Automobiles are a complex system of interrelated parts that combine to produce the power and speed to propel vehicles through the air and over ground. The basic system is an engine that burns a volatile fuel to provide the energy to turn wheels and move the car. Other systems help control the car’s movement, provide a comfortable environment for passengers, and meet pollution standards. These include a cooling and lubrication system, electrical system, transmission, suspension, wheels and tires, braking system, and the body, which forms the passenger compartment, provides storage space, and supports the other systems.
Few inventions have had a greater impact on the modern world than the automobile, which has profoundly changed society, economy and culture in all nations of the world. Entire societies have been restructured around the ability for people to travel long distances at will and around the flexible distribution of goods made possible by trucks.
Exactly who invented the automobile remains a matter of controversy, but it was definitely perfected in Germany and France toward the end of the nineteenth century by such men as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, and Nicolaus Otto. The 1901 Mercedes is widely considered to be the first truly modern automobile.
As it took shape, the automobile caused a revolution in society, and dozens of new industries sprang up to meet its needs. Rubber factories, for example, boomed as demand for vulcanized rubber increased. Road construction companies blossomed as states and cities devoted massive amounts of money to highway design. Car production rose to unprecedented levels, and the three big American automakers — Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler — emerged as dominant producers by 1920.
The body of an automobile, analogous to the skeletal system in the human body, forms the passenger compartment, offers storage space, and houses the other vehicle systems. It must be strong enough to support the weight of the car and flexible enough to withstand the shocks and tension of driving and turning. It must also incorporate safety features, such as structural support that will crumple in a crash and a firewall between the engine and the passenger cabin.
The engine requires an electric system to give it the initial push to start the car moving. The battery supplies the power needed to run the engine and other systems of the automobile. The alternator recharges the battery in order to keep it charged. An important function of the battery is to supply electricity to sensors that govern many of the automotive’s other systems. A variety of other electrical systems are found in the automobile, including a radio, horn, and lights. An automobile must also contain a muffler to reduce noise and pollution. All of these features are designed to work together to create a machine that is powerful, safe, and versatile. It is this versatility that has allowed the automobile to become an integral part of our world and a major influence on its future direction.