Since the internal combustion engine was brought into being more than a hundred years ago, motor cars have evolved considerably. Sometimes this evolution has taken place in gradual increments; sometimes it is bounded forward in great leaps. Some developments, in hindsight, stand out as especially significant. We’re only including physical inventions that go into your car, here – the financial instruments that allow you to actually afford a modern car, like credit schemes for motorists with poor credit histories, aren’t included.
1. The Starter Motor
The earliest kinds of personal motor vehicle had to be started by hand using a crank. This was not only inconvenient, but it created a significant safety problem. When the engine kicked back, the shaft would suddenly fly backwards with enough force to break an arm – or worse. The introduction of the electric starter motor addressed this problem – it turned the engine enough to get it started, without the risk to life and limb.
The ability to successfully navigate to an unfamiliar location is fantastically useful. Nowadays, you don’t need a passenger wielding an ordinance survey map; the global positioning system will determine where in the world you are and where you’d like to be, and it’ll present you with directions accordingly.
It wasn’t until just before the second world war that Buick began fitting flashing indicators to the sides of their vehicles. Before that, motorists had to deploy special mechanical ones which actually protruded from the sides of the vehicle. Before that, they had to rely on their arms!
4. ABS Brakes
Antilock brakes prevent your modern car from skidding when you apply the brakes. They are not perfect, but they have saved countless lives and prevented countless more prangs. The antilock braking system can trace its origins further back than you might think. Not long after the turn of the 20th century, the technology began to be introduced into trains. In the 1950s, it was brought into aeroplanes, and then into cars and motorcycles.
The concept behind the airbag is simple. When your modern car is involved in a heavy collision, the dashboard opens out into a huge cushion, preventing your face from slamming into a hard surface. It’s another safety innovation responsible for saving thousands of lives.
6. Automatic Transmission
Having to change gears all the time makes driving far more complicated than it otherwise might be. This isn’t just a matter of convenience; it also opens up the driving experience to disabled people who otherwise might not have access to a vehicle.
7. Internal Combustion Engine
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the ICE itself. Without this invention, the personal vehicle might never have gotten off the ground. Internal combustion is set to be replaced over the coming decades, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t contributed enormously to the world of motoring, and to civilisation in general!