Cars are automobiles that can transport people. It is the main means of travelling for hundreds of millions of people all over the world. Cars have changed the way we live probably more than any other invention in history. At first only a few people had cars but after a while more and more people bought them because they improved the way people lived. Farmers with cars were able to bring their products to places that were farther away. The appearance of cities and towns also changed. More and more workers drove to their jobs and people started to move to suburbs outside the town centers.

Automobiles give people many jobs. Millions of people around the world work in factories where cars are produced. Millions more work at gas stations, restaurants or motels that travelers stop at.

However, cars also cause problems. Millions of people die in car accidents every year. Automobiles pollute the air that we breathe and parking space in cities is scarce because everyone wants to use their cars to get to city centers.



How cars work

Cars are very complicated machines and all systems in them work together. They power a car, control and steer it and make it comfortable for people to drive in.


The engine

The heart of every car is its engine. It produces the power that turns the wheels and electricity for lights and other systems.

Most automobiles are powered by an internal combustion engine. Fuel, usually gasoline or petrol, is burned with air to create gases that expand. A spark plug creates a spark that ignites the gas and makes it burn. This energy moves through cylinders in which pistons slide up and down. They are attached to rods that move a crankshaft. Normal car engines have four to six cylinders but there are also models with eight and sixteen cylinders. The turning movement is passed through the drivetrain to the drive wheels.



Fuel system

The fuel system pumps petrol from the tank to the engine. Older cars used to have carburetors that mix fuel with air and send the gas to the engine. Some cars have a special fuel injection system that sprays petrol into the engine. Modern cars have turbo chargers that suck in extra air and therefore create more power.



The engine and all parts that carry power to the wheels are called the drivetrain. It includes the transmission, drive shaft, differential, the axles and the drive wheels that move the car. While most cars have drive wheels in the front, some have them in the back. Cars that need to drive over all kinds of ground have a four-wheel drive.

The transmission controls the speed and torque. When a car travels at a normal speed on a flat road it does not need so much torque to keep it moving, but when you want to start a car from a hill the engine must produce more power. Gears control speed and power of the engine in different driving conditions.

In cars with manual transmission you have to change gears by pressing down the clutch with your foot and moving a lever. Cars with automatic transmission change gears without control by the driver. Lower gears give the car more torque and speed. When the car moves faster the transmission shifts to higher gears.

The driveshaft carries the power to the axle which is connected to the wheels. It has several joints which make the axle and wheels moveable as the car drives on uneven and bumpy roads.

The differential is connected to the rear end of the driveshaft. It lets the wheels turn at different speeds because in curves the outer wheels must travel a greater distance than the inner ones.


Steering system

The steering system controls the front wheels. Turning the steering wheel makes them point to the left or right. Most cars have power steering; a hydraulic system makes it easier for the driver to turn the wheels.


Brake system

The brake system slows down or stops the car. Brakes operate on all four wheels. There are two basic types of brakes: drum or disc brakes. In both cases a friction pad is pressed against a drum or disc with the help of a hydraulic system.

All cars have emergency hand brakes which you use if the hydraulic system fails. It is also called a parking brake because you use it to stop a vehicle from rolling down a hill. Antilock braking systems (ABS) keep the wheels turning when you step on the brakes. This computer controlled system prevents skidding if you are on a slippery road



Suspension system

The suspension system supports the weight of the car. It has wheels, axles, tires and springs. Most cars have shock absorbers to guarantee a smooth ride. Springs are between the axles of the wheels and the body of the car. They allow each wheel to move up and down on its own. The tires also help to make driving smoother. They are built so that they give the car grip on roads in all conditions.


Exhaust system

When a car burns fuel gases are produced. They must be removed so that new fuel can be burned. The pistons in the engine’s cylinders force gas out of the engine. It passes through a muffler into tail pipes. The muffler also keeps the car running quietly. For about thirty years cars have been equipped with a catalytic converter. It reduces pollution by converting harmful gases into carbon dioxide and water


Cooling system

Burning fuel inside a car’s engine creates a lot of heat. Most of it has to be removed by a cooling system. Liquid cooling systems have a mixture of water and chemicals. A water pump forces this mixture to flow between the cylinders of the engine. The hot water is then pumped through a radiator where the air carries away the heat.


Lubrication system

Oil is important for an engine to work. It flows through the moving parts so that the metal does not rub against other metallic pieces. Without lubrication the metal would become too hot and the engine would be destroyed.

Oil is stored in an oil tank at the bottom of the engine. From there it is pumped around the engine. A filter removes dirt from the oil so that it won’t do any damage to engine parts. After you have driven a certain number of kilometers you must change the oil and the oil filter.



The dashboard has many instruments that show you how fast you are moving, the amount of petrol that is left in the tank, the oil temperature and some other information.



