"Car" redirects here. For the country, see Central African Republic

Porsche car

A modern Porsche

An automobile or car is a machine used for transportation that contains an engine, which drives wheels. Attached to a chassis, the wheels move the chassis and its contents. In most cases, a modern automobile has four wheels, and is separated into three parts: a front, middle and rear. The front, covered by a hood (US English) or bonnet (UK English), generally contains the engine, transmission, electronics and other significant parts. The rear, trunk (US English) or boot (UK English) is used for storage. The middle contains the passenger seats. Safety features like seat belts, crumple zones and air bags are also standard on modern vehicles.


The first practical automobile was invented by Karl Benz at the end of the 19th century. American industrialist Henry Ford mechanized the process of automobile production by applying the principle of the assembly line to the building process. This industry innovation made automobiles cheaper. The Model T became famously ubiquitous in the United States.

The current configuration of the gas pedal, clutch, brake and steering wheel became standard around the 1920s, as did the relatively new feature of the ignition key. Automobiles continued to evolve all the way through the 1960s, when Volvo was the first company to introduce seat belts. The 1960s were also the heyday of Detroit's "Big Three" auto companies - General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. In the 1970s and '80s, Japanese companies like Toyota and Honda emerged as affordable and reliable alternatives to the European and American companies that had dominated the marketplace.

The American auto industry suffered in the 2000s due to declining sales, largely thanks to more economical and reliable Asian models. By the 2010s, the United States government had to buy most of Chrysler to prevent it from failing. Italian auto giant Fiat then effectively purchased Chrysler, staffing most of its leadership with Fiat executives. Ford refocused its brand image and the companies are now in a recovery phase. Cars with higher fuel mileage and more technological features are now leading the way in innovation.


The most basic principle of an automobile's operation is the effect of combustion. Combustion engines were pioneered as reliable machines in the later 1800s, and today cars use gasoline (or often diesel) to combust, driving a piston upwards, rotating a shaft and powering the wheels. Today's automobiles have a transmission or gearbox that can control how much power is applied to the wheels, with anywhere from six to twelve or more settings, known as gears, depending on the car's performance level. There is a reverse gear, which makes the car go in reverse, and a "park", which is used when the vehicle is not operational. "Neutral" prevents the engine from powering the car, and can be used to coast or save fuel (which is discouraged), or to alleviate engine issues.

In order to smoothen the ride for the driver and passengers, the body of the car is suspended by tight springs, known as the suspension. The fuel, usually gasoline or diesel, is held in a gas tank. In most cars these are ten to fifteen gallons. The exhaust is passed through a filter to remove toxins and a muffler to dampen sound, and released through the exhaust pipe.

Windshield wipers can be activated to remove rain or other precipitation. The windshield itself is nowadays layered with plastic film to prevent it from collapsing during a collision or impact. A dashboard behind the steering column contains indicators that display speed, torque, fuel and temperature levels, and other information for the driver. Modern cars are equipped with speakers and radio/music players, or player capability. Many cars also feature GPS navigation systems, blind spot detection and other electronic features.

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