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Information on Autos


An automobile, usually called a car (an old word for carriage), is a wheeled vehicle that carries its own engine. (Older terms include motor car, with "motor" referring to what is now usually called the engine, and horseless carriage.) It has seats for the driver and, almost without exception, for at least one passenger.

Table of contents
1 General
2 History
3 Safety
4 Renewable energy and the future
5 Major possible subsystems of a standard automobile
6 Related articles
7 External links
8 Cars 1917 to 2003


The vehicle is designed to travel on roads, although some, notably sport utility vehicles, allow off-road driving. Roads and highways are shared with other traffic such as motorcycles, tractor trailers, and farm implements.

The typical vehicle has just an internal combustion engine and four wheels, although as of 2001, gas-electric hybrid engine-powered cars have begun to enter the market. Other vehicles run on electricity and fuel cells. Three-wheeled automobiles have been built, but are not common due to stability problems.

Automobiles/cars come in configurations such as

See car classification.


The first vehicles were steam engine powered, then electric vehicles were produced by a small number of manufacturers. Later on gasoline (petrol) and diesel engines were implemented.

Steam-powered self propelled vehicles were devised in the late 18th century. Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot successfully demonstrated such a vehicle as early as 1769.

Cugnot's invention initially saw little application in his native France, and the center of innovation passed to Britain, where Richard Trevithick was running a steam-carriage in 1801. Such vehicles enjoyed a vogue for a time, and over the next decades such innovations as hand brakes, multi-speed transmissions, and improved speed and steering were developed. Some were commercially successful in providing mass transit, until a backlash against these large speedy vehicles resulted in passing laws that self-propelled vehicles on public roads in Britain must be proceeded by a man on foot waving a red flag and blowing a horn (!). This effectively killed road auto development in the UK for most of the rest of the 19th century, as inventors and engineers shifted their efforts to improvements in railway locomotives. The red flag law was not repealed until 1896.

It is generally claimed that the first automobiles with gasoline powered internal combustion engines were completed almost simultaneously in 1886 by German inventors working independently, Gottlieb Daimler on 3 July 1886 in Mannheim and later Karl Benz and Wilhelm Maybach in Stuttgart. The major breakthrough came with the historic drive of Berta Benz in 1888. Steam, electric, and gasoline powered autos competed for decades, with gasoline internal combustion engines achieving dominence in the 1910s.

The first automobile patent in the United States was granted to Oliver Evans in 1789; in 1804 Evens demonstrated his first successful self-propelled vehicle, which not only was the first automobile in the USA but was also the first amphibious vehicle, as his steam-powered vehicle was able to travel on wheels on land and via a paddle wheel in the water. On November 5, 1895, George B. Selden was granted the a United States patent for a two-stroke automobile engine. This patent did more to hinder than encourage development of autos in the USA until it was overturned on a challenge by Henry Ford.

The large scale, production-line manufacturing of affordable automobiles was debuted by Oldsmobile in 1902, then greatly expanded by Henry Ford in the 1910s. Early automobiles were often referred to as 'horseless carriages', which gives some idea of their design.

Cadillac introduced the electric-self starter in 1911. This device greatly helped the ease of use and popularity of the internal combustion engine auto.

1934 saw the introduction of front wheel drive by Citroën with the launch of their Traction Avant.

Alternative fuels for the gasoline (or petrol) engine have been around for many years. During World War II, coal gas was used. Methanol and ethanol (alcohols) are used as petrol extenders in some countries, notably in Australia and the United States. Methanol is often used as a fuel for racing cars.

Automobiles have changed the world with the advent of personal rapid transit. The automobile had a particulary strong impact on America.

In many countries, plentiful supplies of natural gas have seen methane sold as compressed natural gas (CNG) and propane sold as liquified petroleum gas (LPG) alongside petrol and diesel fuels since the 1970s. While a standard automotive engine will run on these fuels, there are some performance differences, notably a loss of power, due to the slower combustion of the alternative fuels. The power loss can often be reduced or eliminated by retuning the engine ignition, or fitting an electronic dual fuel ignition system that compensates for the slower burning fuel. The need to equip filling stations and vehicles with pressure vessels to hold these gaseous fuels and the more stringent safety inspections means that they are only economical in high mileage vehicles or if there are installation incentives. They are most economical where petrol has high taxes and the alternative fuels do not.

The many varieties of automobile racing (also called motorcar racing) collectively constitute one of the most popular categories of sport in the world.


Accidents seem as old as automobile vehicles themselves. Joseph Cugnot crashed his steam-powered "Fardier" against a wall in 1770. The first recorded automobile fatality was Henry Bliss on September 13, 1899 in New York, New York.