The body of the car is the outer shell that surrounds the mechanical parts and the passengers inside. Most bodies are made of steel, although some parts are made of strong plastic or fiberglass. The body includes the passenger compartment, hood, trunk and the fenders which cover the wheels.



Types of cars

  • Coupe = a two-door car with a fixed roof and a smaller back seat.
  • Convertible = a car with a flexible roof that can be folded together, so that you can drive without it
  • Station wagon or estate car = longer vehicles for larger families ; most of the time they have an extended cargo area
  • Sedan = common car type with two rows of seats and four doors. The car has a separate boot (trunk) for luggage
  • Minivan = a taller car that is shaped like a van; it has up to three rows and can carry 8 or 9 people.
  • Sport utility vehicle (SUV) = built like a small truck, it has a four wheel drive and space like a minivan ; it is often an off-road vehicle made for travelling on rough ground
  • Sports car = low to the ground with only two seats and a powerful engine


Safety features

Today all cars have safety features that protect passengers from accidents that may happen on the road. In almost every country passengers have to fasten their seat belts. Children and babies must be put in special seats.

Since the mid 1990s almost all cars have been equipped with air bags. They are normally in the steering wheel and if a car crashes they come out, inflate and protect the passengers from slamming into the front window. But there are other safety laws that carmakers must follow. Doors must have special locks that are crash resistant and bumpers must be able to absorb some force if the car crashes.


History of cars

In the late 1770s Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, a French engineer, built a car that ran on steam. Many American companies also started producing them but they were very expensive to make and cost a lot of money.

As time went on, engineers started experimenting with petrol-driven cars. They could travel faster and over longer distances. They were also safer than steam-powered models which ran with petrol

Towards the end of the 19 th century Germany became the centre of car-making. Nikolaus Otto built the first internal combustion engine, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz also began building petrol-driven engines.



Automobile production in the USA began in the 1890s. It was Henry Ford who started producing cars on an assembly line. Workers do only one task and car parts pass on a conveyer belt. By 1908 Ford’s Model T became the most popular car in the world and by 1927 the Ford Motor Company had produced over 15 million of them.

After car production had slowed down during the two world wars car makers began adding new features to post - war models. Power steering, power brakes and automatic controls became common. More and more big cars were produced in the 1950s and 1960s. They used up a lot of fuel in a time in which oil was still very cheap.

This changed in the 1970s when Arab oil-producing countries started to raise prices for oil because western countries supported Israel. In the years that followed much was done to try to save and conserve fuel. Automakers started producing compact cars that were fuel-efficient.

In the meantime, Japan and Europe had begun to compete with American carmakers. By 1980 Japan became the largest car producing countries in the world.


The car of the future

Even though today’s car is a great machine that is fast, elegant and beautiful to look at, engineers are constantly working on a car that will make today’s automobile look old. Experts say that future cars will be made of plastics and carbon fibers that will be stronger and lighter than steel.

As oil is becoming more and more expensive, alternative power sources are being explored. Biodiesel, hydrogen fuel cells, electric cars and hybrids are energy sources that carmakers may use in the future.

Cars are becoming computerized machines. Some day they may drive themselves. Highways and other roads could be built so that cars can be programmed to drive along them by autopilot while passengers sit in the back and relax. Such cars could be radar controlled to avoid contact with other vehicles on the road.


The world’s biggest carmakers

The world’s biggest car producing countries
(in millions of cars per year)





