Automobiles are generally four-wheeled vehicles designed primarily for passenger transportation, often propelled by an internal combustion engine using a volatile fuel. They are an essential part of modern society, serving many important functions such as transportation to work and school, shopping, and leisure activities. The design of an automobile is highly complex, with thousands of subsystems, each with specific functions. The development of the automobile has involved substantial innovation, including breakthroughs in the use of electronic computers, high-strength plastics, and advanced alloys of steel and nonferrous metals.

The automobile’s impact on the environment is significant, especially when it is powered by fossil fuels such as petroleum and natural gas. Automobiles emit air pollution and greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and their production and operation require massive amounts of energy and raw materials. However, the level of environmental impact is largely under the control of individual drivers.

There are many different kinds of Automobiles, depending on their intended purpose. For example, Automobiles that are designed for off-road driving must have rugged systems with excellent resistance to severe overloads and extreme operating conditions. On the other hand, Automobiles that are designed for highway cruising require more passenger comfort options and optimized high-speed handling and stability.

In the early 1900s, the automobile revolutionized American life and culture. It opened up new job opportunities and allowed people to live farther away from work and more conveniently visit friends and family. It also fueled the economy, creating dozens of spin-off industries that provided jobs to millions of Americans.

By 1914, Henry Ford had introduced mass-production techniques that greatly reduced the cost of the Model T, bringing mass personal “automobility” within the reach of middle-class Americans. The streamlined, one-size-fits-all runabout cost about $575, which was less than the average annual wage of that time.

Since then, the automotive industry has evolved to keep pace with changing consumer demands and technological advances. The most successful automakers are those that can match advanced engineering with moderate prices and reasonable fuel consumption, allowing consumers to choose the type of vehicle that best suits their lifestyles. The 2024 ranking of the top-performing brands by Consumer Reports is based on road test scores, reliability and owner satisfaction survey results, safety data, and manufacturer warranty information. Each brand has its own niche, from the sporty Mazda MX-5 Miata to the fuel-efficient Kia Niro hybrid. But all the models on the list have something in common: They are easy to drive and a joy to own. For many, there is simply nothing else that comes close to the fun and freedom of owning a car.