Every year thousands of people are killed in traffic, either by crashing into something, or by being crashed into. Major factors in accidents include driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, inattentive driving, overtired driving, road hazards such as snow, potholes and animals, and reckless driving. Special safety features have been built into cars for years (some for the safety of car's occupants only, some for the safety of others):

  • ABS, Anti-lock Braking System, which prevents the car from skidding
  • Airbags, which inflate in a crash to cushion the blow of a head on the dashboard
  • Electronic Stability Program, ESP.
  • crumple zones, which buffers the impact when the car hits something
  • seat belts (or safety belts), which keep a person from being thrown forward
  • cage construction

There are standard tests for safety in new automobiles, like the EuroNCAP. Despite these technological advances, the death toll of car accidents remains high: about 40,000 people die every year in the US, a number which increases annually in line with rising population and increased travel (although the rate per capita and per mile travelled decreases steadily), and a similar number in Europe. A much higher number of accidents result in permanent disability.

See also Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader

Renewable energy and the future

With heavy taxes on fuel, particularly in Europe, tightening environmental laws in the United States, particularly in California, and the possibility of further restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, work on alternative power systems for vehicles continues.

Diesel-powered cars can run with little or no modification on 100% pure biodiesel, a fuel made from vegetable oils. Many cars that currently use gasoline can run on ethanol, a fuel made from plant sugars. Most cars that are designed to run on gasoline are capable of running with 15% ethanol mixed in, and with a small amout of redesign, gasoline-powered vehicles can run on ethanol concentrations as high as 85%.

Attempts at building viable battery-powered electric vehicles continued throughout the 1990s (notably General Motors with the EV1), but cost, speed and inferior driving range made them unviable.

Current research and development is centred on "hybrid" vehicles that use both electric and combustion (pollution) power, and longer-term efforts are based around electric vehicles powered by fuel cells.

Other alternatives being explored involve methane and hydrogen-burning vehicles, fuel cells, and even the stored energy of compressed air (see Air Engine).

Major possible subsystems of a standard automobile

Related articles

External links

Cars 1917 to 2003



2003 Saturn ION2 (left), 2003 Chevrolet Corvette

1937 Chrysler Airflow, 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser

1917 Hudson Phaeton


1934 Austin Berkeley


1967 BMC Wolseley 6/110


2000 Ford Focus wagon


1973 Australian Ford XB Falcon GT 351

1964 Chevrolet Biscayne

1991 Saturn SL-1

circa 1960 GAZ Chaika parade car
This article is from Wikipedia. All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Auto racing

Auto racing (also known as automobile racing, motor racing, motorsport or autosport) is a
sport involving racing automobiles. It is one of the world's most popular spectator sports and perhaps the most thoroughly commercialised.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Categories
3 Accidents
4 See Also


The beginning

Auto racing began almost immediately after the construction of the first successful petrol-fuelled autos. In 1894, the first contest was organised by Paris magazine Le Petit Journal, a reliability test to determine best performance.

A year later the first real race was staged, from Paris to Bordeaux. First over the line was Emile Levassor but he was disqualified because his car was not a required four-seater.

The first auto race in America, over a 54.36-mile course, took place in Chicago on November 2 1895, Frank Duryea winning in 10 hr and 23 min, beating three petrol-fuelled cars and two electric.

City to city racing

With auto construction and racing dominated by France, the French automobile club ACF staged a number of major international races, usually from or to Paris, connecting with another major city in Europe or France.

These very successful races ended in 1903 when Marcel Renault was involved in a fatal accident near Angouleme in the Paris-Madrid race. Eight fatalities caused the French government to stop the race in Bordeaux and ban open-road racing.

(much more on this)

Gordon Bennett Cup in Auto Racing


See: Grand Prix motor racing

The 1930s saw the radical differentiation of racing vehicles from high-priced road cars, with Delage, Auto Union, Mercedes-Benz, Delahaye and Bugatti constructing streamlined vehicles with engines producing up to 450 kw with the aid of multiple superchargers. Maximum weight permitted was 750 kg, a rule diametrically opposed to current racing regulations. Extensive use of aluminium alloys was required to achieve light weight, and in the case of the Mercedes, the paint was removed to satisfy the weight limitation.


There are many categories of auto racing.

Single-seater racing

Single-seater (open wheel) racing is perhaps the most well-known series, with cars designed specifically for high-speed racing. The wheels are not covered, and the cars have aerofoil wings front and rear to produce downforce and enhance adhesion to the track.

