Automobiles are vehicles powered by internal combustion that can be driven on paved or unpaved roads. They are used to transport passengers and cargo. They are usually powered by a gasoline or diesel engine. They have cushioned seats and windows to protect passengers from dust and rain. They have a steering wheel to control the vehicle and a brake pedal to stop the car. Some automobiles have a gearbox to change gears.

The first automobiles were designed by Karl Benz and other inventors. They were expensive, however, and only available to the wealthy. By the 1910s, Henry Ford introduced methods of mass production that made them more affordable to middle class Americans. The automobile revolutionized the economy and changed lifestyles. People had more leisure time, and they could travel to work or visit family and friends. New industries sprang up to produce automobile parts and fuel. Services such as gas stations, convenience stores, and motels also appeared.

Today, there are more than 1.4 billion cars in use worldwide. They travel more than three trillion miles every year in the United States alone. Modern life would be inconceivable without the automobile.

The earliest vehicles were powered by steam, electric power, and gasoline. Steam-powered cars reached high speeds but had limited range and required frequent stops to refuel. Electric cars had a small share of the market but were slow and had limited battery power. Gasoline-powered cars won out over the other two types of vehicles. Inventors improved the engines, including the flat-engine design invented by Emile Levassor and Armand Peugeot of France in 1890. They completed the first Paris-Brest-Paris race in six days with a self-designed and built Daimler engined Peugeot Type 3.

Vehicles are designed for different purposes, and their appearance is often influenced by these uses. For example, automobiles intended for off-road use must have durable systems that can withstand severe operating overloads and extreme conditions. On the other hand, vehicles for road racing require optimized high-speed handling and stability. Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and other Japanese automakers began as manufacturers of non-automotive products before World War II but switched to producing vehicles during the 1950s.

Besides passenger cars, automobiles include commercial and utility vehicles. These vehicles are designed for specific tasks like a crane vehicle at construction sites, or fork-lifts in warehouses. There are also emergency automobiles, which are designed to rescue people in cases of accidents or emergencies like fire, police cars, ambulances and patrol cars. Many of these vehicles have special equipment such as lights and sirens to alert other drivers of their presence. They can also have a computer system to control the vehicle or warn its occupants of hazardous situations. They are sometimes equipped with airbags for driver and passenger safety. They may also have anti-lock braking systems and air conditioning to keep the passengers comfortable. Other features include GPS navigation, satellite radio, and a rearview camera for safe parking. These features help drivers keep track of their surroundings when they are in a hurry to get somewhere.