The word "automobile" comes from the Greek prefix "αυτό" (self) and the Latin word "mobilis" (moving). This name means "self-moving", as cars run on their own power and do not need horses or other power from outside to move.
Types of automobiles change
Automobiles are made in different shapes and sizes, for people with different needs. Here are some common types.
- A convertible is an automobile with a roof that can be opened or taken off for an open-air drive. Sportier convertibles are called roadsters.
- A hatchback is a smaller automobile with a cargo area that uses the same space as the cabin (instead of a separate trunk like in a sedan or coupé). They combine the sportiness of coupés and sedans with the storage space of SUVs.
- A pickup truck is a truck with a separate cabin and cargo area on a ladder frame. The cargo area is called the "bed".
- A sedan (saloon in British English) is an automobile with a sloped rear window and separate trunk that has four doors.
- An SUV (sport utility vehicle) is a rugged automobile that has a combined passenger and cargo area (like in hatchbacks, minivans, station wagons, and passenger vans, and towing heavy trailers like pickup trucks). SUVs are very popular due to their usefulness.
- A van is a big box-shaped automobile meant for carrying plenty of passengers or cargo. There are many different sizes of vans, such as minivans, which are made for families.
To make an automobile move, it must have energy to turn the wheels. This energy might be chemical energy in gasoline or electrical energy in a battery. How quickly the engine or motor can send the energy to the wheels, and how much energy is sent, is called the power of the motor. The power of an automobile is usually measured in kilowatts or horsepower.
As of 2019, most automobile burn a fuel to make an internal combustion engine (sometimes called a "motor") run. The power from the engine then goes to the wheels through a transmission, which has a set of gears that can make the automobile go faster or slower. The most common fuel is petrol, which is called "gasoline" or "gas" in American English.
Gasoline is a fossil fuel because it comes from ferns and other plants which lived millions of years ago. Over the millions of years, they turned into oil. This was drilled up from inside the Earth, and turned into fuel by chemical changes. Old gasoline-powered automobiles are noisy and their exhaust makes city air dirty, which can make people ill. But automobiles made after the mid-2010s are cleaner.
Burning gasoline, like any kind of fossil fuel, makes carbon dioxide, which makes global warming. Since 2017, fewer gasoline powered automobiles are being made. Some places will not allow gasoline-powered automobiles in future, like Amsterdam in 2030.
The cleanest automobiles are electric vehicles. They are usually plugged into a power outlet or a charging station and store electricity in a battery at the bottom of the automobile. The electricity then drives an electric motor, which turns the wheels. Some electric automobiles have 2 motors: one at the front, and one at the back. A few have 4 motors (one for each wheel).
Other sources of energy change
Some automobiles burn diesel fuel, which is used in big trucks and buses, and a few use wood gas. In some countries, such as Brazil and Sweden, a mixture of ethanol and gasoline, called "gasohol" in Brazil and "E85" in Sweden, is used as automobile fuel. Other fuels include propane, natural gas, compressed air, and ethanol (which comes from plants). There are automobiles designed to run on more than one type of fuel — these are called "flex-fuel" and are rare.
A few automobiles generate electricity from hydrogen fuel cells (like the Honda Clarity). As of 2019, most of the hydrogen that people use comes from burning fossil fuels, but scientists and engineers are trying to make hydrogen from renewable energy a lot cheaper and easier to use.
Some automobiles even use solar cells for their electricity, but they are not very practical. There is a competition every year where people try to design a automobile that can last the longest and go the farthest on solar energy alone.
There is also a type of automobile that uses both an engine and an electric motor. This is called a hybrid electric vehicle; an example is the Toyota Prius.
Regenerative brakes change
All automobiles have brakes which work by friction to stop the automobile quickly in an emergency or stop it rolling when parked. Electric automobiles also have regenerative brakes, which slow the automobile by turning the energy in its movement back into electricity, like an electric motor working the opposite way. So regenerative means the electricity is generated again.
