Automobiles are one of the most important inventions of modern times. They make possible the modern conveniences of transportation, communication, and personal mobility that most people take for granted. They also influence many aspects of daily life, including economics, culture, and the environment. The automobile is so widely used that it affects virtually every part of the world. This article discusses the basic mechanics of the modern automobile, including the internal combustion engine and its various components, the wheels and suspension, steering and braking systems, and the chassis and body, which is analogous to the human skeletal system. The articles explains how these systems work together to provide safety, comfort and ease of use for passengers and cargo.
The scientific and technical building blocks for the modern automobile go back several hundred years. The first automobiles were essentially horse-drawn carriages with engines added to them. By the late 19th century, inventors had developed a wide range of new types of automobiles, and they were still trying to decide which would dominate the market. Steam, electric power, and gasoline powered cars competed for decades, with gas-powered internal combustion automobiles gaining a strong lead by the 1910s.
Almost every car on the road today has evolved from these early vehicles. Many have specialized features, such as a hood that folds away for easy entry and exit or a roof rack for carrying luggage. However, the fundamental design remains largely the same.
For example, most automobiles have a suspension system that supports the vehicle over its wheels and absorbs the shock of bumps in the road. The suspension system consists of springs and shock absorbers, which are tubes filled with hydraulic fluid that compress when the wheels hit an obstacle or a pothole. The springs then bounce up and down to absorb the impact, and the shock absorbers dampen, or quiet, the movement.
Many cars are designed to look like SUVs and crossovers to appeal to buyers who want SUV-like space, capability, and utility but don’t want the fuel economy penalty of a large, thirsty engine. The best of these vehicles, such as the Subaru Outback, offer a compromise between these competing factors by providing SUV-like space and off-road handling with car-like handling and efficiency.
All automobiles need brakes to stop them from rolling when they are stopped, as well as to control them during driving. Most use friction braking, which turns some of the energy from the car’s motion into heat and friction to slow it down. Many also use regenerative brakes that turn some of the energy from the car’s movement into electricity to recharge the battery.
Other essential parts of an automobile include the transmission, which adjusts the ratio of speed to torque (the force that propels the vehicle forward). For instance, high torque is needed for starting a car, but high speed is needed to run it at highway speeds. The transmission system consists of gears that shift the ratio between these two speeds to meet the automobile’s needs.