An automobile, also known as a car, is a passenger vehicle with four wheels, that has an internal combustion engine and is designed to travel on roads. Its name is derived from the Greek word for self-moving, as it does not need horses or other power from outside to move, unlike a horse carriage. An automobile can be powered by gasoline, diesel fuel, or kerosene. It is controlled by a steering wheel, brake pedals and a dashboard that includes an instrument panel. It can be driven by a single person or by multiple people, depending on the model. Special automobiles exist for various purposes, such as a crane vehicle at the construction site of a building or a forklift in a warehouse.

The modern automobile is a complex machine with many different systems working together to make it move, control and steer. The heart of every automobile is its engine, which produces the power to turn its wheels and provide electricity for its lights and other systems. The first practical, marketable automobile was invented in 1886 when German inventor Karl Benz patented the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. By the early 1920s automobile production had surpassed all previous levels, and it was one of the largest products in the world.

As the backbone of a new consumer goods-oriented society, the automobile spawned a host of ancillary industries. The demand for automobiles encouraged a rise in outdoor recreation and tourism, spurring the growth of roadside service stations, restaurants and motels. It also fueled the development of highways, which became one of the largest public works programs in history. In addition, the automobile accelerated rural urbanization and brought medical care, schools and other amenities to remote areas.

The automobile was a key force behind the development of twentieth century America as an industrial powerhouse, a dominant world player and a center of world trade. It was the most important consumer of steel and petroleum and a major user of other industrial products. Its use prompted the development of a large domestic manufacturing sector and gave rise to massive multinational corporations, such as Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

In the United States, the automobile symbolizes a fundamental desire for freedom of movement, action and living. It has been a key component of the nation’s culture, from the artful mid-century modern designs that cruised U.S. highways in the 1950s to sleek, fuel-efficient Japanese vehicles that dominated the global marketplace since the 1960s. The automobile has fueled America’s pursuit of wealth and affluence, and contributed to its social and cultural evolution into a global leader. However, it has also created a number of problems and is a source of significant environmental harm. The negative effects of the automobile are widespread and include traffic congestion, air pollution, a lack of pedestrian safety and parking space. Nonetheless, most Americans consider the ownership of a car a valuable part of their lifestyle. For those who live in suburban and rural areas with poor or nonexistent public transportation options, a car is a necessity.