Automobiles are self-propelled motor vehicles intended for transporting people, usually with four wheels and powered by an internal combustion engine fueled by gasoline or another liquid petroleum fuel. The automobile was developed in the late 1800s and became one of the most universal of modern technologies. It enabled people to move around the world more freely and rapidly than had been possible before. It has revolutionized the way we live, but its development also brought problems and limitations.

The word automobile comes from the Latin “auto” (self) and the Greek prefix “mobilis” (moving). It was a term coined by Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz, two German inventors, to describe their first vehicle, which they called the Motorwagen. It was a four-wheeled car that ran on a gas-powered internal combustion engine, and it could seat one to eight passengers. The automobile is a fundamental human invention, and it symbolizes the promise and the pitfalls of the industrial age.

The automobile is a complex machine with many different systems working together. Its design requires a delicate balance of factors that must satisfy the needs and desires of many types of consumers. Each feature must be considered in the context of its effect on other parts of the system, including the environment, safety, comfort, performance, and cost.

There are many kinds of automobiles, and they are produced by a number of companies in the world. The most common type is the passenger car, which carries its occupants in a cabin that is protected from the elements. The cabin may have doors that open and close, or it may be enclosed for more privacy. Sportier versions of the car are called roadsters.

Some cars have engines that are mounted above the chassis, while others have them below. The engine power is transferred from the engine to the wheels by means of a transmission. The tires must be able to support the weight of the vehicle and respond quickly to changes in road conditions. The brakes must be able to stop the motion of the car when necessary.

Automobiles can be powered by electric motors, natural gas, diesel fuel, or even hydrogen, but the vast majority use petroleum products to propel them. The oil that is used for the purpose is extracted from the ground or obtained by processing other fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas. The world’s oil reserves are expected to be depleted in the near future, which has led to increased interest in alternative-fuel vehicles.

Automobile production slowed during World War II as manufacturers shifted production to meet war demands. After the war, demand for new cars continued to increase, but concerns surfaced about nonfunctional styling and American automobiles’ fuel efficiency, which led to accusations of them being “gas guzzlers.” The rising popularity of Japanese cars in the 1970s and ’80s inspired U.S. automakers to develop more functional, efficient designs and more automatic features. During this period, SUVs and minivans also gained popularity as families sought ways to carry cargo while still having room for passengers.