How Do Automobiles Work?

Automobiles are vehicles that carry passengers and can be driven on roads or other surfaces. The automobile is a complicated machine with many systems that work together to make it go, steer, and stop. Automobiles use gasoline, which burns to produce energy that turns the wheels and drives the vehicle forward. Some vehicles also run on alternative fuels, such as electric motors.

In the late 1800s, Karl Benz of Germany and Emile Levassor and Armand Peugeot of France built their first automobiles using engines of their own design. In 1890, they made the longest trip by an automobile—across France to Paris and back to Valentigney, about 2,100 kilometres.

By 1900, the automobile was changing American society. It enabled people to travel farther and faster than before, opening up the nation’s frontier for settlement and development. It stimulated participation in outdoor recreation and spurred the growth of roadside services such as gas stations, highway restaurants, and motels. It ended rural isolation and brought urban amenities, such as schools and medical care, to remote areas. It increased the number of jobs at auto factories and in transportation-related industries.

Today, millions of people worldwide work in the manufacture of cars and their components. Millions more work in the service industries that keep them running. And yet, the automobile has a downside: it kills tens of thousands of people in traffic accidents every year and causes air pollution that contributes to global warming.

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