Automobiles are four-wheeled passenger vehicles that run primarily on roads, have seating for one to seven people, and typically have an internal combustion engine. The term is used in contrast to trucks (or lorries or buses), which are designed for the transport of cargo, and with bicycles, which are essentially two-wheeled vehicles designed for riding. An automobile also may be distinguished by its suspension system, which absorbs shocks and vibrations from the road surface.

The automobile first came into widespread use in the early twentieth century. It revolutionized industry and technology, including automobile manufacturing and the assembly line, and gave people new freedoms in the movement of themselves and their belongings. It contributed to a new economy, creating jobs and industries in the manufacture of tires, rubber, steel and petroleum products, as well as services like gasoline stations and convenience stores. It also brought changes for everyday life, enabling families to travel together and to live away from cities, and encouraging recreational activities such as camping and vacations.

Cars have become essential for many people, and are one of the largest consumer goods in the world. However, their use has also brought problems such as pollution from exhaust emissions and traffic congestion. Governments have responded with laws governing vehicle safety, energy consumption and environmental impact, and by imposing requirements for drivers’ licenses and insurance coverage.

The earliest automobiles were developed in Germany and France in the late 1800s, but the United States quickly became the leading market for cars. American manufacturers pioneered the production process of mass-produced models, which enabled consumers to afford cars for the first time. This development was helped by the availability of cheap raw materials and a lack of tariff barriers.

Today’s automobiles are built to meet a variety of needs and lifestyles. There are small sporty cars that offer fuel efficiency and great handling, while larger SUVs are well suited for family trips or for camping and outdoor sports. In addition, there are a variety of hybrid and electric cars that use less gasoline than traditional vehicles, while offering the performance of a regular car.

Regardless of which type of vehicle is purchased, a person must carefully consider the cost of owning and operating it before making a purchase. An automobile can be a major financial investment, and the cost of maintenance, gas, insurance and parking must be taken into consideration. Moreover, the decision of whether to buy an automobile should be made with some thought given to the future. A young person may not want to invest in a car, especially if they plan to live in an urban area and to use public transportation or ride with friends. Similarly, an older person may decide that they no longer need a car to get around. In these cases, a person can consider selling the vehicle or trading it in to a dealer. Alternatively, the person can purchase or rent a motorcycle. This can be a more cost-effective alternative to buying a new or used automobile.