People’s Republic of China




South Korea











The biggest car producing companies in the world

In millions of cars per year



General Motors























Related Topics



  • absorb = take in
  • amount =how much of something
  • appearance = the way things look
  • assembly line = a line of workers and machines in a factory; the parts of a product pass through and the workers put them together
  • attach = connect
  • automatic transmission = the gears are changed automatically
  • avoid = keep away from
  • axle = a long straight piece of metal that connects a pair of wheels of a car
  • boot = British English for “trunk” = the back part of the car that you can open and put things into
  • brake = a system that makes a vehicle stop or slow down
  • bumper = a piece of plastic or metal at the back or front of a car that reduces the damage if something crashes into it
  • bumpy =uneven, rough, not smooth
  • carbon dioxide = the gas that is breathed out by people and animals
  • carburetor = part of an engine that mixes petrol with air
  • cargo = the things that a car or a truck carries
  • catalytic converter =it is used to lower poisonous emission that come out of an engine
  • clutch = a pedal near your feet which you can push down to change gears
  • compete = to be more successful than someone else
  • connect = join
  • conserve = save
  • constantly = always
  • convert = change
  • conveyor belt = a band that moves and is used to transport goods from one place or building to another
  • crankshaft = a straight piece of metal that connects the engine to the wheels
  • crash-resistant = if something is not broken or damaged if you crash into it
  • create = make
  • damage =destruction
  • dashboard = panel on the front of the driver’s seat that shows you a few instruments, like how fast you are driving, oil pressure etc..
  • differential = the gear that allows the wheels of a car to move at different speeds
  • dirt =mud or dust; things that make something dirty
  • disc brakes =brakes that work when press two hard surfaces against a disc in the centre of a car wheel
  • drive shaft =the part of a car that takes the power from the gears to wheels
  • drive wheels =the wheel that gets the power to move
  • drivetrain =the parts that produce power and bring it on the road
  • drum brakes =pads are pressed against a drum on the wheel
  • electricity =the power that is carried by wires, cables etc. and makes machines work
  • emergency =an unexpected and dangerous situation
  • engineer = a person who designs and makes engines or motors
  • equip =provide, prepare, give
  • even though =while
  • expand = to get bigger or to grow
  • explore = to find out about something
  • fail = if something does not work
  • fasten = close
  • feature = element
  • fender =the side part of the car that covers the wheel
  • flow =run
  • fold =to bend something by laying one part over another
  • force =here: to break open and push out
  • four-wheel drive =a system which gives power to all four wheels of a car
  • friction pad = a rubber pad that you put between pieces of metal
  • fuel = material, like coal or oil that is used to produce power
  • fuel-efficient = to burn or use as little petrol as possible
  • gasoline = American word for petrol
  • gear = you use it to make a car move at different speeds
  • grip = to move over something without slipping
  • guarantee = to make sure that something happens
  • hood =the metal cover over the engine
  • hybrid = the method of mixing two different types of motors
  • hydrogen fuel cell =it uses hydrogen and converts it so that it makes an engine work
  • ignite = to make something start burning
  • improve = to get better
  • in the meantime =period inbetween
  • include contain , to have in it
  • inflate = to blow up
  • internal combustion engine = a motor that produces power by burning petrol
  • invention =a useful machine or tool that someone discovers or makes for the first time
  • joint = a place where two or more parts of an object come together
  • lever =a stick that you move to operate something
  • liquid =fluid, watery
  • lock =something that keeps a door closed ; you usually open it with a key
  • lubrication = to put oil on parts of a machine so that they can move smoothly
  • manual transmission =a system where the driver has to change gears by hand
  • means = ways
  • motel = hotel on a motorway where people can stop to sleep
  • moveable = if you can move something
  • movement =when something changes its position or place
  • muffler =the part of the car that makes the noise from the engine quieter
  • off-road vehicle = car or truck that you can drive everywhere and is especially good on rocks etc.
  • passenger compartment = part of the car in which the passengers sit
  • piston = metal inside a tube that moves up and down
  • pollute = to make dirty
  • pollution =to make air or water dirty
  • post-war = time after the war
  • prevent = stop something from happening
  • protect =guard, defend
  • radar = a system that uses radio waves to find out where an object is
  • radiator = an object for cooling an engine or a machine
  • raise = go up
  • reduce = to lower
  • remove = to take away
  • rod =a long thin pole
  • rough = not smooth
  • row =line
  • rub = move against
  • safety = everything that is about being safe
  • safety law = rules you must follow to protect yourself and others
  • scarce = not enough
  • seat = the place where you sit
  • shell =part, layer
  • shift = change
  • shock absorber =a part of the car that is connected to each wheel; it makes travelling smoother and more comfortable
  • skid = slide
  • slam = crash, bang
  • slippery =difficult to travel on because the surface is wet
  • smooth =soft
  • source =a place where you get something from
  • spark =a small piece of burning material that appears when you rub to things together
  • spark plug =the part of the car that produces an electric spark to start the engine
  • spray =to force liquid out of a bottle or can in very small drops
  • spring =a piece of metal that is twisted; when you press it down it comes up by itself again
  • station wagon = estate car
  • steam = smoke that is created when you make water very hot
  • steam-powered = driven by steam
  • steel = a strong hard metal that is made when you mix iron and carbon
  • steer = to control the direction in which something is moving
  • store =to keep
  • suburb = small town outside a big city
  • suck =take in
  • support = to hold in position
  • surround =to be around
  • suspension =part of a car connected to the wheels that makes it more comfortable to drive on roads that are not so smooth
  • tail pipe =the tube at the back of the car from which poisonous gases come out
  • task = job
  • therefore = that is why
  • tire (tyre) = rubber ring that fits around a wheel
  • torque =the power that makes something turn around a central point
  • transmission = the part of a car that brings power from the engine to the wheels
  • trunk = place where you can put things in the back of the car
  • turbo charger =it increases the amount of air in the engine so that it can create more power
  • uneven = not smooth
  • vehicle = a machine that moves and transport people, like a car or truck
  • weight =how heavy something is