An automobile is a motor vehicle for transporting people or goods over the road. It may be powered by gasoline, diesel, natural gas, balloon fuel or electricity. Automobiles can be divided into different types based on their construction and purpose, such as passenger cars, trucks, vans, sports cars or commercial vehicles. There are also special automobiles designed for rescue or protection, such as police cars, fire engines or ambulances.

Invented in the late 19th century, the automobile revolutionized human travel and made it possible to live far from work or home. It is now one of the most important inventions in history, and today, it is inconceivable to imagine modern life without a car.

The modern automotive industry is centered in the United States and Western Europe, with major manufacturers including General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen, Renault, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota. Several new technical developments have driven development of the automobile, including electrical systems (electric ignition and the electric self-starter, both developed by Charles Kettering for the Cadillac Motor Company in 1910), independent suspension and four-wheel brakes.

In the mid-19th century, German inventors Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler began experimenting with gasoline-powered cars. In 1885, Benz built the first automobile with an internal combustion engine. His design was improved by Henry Ford, who created an assembly line where workers do one job while car parts pass them on a conveyor belt. This process reduced the price of his Model T until it became affordable for middle-class families.

Automobiles require a wide range of complex mechanical, electrical and electronics systems to function properly. These include the engine, transmission and other powertrain components, as well as control, safety and environmental systems. The transmission is the heart of the system, transferring the engine’s mechanical energy to the wheels. It can be either manual or automatic, and there are many types of transmissions, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Other key features of an automobile are a fuel tank, steering system and brakes. The steering system helps the driver steer the vehicle, while the brakes help to slow or stop it. The fuel tank supplies the engine with the necessary fuel to run it. It is also equipped with a safety feature that prevents the vehicle from starting when the parking brake is engaged.

In the United States, an automobile must comply with federal and state motor vehicle laws and regulations to be street legal. Most of the laws are aimed at protecting the safety and security of drivers and passengers, while others address licensing, inspection, insurance and registration requirements. The cost of owning and maintaining an automobile can be high, but there are many benefits of having a personal transportation device. For example, it saves time and money compared to using public transportation. It also gives the owner the freedom to travel at his or her own convenience and not be dependent on public services for travel. In addition, it can reduce stress by allowing individuals to avoid crowded buses and trains.