A car (or automobile) is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transportation. Most definitions of car say they run primarily on roads, seat one to eight people, have four tires, and mainly transport people rather than goods. Cars came into global use during the 20th century, and developed economies depend on them. The year 1886 is regarded as the birth year of the modern car when German inventor Karl Benz patented his Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Cars became widely available in the early 20th century. One of the first cars that were accessible to the masses was the 1908 Model T, an American car manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. Cars were rapidly adopted in the US, where they replaced animal-drawncarriages and carts, but took much longer to be accepted in Western Europe and other parts of the world.
There are costs and benefits to car use. The costs include acquiring the vehicle, interest payments (if the car is financed), repairs and maintenance, fuel, depreciation, driving time, parking fees, taxes, and insurance. The costs to society include maintaining roads, land use, road congestion, air pollution, public health, health care, and disposing of the vehicle at the end of its life. Road traffic accidents are the largest cause of injury-related deaths worldwide.
The benefits include on-demand transportation, mobility, independence, and convenience. The societal benefits include economic benefits, such as job and wealth creation from the automotive industry, transportation provision, societal well-being from leisure and travel opportunities, and revenue generation from the taxes. The ability for people to move flexibly from place to place has far-reaching implications for the nature of societies. It was estimated in 2014 that the number of cars was over 1.25 billion vehicles, up from the 500 million of 1986. The numbers are increasing rapidly, especially in China, India and other newly industrialized countries.
The word car is believed to originate from the Latin word carrus or carrum ("wheeled vehicle"), or the Middle English word carre (meaning "two-wheel cart", from Old North French). In turn, these originated from the Gaulish word karros (a Gallicchariot). It originally referred to any wheeled horse-drawn vehicle, such as a cart, carriage, or wagon. "Motor car" is attested from 1895, and is the usual formal name for cars in British English. "Autocar" is a variant that is also attested from 1895, but that is now considered archaic. It literally means "self-propelled car". The term "horseless carriage" was used by some to refer to the first cars at the time that they were being built, and is attested from 1895.
The word "automobile" is a classical compound derived from the Ancient Greek word autós (αὐτός), meaning "self", and the Latin word mobilis, meaning "movable". It entered the English language from French, and was first adopted by the Automobile Club of Great Britain in 1897. Over time, the word "automobile" fell out of favour in Britain, and was replaced by "motor car". "Automobile" remains chiefly North American, particularly as a formal or commercial term. An abbreviated form, "auto", was formerly a common way to refer to cars in English, but is now considered old-fashioned. The word is still very common as an adjective in American English, usually in compound formations like "auto industry" and "auto mechanic". In Dutch and German, two languages historically related to English, the abbreviated form "auto" (Dutch) / "Auto" (German), as well as the formal full version "automobiel" (Dutch) / "Automobil" (German) are still used — in either the short form is the most regular word for "car".