Automobiles are a crucial aspect of modern life. They are one of the most widely used vehicles in the world, with over 1.4 billion passenger cars in operation worldwide. Automobiles are self-propelled, four to eight wheeled motor vehicles designed for passenger transportation on land. They are powered by an internal combustion engine that is usually fueled with gasoline (or another petroleum-based fuel). The branches of engineering that deal with the manufacture and technology of automobiles are known as automotive engineering.
The automobile revolutionized twentieth-century American life by providing mobility that had never been available to most people before. It spawned new industries, including oil and steel. It encouraged families to spend vacation time in rural areas, and it gave urban dwellers a way to shop for groceries in suburban stores. It allowed young people to get out of their parents’ homes, and it helped teenagers acquire independence. It also facilitated social activities for couples, such as date nights.
Although the automobile had been invented as early as the late 1800s, it was not until 1902 that large-scale production-line manufacturing made it affordable for middle-class Americans to buy a car. Ransom Eli Olds’ 1904 one-cylinder, three-horsepower, tiller-steered Oldsmobile beat Mercedes and other expensive models to the market with an inexpensive, simple design and a price below the average annual wage of $575 at the time.
Several factors have contributed to the decline of the automobile industry in the late 1960s and 1970s, starting with federal standards on safety, pollution emissions, and energy consumption; escalating fuel prices prompted by oil shocks in 1973 and 1979; and changing tastes in design and appearance. The era of the annually restyled, gas-guzzling “road cruiser” came to an end when manufacturers had to compete with Japanese fuel-efficient and functionally designed small cars.
Most modern automobiles enclose their passengers in a protected environment, providing comfort, privacy and security not available on two-wheeled bicycles or most buses. They also give their owners the ability to choose where they want to go, and when. This flexibility is especially useful for individuals living in areas with limited public transportation. Moreover, many countries have developed bus, train, tram and subway systems that enable passengers to reach their destinations quickly, cheaply and in greater safety than is possible by automobile. Nevertheless, the advantages of owning an automobile should be balanced against the associated costs of purchase and operating expenses, as well as the environmental impacts and traffic congestion that they can cause. This is why alternative modes of transportation should be considered. For example, a scooter or bicycle can be a good alternative for shorter trips. Similarly, taxis can be a suitable means of transport for trips that are long and involve significant distances. For such trips, motorcycles may also be a convenient option, due to their higher speed and agility than the majority of passenger automobiles. Motorcycles are also cheaper to operate than automobiles. In addition, they offer a sense of freedom and fun that can not be provided by most forms of mass transportation.