An automobile, also known as a car, is a wheeled motor vehicle designed to carry passengers and operate on roads. Automobiles have four wheels and are powered by internal combustion engines (using fuel such as gasoline) or electric motors (using electricity). Modern automobiles are complex technical systems, with multiple subsystems that require sophisticated engineering to design and produce. Some of the key functions of an automobile include acceleration, braking, steering and suspension. The automotive industry is a global business and a major component of the world economy.

The automobile has radically transformed our lives and society. It stimulated participation in outdoor recreation, spurred the growth of tourism and related industries such as service stations and roadside restaurants and brought urban amenities to rural areas (though it ironically ended family farming by making agricultural machinery obsolete). It has revolutionized transportation, enabling people to live farther from work than ever before, and providing access to jobs that would not be available otherwise.

It is the backbone of a new consumer goods-oriented society, ranked first in value added and providing one out of every six American jobs. It has become one of the largest buyers of steel and petroleum, the primary customer for many ancillary industrial products, and is the most important purchaser of advanced technology. It is an essential part of our everyday life and a significant symbol of the national culture, as well as a source of pride. It is a common object of artistic endeavors and has inspired books, plays, and films. The automobile has also influenced music and has provided a source of personal freedom.

Although the automobile was first perfected in Germany and France in the late 1800s, Americans eventually came to dominate it. In the 1920s Henry Ford innovated mass production, and Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler emerged as the “Big Three” of automaking. After the end of World War II, the automotive industry became a shared global enterprise, with manufacturers funneling resources to meet world demand.

The automobile has evolved into an indispensable part of our daily lives, with more than 1.4 billion cars currently in operation worldwide. It is now the primary means of family transportation, with most people spending more than five trillion miles (almost three trillion kilometres) in their vehicles each year. It has become the primary mode of public transport and is used by the military, government agencies, taxi companies, private citizens, delivery services, and commercial freight carriers. It has spawned numerous industries and provides employment for millions of people. It has shaped the social and cultural fabric of society and has profoundly influenced our economic and political system. It has also contributed to the development of suburban lifestyles and led to dramatic changes in our environmental and energy use. It has changed the way we work, shop, and play and influenced how we build our cities and towns. It has even changed our culture, as it has shaped our art, music, and literature.