The Environmental Impact of Automobiles

Few inventions in modern times have had as profound an impact on human life and culture as the automobile. The car provides freedom, mobility and personal autonomy to millions of people around the world. It has also stimulated the development of a wide range of industries and services, including road construction, automotive parts, oil and gasoline, and even fast-food restaurants. However, the automobile has many negative effects on the environment, such as greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and noise, traffic congestion, and increased urban sprawl.

The modern automobile has thousands of individual parts. They are arranged in a system similar to the human body, with different functions. The chassis and body, analogous to the skeleton, support the various systems, while providing safety, comfort, and protection from the elements for passengers. The engine—the heart of the automobile—consists of pistons, cylinders, and tubes that deliver fuel to them. An automotive engine must be designed to produce the power required to drive the car and avoid leaking fuel, overheating, or other problems. The vehicle must also be designed to reduce its noise and emissions.

During the first decades of the 20th century, as the middle class in America grew, more and more families could afford to buy cars. As a result, the automobile came to dominate urban and rural transportation in the United States and Europe. At the same time, Henry Ford’s mass-production techniques revolutionized industrial manufacturing. He was able to produce the Model T at a reasonable price, which enabled many Americans to have their own cars for the first time.

Automobiles are powered by gasoline, which produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that transportation is responsible for 27 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. If drivers limit their gasoline use and make sure that their vehicles are properly maintained, they can help reduce greenhouse emissions.

Although cars can be expensive to purchase and operate, they often pay for themselves over time. They allow owners to travel where and when they want, and can save money compared with the cost of hiring a taxi or paying for bus or train tickets. They are also useful for commuters living in areas with limited public transportation options, or who must travel long distances to work.

Whether an automobile is driven on dirt roads or high-speed highways, it must be well-designed to withstand harsh operating conditions. Design considerations include the size of the vehicle, its weight distribution, the location and height of the center of gravity, suspension characteristics, and the choice of wheels. Other factors that influence design include safety and comfort requirements, aerodynamics (ways to reduce the friction of air flow over the body), and appearance. There are many challenges to automobile design, including the need for improved braking and steering systems, environmental regulations (such as standards for pollution control), and safety equipment. The development of these innovations is the responsibility of engineers and scientists. In the future, these specialists will continue to strive for new technical solutions for automotive engineering.