Automobiles are vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine, and fueled by gasoline (also known as petrol) or other fossil fuels. Most automobiles have four wheels and are designed to carry people and cargo over long distances. They are among the most widespread of modern automotive technologies and form one of the largest industries in the world.

The first practical automobiles were developed in the late 1800s, and by the 1920s they had replaced horse-drawn carriages in most of Europe and America. The United States dominated the industry during this period, thanks to Henry Ford’s innovations in mass production, which lowered prices until automobile ownership became common for middle-class families. The car became the lifeblood of a new consumer goods-oriented economy, and it was a major source of employment for many workers in ancillary industries.

Cars have many advantages over other forms of transportation, including ease and speed of movement, the ability to travel long distances in a short time, and the ability to transport large loads. However, cars are also a source of pollution and congestion and can be a significant financial burden for their owners. Moreover, car accidents are often fatal, and they can be very expensive to repair.

Nevertheless, automobiles continue to be important to most people in the world and are used for transportation as well as leisure activities, such as shopping and visiting friends. Millions of people worldwide work in factories that produce automobiles, and millions more work at the gas stations, restaurants, and motels where drivers stop to eat or rest.

Automobiles come in many different shapes and sizes, but they all have the same basic parts. These include the engine, transmission, chassis, bodywork, control system, electrical equipment, and service devices. The engine is usually a gasoline, diesel, or natural gas-powered unit that powers the wheels via the transmission, which converts the power of the engine into driving force for the wheels. The chassis provides stability for the car, while the bodywork protects the occupants and contains the interior.

Some of the most popular automobiles are station wagons, minivans, sedans, and SUVs. A station wagon or wagonette has a trunk and seats five or more passengers, while a minivan has sliding doors that open like a van and can carry up to seven people. A sedan has four doors and is generally regarded as a more formal vehicle, while a coupe has two doors and is considered sportier. An SUV is a rugged automobile that combines the towing capability of a pickup truck with the passenger-carrying capacity of a sedan or minivan.

Most automobiles use an internal combustion engine to run, but they can also be powered by electricity, hydrogen, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or a mixture of these. The most common fuel is gasoline, which releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when burned. Cars can be used to limit greenhouse emissions by using fuel-efficient engines and driving them only when necessary.