Single-seater races are held on specially designed closed circuits or street circuits closed for the event. Many single-seater races in North America are held on “oval” circuits and the Indy Racing League races exclusively on ovals.

Best known single-seater racing is in Formula One, which involves an annual world championship featuring major international car and engine manufacturers in an ongoing battle of technology as well on the track. In North America, ChampCars and Indy Racing League cars have similarities to F1 cars but have much more restrictions

There are other categories of such racing, including kart racing which employs a small, low-cost machine on small tracks. Many of today’s top drivers started their careers in karts.


Rallying, or rally racing, involves highly modified production cars on (closed) public roads or off-road areas. A rally is typically conducted over a number of stages which entrants are allowed to scout before competing. The navigator/co-driver uses the reconnaissance notes to help the driver complete each stage as fast as possible. Competition is usually based on time, though lately some head-to-head stages have emerged.

The main rally championship is the World Rally Championship (WRC), but there also some regional championships and most countries have their own national championships.

Famous rallies include the Monte Carlo Rally and the Rallye San Remo. Another famous rally-like event (actually a rally raid) is the Paris-Dakar Rally.

There are also many smaller categories of rallies which are popular with amateurs, making up the "grass roots" of motorsports.


Ice Racing


Touring car racing

Like rallying, touring car racing is done with highly modified production cars, but they race at the same time against each other, mainly on closed circuits.

There is no international championship in touring car racing, most countries running their own national championships. Among the better known are the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM, German Touring Car Championship), and V8 Supercars in Australia.

Stock car racing

Stock car racing is the American variant of touring car racing. Usually conducted on ovals, the cars look like production cars but are in fact purpose-built racing machines which are all very similar in specifications. Early stock cars were much closer to production vehicles.

The main stock car racing series is NASCAR and the most famous race in the series is the Daytona 500. NASCAR also runs the Busch Series (a junior stock car league) and the Craftsman Truck Series, (pickup trucks).

NASCAR also runs the Featherlite series of "modified" cars which are heavily modified from stock form. With powerful engines, large tires, and light open-wheel bodies. NASCAR's oldest series is considered its most exciting.

Drag racing

In drag racing, the objective is to complete a certain distance, traditionally 1/4 mile, (1320 ft, 400 m), in the shortest possible time. The vehicles range from the everyday car to the dragster. Speeds and elapsed time differ from class to class. A street car can cover the 1/4 mile in 15 sec whereas a top fuel dragster can cover the same distance in 4.5 sec and reach 330 mph (530 km/h). Drag racing was organised as a sport by Wally Parks in the early 1950s through the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) which is the largest sanctioning motor sports body in the world. The NHRA was formed to prevent people from street racing. Illegal street racing is not drag racing.

Launching its run to 330 mph, a top fuel dragster will pull 4.5g , and when braking and parachutes are deployed, the driver experiences negative 4g (more than space shuttle occupants). A single top fuel car can be heard over eight miles (13 km) away and can generate a reading of 1.5-2 on the richter scale. (NHRA Mile High Nationals 2001, and 2002 testing from the National Seismology Center.)

Drag racing is often head-to-head where two cars battle each other, the winner proceeding to the next round. Professional classes are all first to the finish line wins. Sportsman racing is handicapped (slower car getting a head start) using an index, and cars running faster than their index "break out" and lose.

Drag racing is mostly popular in the United States


Sports car racing

In sports car racing, production versions of sports cars and prototype cars compete with each other on closed circuits. The races are usually conducted over long distances, and cars are driven by teams of two or three drivers, switching every now and then. Due to the big difference between 'normal' sports cars and industrial prototypes, one race usually involves many racing classes. In the U.S. the American Le Mans Series was organized in 1999, featuring GT, GTS, and two prototype classes.

Famous sports car races include the 24 hours of Le Mans and the 24 hours of Daytona.

Offroad racing

In offroad racing, various classes of specially modified vehicles, including cars, compete in races through off-road environments. In North America these races often take place in the desert, such as the famous Baja 1000.

Hill climb racing



Seen as the entry point for serious racers into the sport, Karting is an economic way to try your luck at motorsport.

Legend car racing



For the worst accident in racing history see Pierre Levegh.

See Also

Automobile Association

The Automobile Association (also referred to as The AA) is a British motoring organization.


On June 29, 1905 a group of motoring enthusiasts met at the Trocadero restaurant in the West End of London. This was the inauguration of the Automobile Association, formed to help motorists avoid police speed traps.

AA vintage sidecar

By 1906 the association took a stand on road safety issues, and erected thousands of roadside warning signs.

