An automobile is a motor vehicle for passenger transport on land, usually four-wheeled and powered by an internal combustion engine fuelled most commonly by gasoline (petrol), or occasionally other petroleum products. It is one of the most universal modern technologies, and has served as the catalyst for major changes in the ways people live and work in the world.

Unlike bicycles or trains, automobiles can be driven over long distances at high speeds with relative comfort. This has opened up many new opportunities for people, and allowed them to have more choices about where they choose to live and what jobs they can take. In addition, people can travel to work and school with ease, even in places far away from their homes, without having to rely on others for transportation.

Karl Benz is generally credited with inventing the first automobile around 1885, but other engineers and inventors had developed earlier designs. It was Henry Ford, however, who made automobiles accessible to the general public. He used industrial manufacturing methods that radically reduced production costs and made them affordable to middle-class families.

Automobiles are complex vehicles that have multiple systems working together. These include the engine, transmission, electrical system, cooling and lubrication systems, and chassis. Each of these systems has specific design functions, and each interacts with the other. The components of the automobile are also arranged in different ways to meet the requirements of each type of car. For example, a sports car requires a more powerful engine and more fuel than an economy model.

The most critical factor in a car’s success has been its power to provide mobility for its passengers. Combined with the development of road networks and the establishment of refueling stations, it has enabled people to live and work at great distances from their homes. This has revolutionized the way we use our time, and changed our culture in profound ways.

The automobile has become a vital economic force in the United States, and in other countries as well. It is the largest consumer of petroleum, and one of the most important consumers of steel and other materials. The automotive industry is one of the most profitable in the world, and has influenced the production of many ancillary industries. In the United States it has become the backbone of a consumer goods-oriented society, and provides one out of six jobs. It is also the largest buyer of parts from other manufacturers, and a leading customer for a variety of ancillary businesses. For example, the various models of cars produced by General Motors share mechanical parts with one another. This allows the company to produce different types of cars at a range of prices. This strategy has also been employed by other large automobile producers.