How Automobiles Have Changed Our Lives

Automobiles are complex machines that use multiple systems to power and control the vehicle. These systems include the engine, which produces the energy that turns the wheels and powers the lights and other electrical systems; the transmission, which converts the engine’s power into forward motion; the steering, which moves the car in a direction; the brakes, which slow or stop the car; and the suspension, which absorbs shock and provides comfort when traveling over rough roads.

The automobile has changed the way we live. It has shifted our work patterns and shaped our communities. It has increased the freedom of movement for millions of people and created new jobs in industries such as manufacturing, road construction and trucking. It has helped bring city amenities, including parks and good schools, to rural areas. It has also led to the development of sprawling suburban neighborhoods.

Until cars became widely available, most people lived within a few miles of where they were born and raised. Moving even a short distance took hours of hard-slogging by horse-drawn buggy over rough roads. Cars opened up the world to leisure travel and allowed working families to choose where they wanted to live in relation to their career.

The automotive industry is one of the largest employers in the world and is a leading producer of consumer goods. In the United States, over 4.25 million people are employed directly in the production of cars and trucks. Many more are employed in the ancillary and service industries that support the transportation sector.

Early automobiles used a variety of fuels, including steam and electricity. The first steam-driven car was built by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in France in 1769. In the late 19th century manufacturers such as Emile Levassor and Armand Peugeot of France began producing cars with Daimler engines, which ran on petrol (gasoline). Later in the 19th century Henry Ford of the US pioneered mass production techniques in his Highland Park factory in Michigan. Workers performed one task at a time while parts moved on conveyer belts. Ford’s Model T ran for $575, less than the annual wage of a typical American worker in 1912.

Today’s automobiles have evolved into sophisticated, highly technical machines that have become integral to most modern lifestyles. Some experts even suggest that modern society wouldn’t exist without the automobile. However, automobiles cause problems as well. They pollute the air we breathe, they contribute to traffic congestion and they often lead to deadly accidents.

Automakers design vehicles with different purposes in mind, from luxury sedans to rugged off-roaders. Cars with off-road capability need durable, simple systems designed for rugged conditions. High-speed performance requires optimized passenger comfort and improved safety features, along with a smooth ride and responsive handling. To make their automobiles rank highest in Consumer Reports ratings, some brands rely on consistent excellence across their models and build quality into the cost of the car. These are the brands that land in the top of our rankings, with names like BMW, Subaru and Lexus that routinely earn spots thanks to their outstanding road-test and owner survey scores. In contrast, brands that consistently miss the mark in our evaluations are likely to fall down the rankings.

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