. The branches of engineering that deal with automobiles are known as automotive engineering.
Cars have transformed modern-day life to a degree that few other inventions have. They allow people to travel long distances quickly and connect cities, towns, and rural areas in a way that had not been possible before. They have shaped urban design and created new businesses such as gas stations, hotels, and amusement parks. They have increased social and recreational activities by allowing people to escape from work and spend time with friends or family.
Until the 1920s, only wealthier Americans could afford cars. But as the middle class grew, more families could buy them. Karl Benz is credited with inventing the first modern automobile with his Benz Patent-Motorwagen, which was introduced in 1885. But Henry Ford greatly improved the manufacturing process by creating the moving assembly line and making the Model T affordable for mass personal ownership.
Today there are more than 1.4 billion passenger cars in the world. They are used to transport people and things over three trillion miles (five trillion kilometres) each year. They are the main form of transportation for most families, and they shape public services such as police, fire, and highways. They have also become the major consumers of steel, petroleum, and other industrial products.