In 1908, the AA published the AA Members' Special Handbook, a list of nationwide agents and mechanics. The following year saw the introduction of the AA's free legal system.

Between 1910 and 1929 the AA introduced AA Routes. To this day, the association continues to produce travel guides and maps. AA Publishing has grown to be the UK's dominant publisher of travel literature. Also, from 1912 the AA began inspecting hotels and restaurants, issuing the coveted AA Star Classification to those deemed to be of superior quality. By 1914, the AA had grown to 83,000 members.

In the 1920s the association introduced pre-purchase and post-accident repair checks.

By 1939, the AA's membership had grown to 725,000, a number equivalent, at the time, to 35 percent of all UK cars. World War II ended and the AA began to protest wartime petrol rationing. The campaign was successful and rationing was repealed in 1950. This was the first of many campaigns, led by the AA, that were aimed at championing the rights of British motorists.

Other campaigns, in which the AA have been instrumental, include the compulsory wearing of seatbelts, and the introduction of lead-free petrol. Seatbelt legislation became law in the UK in 1983.

1949 saw the launch of the AA's breakdown and recovery service. Initially only available in London and surrounding districts, it has been gradually extended to cover most of the UK.

The AA Insurance brokerage service started life in 1967. Today, AA Insurance is the UK's largest motor insurance company. The service was later extended to cover home and life insurance.

In 1973 AA Roadwatch began broadcasting traffic alerts on UK commercial radio stations. It grew to become the largest broadcaster of traffic information in Europe. AA Relay was introduced later that year, a service that promised to deliver a broken-down vehicle, its driver and passengers, luggage and trailer to anywhere in Britain.

In 1992, the AA Driving School was launched and now employs more than 1,300 qualified driving instructors. By 1994, AA's membership was at eight million and growing. Current estimates place the figure at over twelve million members.


Automakers are companies that produce automobiles. Most of them are based in Japan, the United States, or Germany.

They are often influential political groups, hence they often affect environmental issuess

Such companies are:

See List of automobile manufacturers for more.

See also


Autobahn is the German word for high-speed road, similar to motorway or freeway in English-speaking countries. (pronunciation: OUT oh bahn) Autobahns were first built in Germany, where Hitler appointed Fritz Todt to oversee their construction. The autobahns formed the first limited access high-speed road network in the world, with the first section from Frankfurt am Main to Darmstadt opening in 1935. Today, they have a total length of 11,400 km.

The German autobahns are famous as the only important public roads remaining without blanket speed limits, though traffic on them is usually heavy enough to restrict speeds to little above typical motorway speeds in any case. However, speed limits do apply at junctions and other danger points.

Autobahns in Austria and Switzerland have normal speed limits.

Compare Interstate highway, Road transport, Toll road, Parkway

Autobahn is also the name of an album by Kraftwerk. See Autobahn (album).

Automobile self starter

In 1903, the first U.S. patent for an automobile electric self-starter was issued to Clyde J. Coleman of New York City (No. 745,157). He invented the self-starter in 1899, but the invention was impractical.

The license was purchased by the Delco Company, which was taken over by the General Motors Corporation. Charles Kettering at General Motors modified the self-starter, and made it practical. It was first installed on Cadillac cars in 1911. By 1920, nearly every car had a self-starter.

The self-starter is a necessity for internal-combustion engines, since they cannot start themselves. This is due to the fact that Otto cycle requires the pistons already be in motion before the ignition phase of the cycle. This means that the engine must be started in motion by an outside force before it can power itself. Originally a hand crank was used to start the engine, but this was inconvenient and rather hard work to crank the engine up to speed. For the self-starter, an electric motor, called a starter motor or sometimes just plain starter is used in place of the hand crank to start the engine.

Auto-free zones

Many communities have come to recognize that it is desirable to have areas that are not dominated by the automobile. Some relatively simple examples of this would be the residential areas of the Toronto Islands or the Sparks Street Mall area of Ottawa, both in Canada. Converting a street or an area to car-free use is called pedestrianization.

Strøget, a pedestrian shopping street in central Copenhagen, is the longest of its kind in the world. It is in fact not a single street but a series of interconnected avenues which create a huge auto-free zone.

Technically speaking Venice on the Adriatic sea offers the largest auto free zone in any urban area in the word. However, its canals are filled with motorized boats of all sizes which offer many of the inconveniences (and conveniences) of automobiles.

There are also great quantities of auto free zones in the interior of Italy since in Italian hill towns and villages many, if not most of the streets are too steep and/or narrow for automobile circulation.


This page created and maintained by Jamie Sanderson.
© Jamie Sanderson 1999-2005.