An automobile (also motor car, car or auto) is a wheeled motor vehicle used for passenger transportation. Most of these vehicles are powered by internal combustion engines which burn fuel — usually gasoline, diesel or kerosene — to generate electricity that turns the wheels and propels the car forward. Automobiles may also be powered by electric motors, though they are less common. Other special automobiles are designed for particular tasks, such as police cars, fire engines and ambulances.

The automobile revolutionized personal transport in the United States and much of the world, allowing people to travel longer distances at faster speeds than ever before. This freedom of movement encouraged families to spend more time together and allowed urban dwellers to rediscover pristine rural landscapes. Teenagers gained a measure of independence and dating couples experienced more relaxed sexual attitudes. The social impact of the automobile was just as significant as its technological advances.

The first modern automobiles were built by Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz and other German inventors in the late 1800s. The 1901 Mercedes was considered the first true modern motorcar, weighing only fourteen pounds per horsepower and reaching a top speed of fifty-three miles an hour. By 1920, Henry Ford had innovated mass production techniques, and the American market was dominated by Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

By the late 1950s, European compact cars such as the Volkswagen Beetle caused a sensation in the United States. Automakers responded with their own versions of small, fuel-efficient vehicles. The trend toward smaller, lighter cars continues today.

While many different types of automobiles have been produced, the basic design has remained relatively unchanged. There are four primary body styles: sedans, station wagons, coupes and minivans. Most of these automobiles are fueled by gasoline, although some are powered by natural gas or other alternative fuels. There are even hybrid vehicles which combine a gasoline engine with an electric drive system to achieve better fuel economy than purely electric cars.

Automobiles are one of the most universal of modern technologies, but they come with some drawbacks. They can be dangerous if they are driven recklessly, and they can contribute to air pollution if too many are used in a small area. In addition, when too many automobiles are driven on the same roads, they can cause traffic jams and delays. As a result, many cities and towns use buses, passenger trains, trams or subways to get people where they need to go more quickly and cheaply than an automobile can. However, the automobile is still an important part of the transportation infrastructure in many countries. In 2005, there were 63 million cars and light-duty trucks being produced worldwide. Most of these were manufactured in the European Union, followed by NAFTA and China. The biggest producer of non-EU Eastern European cars is Japan, and the rest of the world is split almost evenly between India and the Middle East. The most popular automobile model is the Honda Civic.