The automobile symbolizes the promise – and the pitfalls – of modern life. It enables people to travel from place to place at a time of their choosing, without having to wait for or share space in an overcrowded bus. And it gives them freedom from the inconvenient and unsanitary conditions of public transportation, including the potential for personal hygiene problems caused by other passengers.
The technological and scientific building blocks of the modern automobile go back several hundred years. In the late 1600s, Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens invented a type of internal combustion engine sparked by gunpowder.
Gasoline-powered vehicles gained the most popularity in 1900, although cars powered by steam and electric power also were available. In the 1920s, automotive manufacturer Henry Ford introduced manufacturing methods that made automobiles affordable to middle-class families.
Automobiles are now a common sight on America’s roads, with more than three trillion miles (five trillion kilometers) driven every year. There are many choices when selecting a vehicle, and deciding what is the best fit depends on your lifestyle, driving style, and budget.
If you do a lot of city driving, a small and economical sedan is probably the way to go. But if you’re always on the road with coworkers or enjoy taking local twisty roads for fun, you might want something with more power and speed. In that case, you might opt for a midsized or large sedan with sport-tuned suspension, paddle shifters, and a high-performance mode that increases engine output.