Cars have controls for driving, parking, passenger comfort and safety, and controlling a variety of lights. Over the decades, additional features and controls have been added to vehicles, making them progressively more complex. Examples include rear reversing cameras, air conditioning, navigation systems, and in car entertainment. Most cars in use in the 2010s are propelled by an internal combustion engine, fueled by the combustion of fossil fuels. This causes air pollution and also contributes to climate change and global warming. Vehicles using alternative fuels such as ethanol flexible-fuel vehicles and natural gas vehicles are also gaining popularity in some countries. Electric cars, which were invented early in the history of the car, began to become commercially available in 2008.
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 Gallic chariot). 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".