Automobiles are wheeled vehicles that carry passengers and are powered by internal-combustion engines using a volatile fuel. Modern automobiles have thousands of component parts, organized into several semi-independent systems, each with a specific design function. Some of these systems have evolved from breakthroughs in existing technology; others are the result of new technologies such as electronic computers, high-strength plastics, and advanced alloys of steel and nonferrous metals. The systemic complexity of the automobile has come to be a source of social and environmental concern.
Karl Benz, a German engineer, is credited with inventing the first automobile around 1885. He built his prototype on a horse carriage chassis. The early automobiles were steam and electrically powered, but they didn’t have many of the things we take for granted today like seat belts, a windshield, and rearview mirrors. In the 1910s and 1920s, Henry Ford, an American businessman, revolutionized the automobile industry by inventing the assembly line, which made cars cheaper to produce. This allowed people who previously couldn’t afford an automobile to drive them. The car also changed society, allowing women to drive and go places that were once only for men, giving them more freedom in their lives and enabling families to spend more time together.
The modern automobile has several major systems, including a power train, chassis, body, and suspension. The chassis is the framework that supports and houses the other systems of the car. It is often made of steel, but it can be constructed from other materials such as aluminum or fiberglass. The suspension system is the mechanism that makes the car ride smoothly and safely over uneven roadways. It is composed of springs and shock absorbers, which are both designed to reduce the vibration caused by road irregularities.
To make the engine of an automobile work, it needs a powerful electrical system. The electric starter motor provides the force necessary to get the engine going, and the battery supplies energy for the engine to burn gasoline or other fuel.
A vehicle’s performance and safety depend on its design, and the designer’s goal is to create a product that will perform well in its intended use. For example, a vehicle that will be used off-road must have durable, simple systems with high resistance to extreme overloads and operating conditions. Those designed for high-speed limited-access roadways require more passenger comfort and safety options, optimized engine performance, and improved stability.
Other important considerations are cost and weight. An automobile designer may choose to make the system as complex as possible, but this can increase the overall cost and weight. For example, adding independent suspension for all four wheels increases the size of the automobile and requires changes in the other systems. Similarly, the choice of front-wheel or rear-wheel drive affects the size and arrangement of the engine and other systems. Lastly, the use of computer technology in an automobile increases the number of parts and complexity of the overall design.