The earliest recorded automobiles were actually steam engines attached to wagons in the late 18th century. The steam engines were heavy, making these wagons slow and hard to control. Better and faster steam automobiles became common late in the 19th century.
Some automobiles in the early 20th century were powered by electricity. They were slow and heavy and went out of use until the idea came back later in the century.
The internal combustion engine changed the way many automobiles were powered. The engine used either gasoline, diesel, or kerosene to work. When the fuel is exploded in a cylinder it pushes the piston down and turns the wheels.
Although many people tried to make a good automobile that would work and sell well, people say that Karl Benz invented the modern automobile. He used a four-stroke type of internal combustion engine to power his Benz Patent-Motorwagen in 1886. He began to make many automobiles in a factory and sell them in Germany in 1888.
In North America, the first modern automobile was made by brothers Charles and J. Frank Duryea in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Duryea brothers' automobile also won the first-ever car race in 1895, competing against automobiles made by Benz. The race was in Chicago, Illinois, and 53 miles long. The Duryeas then began making the first automobiles for everyday use in 1896. That year, they made 13 automobiles by hand in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Benz may have invented the first modern automobile, and the Duryeas the first automobile to be sold, but Henry Ford sold the most automobiles to the most people. In 1910 he began making and selling his Model T, which was a huge success. Many people could afford this automobile, not just the rich, because Ford used mass production. This meant he made many Model Ts in a short time in a factory. People say that the Model T is the automobile that "put America on wheels". The Model T was the most popular automobile of the time because it was cheap but it was still a good quality automobile that ordinary people could own.
Since then, many different kinds of automobiles have been designed and built, from minivans to sports cars. In the 1950s, the United States made and used more automobiles than all the rest of the world. Fifty years later, China became the largest maker and user of automobiles.
Automobiles are faster than walking or riding a bike if you are going a long way. They can carry more than one person and a large amount of luggage. Depending on local public transport quality, they can also be faster and far more convenient than using buses, bicycles or passenger trains, and can often go where public transport cannot. 4-wheel drive "off road" vehicles are particularly good at reaching places difficult for other wheeled transport due to bad roads or harsh terrain. However, they cost more and burn more fuel, and there are many places even they cannot go.
Most automobiles enclose people and cargo in a closed compartment with a roof, doors and windows, thus giving protection from weather. Modern automobiles give further protection in case of collisions, as they have added safety features such as seat belts, airbags, crumple zones and side-impact protection that would be expensive or impossible on two-wheeled or light 3-wheeled vehicles, or most buses.
With regular check ups and service, automobiles can last a very long time. In some countries like Australia, people have to get their automobile checked by authorized mechanics regularly by law to confirm that their automobile is safe to drive. They can go to an automobile mechanic to get their automobile checked or have a mobile mechanic come to them to repair their automobile.
Buying and running a automobile needs a lot of money, especially for newer good-quality automobiles. There are things to pay for — the automobile itself, fuel, parts (for example, tyres), maintenance, repairs, insurance to cover the cost of crashes or theft, parking charges, and toll roads and any taxes or licensing fees charged by the government.
When automobiles crash, they can become damaged and hurt people, and the life of a person is more important than keeping a automobile from damage. When too many automobiles try to go the same way, traffic congestion slows them all. Automobiles can cause air pollution if too many are used in a small area like a city, and the combined pollution of the world's automobiles is partly to blame for climate change. Many places where people live close together have public transportation such as buses, passenger trains, trams and subways. These can help people go more quickly and cheaply than by automobile when traffic jams are a problem. Some of these problems can be made smaller, for example by carpooling, which is putting many people together in one automobile.
Traffic congestion and accidents can be dangerous to other road users, for example people riding bicycles or walking, especially in an old town built when automobiles were few. Some 20th century towns are designed for automobiles as the main transport. This can cause other problems, such as even more pollution and traffic, as few, if any, people walk. Communities are divided and separated by big roads. Pedestrians are in danger where there are too few foot bridges, small road bridges or other special crossings.
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