Automobiles, also called cars, are motor vehicles that run primarily on roads and carry passengers. They usually seat one to eight people and have four wheels. They were first invented in the late 1700s and became commonplace in the 1900s. They brought with them new jobs, leisure activities and services such as hotels and restaurants, but they also caused pollution and consumed vast amounts of undeveloped land.

The automobile revolutionized the way we live and work by making it possible to travel longer distances in a shorter amount of time. It has become nearly impossible to imagine life without a car in the 21st century. People can get where they need to be without relying on others for rides, and they have more control over their schedules and time. They can visit friends and family in far-away places, and they have access to information that would be difficult or impossible to obtain any other way.

The first automobiles were steam-powered vehicles, such as the phaetons of the early 19th century or the steam buses and coaches of the Victorian period. By the 1890s, inventors had perfected internal combustion engines that could drive the cars. The automobile became the dominant form of transportation throughout most of the world by the 1920s. By that time, the development of mass-production methods by American carmaker Henry Ford had made cars affordable for middle-class Americans. Ford was the first to use an assembly line, where workers focused on one task at a time while car parts passed them on a conveyor belt. This reduced the cost of producing the Model T to about $575 in 1912, a price well within the range for many American families.

Today, automobiles are used by millions of people every day. They transport people and goods to work, school, shops and leisure destinations. They provide jobs for people who build and repair them, as well as those who sell or service them. Many cities and states have built highway systems to accommodate the increasing number of cars. They are used in recreational activities such as driving races and rallies, and for work in construction, forestry and agriculture. Some people even drive special automobiles to perform duties such as fire fighting, police enforcement and rescue operations.

There are different kinds of automobiles, such as sports or luxury cars, which vary by engine size, transmission type and performance characteristics. Some have advanced features, such as radar-controlled cruise control and self-parking functions. Others are designed for particular purposes, such as off-road vehicle designs that are rugged and have low ground clearance. Other kinds of automobiles include military vehicles, buses and trucks. In the United States, the word “automotive” is sometimes spelled as “automobile” and used to mean the same thing as a bus or truck. The term car is sometimes used to refer to a small, city-oriented vehicle or an SUV or a pickup truck. In other countries, the terms car and truck are often used interchangeably.