Automobiles, or cars, are a vital part of the modern world. They give people the freedom to move across long distances and to change their jobs and living arrangements at will. They enable people to make many more visits to family and friends. They also serve as the main means of transportation for most industrial goods. Entire cities have been planned and built around the automobile. Moreover, entire industries and services have developed to support the automobile, including gas stations, car repair shops, parts and accessories, restaurants and hotels. Moreover, mass production techniques that first developed for the manufacture of automobiles have been applied to almost every industry.
The basic components of an automobile are its wheels, axles and frame; its engine, transmission and steering gear; and its body, which provides safety, comfort and convenience. The chassis, which is like a skeleton, supports all these systems. The tires, which are essentially steel rollers, roll over the roads. The brakes, which are a set of hydraulic pistons, apply pressure to the wheels and slow the car down. The gas or diesel engine, which is the source of all power and movement, is located in the middle of the vehicle. The oil pump, which is a series of valves that control the flow of gasoline or diesel to the engine, and other mechanical parts help the engine to function properly.
When the car was first introduced, it caused a great deal of controversy. Some people were very happy to see the end of horse-drawn carriages; others thought it was a terrible invention. Nevertheless, the car quickly gained a firm foothold in America. In fact, by the turn of the century, Americans were driving more miles than their European counterparts.
Throughout the nineteenth century, a number of inventors worked feverishly to solve the most difficult problem involved in the construction of a motorcar. The earliest were men like H. Bartol Brazier of Philadelphia, and J. L. Cato of San Francisco, who attempted to build a steam-powered vehicle in 1890. Others were the inventors of internal combustion engines—Nikolai Otto, Gottlieb Daimler, and Carl Benz—who designed and built the first petrol-driven vehicles.
But the most important innovation came from an American, Henry Ford, who designed a system for producing cars on an assembly line, in which workers perform one task at a time and parts pass on conveyer belts. The result was the first mass-produced, affordable automobiles.
As the automobile became more popular, its use was regulated by laws governing safety, emissions, and fuel efficiency. Traffic congestion became a common problem. Narrow roads with no shoulders or banked curves could not accommodate the speed runs of early automobile owners, and accidents began to pile up. However, the desire for speed, combined with the need to save time, led drivers to invent new and faster models of cars. As the years passed, American cars became the best in the world.