Automobiles are a major source of transportation, especially in developed countries. They allow people to travel long distances, connecting towns and cities and providing access to work and leisure opportunities that would be impractical or impossible without them. They have changed urban design, shaped government services like police and ambulance, and contributed to the development of new businesses such as gas stations and hotels. They also enable people to go on short trips and vacations, and have influenced cultural practices such as shopping and entertainment.

The automobile is a complex technical system that relies on many subsystems with specific design functions. Among them are the engine, suspension, transmission, braking and lighting systems. The development of the modern automobile entailed great leaps in technology. It became one of the most important forces driving twentieth century society, the backbone of a consumer goods-oriented economy. It was the biggest consumer of petroleum and steel, and a major contributor to the growth of industries that produced ancillary products.

Its impact is felt on a global scale. While the automobile has brought unprecedented convenience, its use also contributes to air pollution and congestion on the world’s roads. Its fuel consumption contributes to the world’s dwindling oil supplies.

The main benefits of car ownership are independence and freedom. Without a car, a person is dependent on the availability of public transportation. This can be costly, and it is difficult to schedule a life around bus stops or train times.