Few inventions in modern times have had as large a global impact on the economy and on the social life of human beings as the automobile. It offers freedom, convenience and flexibility in travel, but also contributes to environmental problems through traffic congestion, air pollution and fuel consumption. The choice to own a car depends on individual needs, priorities and lifestyle. Alternatives like public transportation, car sharing and biking may be more suitable for some.
Thousands of individual parts are arranged into several semi-independent systems with specific design functions, resembling the human body. The chassis and body form a strong skeleton that supports the systems of the vehicle, provides passenger safety and comfort, and protects against the elements. The engine, the heart of the automobile, is a complex mechanical system that consists of cylinders that provide combustion power. Other systems provide the circulatory system for cooling, lubricating and fueling the engine, as well as the exhaust and ventilation system.
It is a matter of debate whether it was Karl Benz, from Germany, or Edouard Delamare-Deboutteville and Leon Malandin, from France, who invented the first gasoline-powered automobile in 1883. Regardless, the car is one of the most important inventions in history. Its revolutionary ability to transform whole economies and societies changed the way people live, work, and play. It brought freedom and mobility to individuals, encouraged sprawl (i.e., straggling, low-density urban development), degraded landscapes and natural habitats, and led to traffic congestion and air pollution.