Automobiles are vehicles designed for transportation of people and/or goods. They have a long history and continue to evolve with technological advances and consumer demands. A car is usually powered by an engine, either gas or electric, and its body is made of a variety of materials to suit the vehicle’s purpose and design.

The automobile revolutionized personal transportation, making it possible for most families to own a car, which could be driven to work, school, shopping centers and many other places. It also led to a number of spin-off industries, from tire manufacturing to road construction. The demand for vulcanized rubber soared and road construction projects provided thousands of jobs in rural areas, where public transportation options were limited.

Before the automobile became common, people moved from place to place using horse-drawn carriages. There were a few early cars that were run by steam or electricity, but they were expensive to operate. The introduction of the internal combustion engine in the late 1890s by German inventor Carl Benz made it possible for more people to afford a car.

In the United States, a number of new companies began producing cars in large numbers during the 1920s. Ford introduced modern mass production with the moving assembly line in his Highland Park, Michigan plant. His Model T ran for less than half the cost of a year’s wages in 1912 and brought automobile ownership to millions of middle class Americans.

After World War II, the automobile industry exploded in size and diversity. Many of the most successful companies, such as Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mazda, started as nonautomobile manufacturers before the war and converted to car production afterward. Engineering in postwar automobiles was subordinated to the questionable aesthetics of nonfunctional styling, and quality deteriorated so that by the 1970s, American-made cars had an average of twenty-four defects per vehicle.

Despite the problems caused by automobile accidents and pollution, consumers were drawn to the freedom offered by driving. Families discovered pristine landscapes they had never before seen, and urban dwellers drove out to shop in rural towns. Teenagers enjoyed the freedom of driving and dating couples gained privacy as they travelled to places far from home.

Today, cars have become the dominant form of personal transportation in many parts of the world. They can transport people and cargo in a wide range of situations, and are often equipped with advanced features such as GPS navigation systems. Cars can be customized to fit the preferences of each driver, with options for music, climate control and seating to make driving more comfortable. In addition, a car can be useful for hauling items that are difficult or impossible to carry on other modes of transportation. However, the environmental impact of cars is still considerable, with their emissions contributing to air pollution and global warming. It is important to consider the environmental costs of owning a car before making a purchase.