A motor vehicle designed to travel on its own under the power of an internal combustion engine. Usually a car can carry the driver and a few additional passengers. Automobiles devoted mainly to transporting cargo are called trucks, vans and buses.

Automobiles have been a major influence on the development of the world economy and society. Their use has stimulated participation in outdoor recreation and spawned industries that service travelers–such as motels and roadside restaurants. Their presence has led to a great expansion in the construction of roads and highways, one of the largest items of public expenditure in modern times. They have ended rural isolation and brought urban amenities, such as schools and better medical care, to the countryside. The automobile has also made it possible to commute to work from remote areas and has brought people together in ways that were previously impossible.

In the United States, where demand for cars was greatest, American automobile firms rapidly perfected modern mass production techniques. Ford’s 1901 Model T runabout, which sold for less than the average annual income in America, was a highly advanced machine for its time.

However, the convenience and safety offered by automobiles has been offset by their contribution to traffic congestion and environmental pollution. The combination of these problems has prompted many cities to provide alternative forms of transportation that are faster, cheaper and less polluting than driving a car. Among these alternatives are bus (steam, diesel-powered and electric), rail (steam or diesel-powered monorail or light rail) and subway systems.

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