What is an automobile


A car race in Austria with old vehicles. Cars from the past that can still be driven today are called oldtimers, i.e. Oult-Teimer. That means: cars from the old days.

A car is a vehicle with an engine. It usually has four wheels. Other names are automobile or motor vehicle. Cars that take people from place to place are called passenger cars, or passenger cars for short. If a car is primarily used to move big things, it is called a truck or lorry.

The word automobile comes from Greek and Latin. “Cars” means “yourself”, the Latin word “mobilis” means “mobile”. So it is something that seems to "move on its own". For example, it is not pulled by horses. In the 19th century it was first used to refer to a tram.

Like many inventions, the car had many inventors. At first, attempts were made to drive a car with steam engines and electric motors. The actual car as we know it has an internal combustion engine. In it, gasoline or diesel is brought to a small explosion that drives the car.

It took a long time, however, before a really large number of people had a car. At first it was more of a sport for rich people. Little by little, people who had to move heavy things for their jobs were able to afford a car. In the industrialized countries in the years after 1950 one saw mainly carts with horses.

Today there are around 40 million passenger cars in Germany alone. There are also around ten million trucks. Almost every family has at least one car. That can also be a problem: in many big cities around the world there are so many cars that there is not enough space for them. Cars also emit harmful gases, which is bad for the environment.

Cars are now also used in competitions: such races are part of motorsport. For this you need vehicles that have been built for exactly that, that are particularly fast, very resilient or particularly agile.

When was the first car trip?

A picture from 1894: Bertha Benz and her husband Carl on one of his motor vehicles.

Carl Benz drove his new vehicle as early as 1885, which he was constantly improving. The first long drive, however, did not take place until three years later, without him. His wife Bertha grabbed the car and her two sons and drove from Mannheim to Pforzheim. After three days they traveled back to Carl Benz, whom Bertha Benz had not told anything about the trip.

The route was 106 kilometers long. Today you could do it in about an hour. The roads weren't that good and the car wasn't going very fast. Bertha Benz took almost 13 hours. There were no gas stations yet - she bought fuel for the engine at a pharmacy on the way.

People laughed at the horseless carriage. Bertha Benz proved, however, that the car was reliable enough for long journeys. It was later alleged that the sons drove the car. You didn't want to believe at the time that a woman could do that.

How are cars powered today?

This is a hybrid vehicle. So it contains a gasoline engine and an electric motor, which must be well coordinated.

Most cars today run on a gasoline or diesel engine. Petrol and diesel are made from petroleum. You can travel hundreds of kilometers on one tank of fuel, which is a great advantage. However, such internal combustion engines pollute the environment. That is why there are already driving bans in some cities or at least in individual streets.

Today you can see another problem: Burning produces a lot of carbon dioxide. You can't smell it, but it is largely responsible for climate change. The engineers are therefore feverishly looking for new drive technologies and have already found some:

At the forefront is the electric motor. Such cars do not emit any exhaust fumes and are also very quiet. How environmentally friendly they are, however, also has to do with the way the electricity is produced. The production of electricity also often produces carbon dioxide. Another disadvantage is the heavy and expensive batteries, which also consume many valuable raw materials such as lithium. In addition, up to now you can not get as far with an electric vehicle as with an internal combustion engine.

That is why gasoline and electric vehicles are also combined. This is called a “hybrid”, in other words: a hybrid. You can use it to drive electrically in the city, for example, and recharge the batteries at home in the evening. For long distances, you then continue to drive with petrol or diesel. You thus have the advantages of both types of drive. The disadvantage of such vehicles is that they are more expensive to buy. In addition, there is a lot of electronics hidden in these cars, which in turn are prone to malfunctions.

How are cars equipped today?

The navigation system shows the driver the way on the map and even tells them where to go straight ahead or where to turn.

Over time, cars have become faster, more reliable and more comfortable. The development of mechanics has contributed a lot to this, but the advent of modern electronics has also contributed to it. The various systems are divided into the areas of security, comfort and entertainment.

Safety includes, for example, the anti-lock braking system, ABS for short. It prevents the tires from slipping when braking and ensures that you can continue to steer the car. But there are also automatic braking systems, warnings when you get too close to the roadside and many other things.

The comfort includes the air conditioning, which automatically keeps the temperature in the car the same. Automatic gear shifting, the switching on of the lights in the dark, the simultaneous locking of all locks and many other developments have also been around for many years. There are also reversing cameras, navigation devices that show the driver the way and even parking aids that park themselves.

Entertainment includes music systems and screens for the passengers. Most of this equipment has nothing to do with mechanics, but with electronics, as we know them from the entertainment industry.

What do you have to do to be allowed to drive a car?

In 1888, Carl Benz was given “authorization” to drive cars. It was a kind of driver's license. Over time, there were more and more drivers who also had accidents. Since 1909, it has been valid throughout Germany that you can only drive a car with a driver's license. The test was initially very short, the new driver was primarily supposed to learn something about technology.

Gradually there were more rules that drivers have to adhere to. In a driving school you learn the rules and how a car works. This can take a long time and also costs money. At the end there is an exam that you have to pass. The state wants only people to drive a car who are safe at the wheel.

Anyone who buys a car is not allowed to drive it yet. He has to pay taxes for it. He also needs insurance: if he has an accident and harms others, the insurance pays. In addition, the car must be checked from time to time to ensure that everything is still in order. Sometimes something needs to be fixed. Insurance, examinations, and repairs also cost.

  • Around 1770: Nicholas Cugnot's motor car was powered by a steam engine.

  • After 1950: Toyota cars in the factory.

  • The Lotus Esprit, a British sports car, appeared in a James Bond film.