I was sent on an errand; need to buy something for dinner. I grabbed the keys and went straight to the garage. I opened the door of the red car and slid inside the driver’s seat. I pulled the seatbelt and fastened myself in. I pushed the start button, and the engine rumbled to a start. I looked at the side-mirror before backing up, and I eased the car out of the garage. I stepped on the brake before shifting gears, and then by pressing on the accelerator, I sped away. I bought the things that I need to buy, went back into the car, and headed home. I opened the door of the car and then entered the house before replacing the key on the hook next to the telephone. Later that day, I had to go out to do one more errand, but as I stepped inside the car and when I was about to push the start button, I realized that I took this thing for granted. The ability to travel using a vehicle is done automatically without thinking about the engineering processes required to build a car and for humans to drive it.
The car is one of man’s greatest inventions. The twentieth century cannot be understood fully without discussing the impact of motor vehicles. According to one historian, “The development of the motor vehicle revolutionized American systems of production and patterns of consumption” and he added, “In 2000 the nation had more motor vehicles than licensed drivers” (Rubenstein, 2001, p.vii). All the success is credited to Henry Ford and his car, the Ford Model T. In 1913, the Ford Motor Company started the mass production of cars, using a moving assembly line, and by the year 1915, a million model T’s were built (Rubenstein, 2001, p.3). In 1925, the Ford Motor Company was able to manufacture more than nine thousand cars in a single day (Rubenstein, 2001, p.3). It has made it possible for many Americans to own a car.
Aside from the Ford Motor Company, there were two other giants when it comes to the manufacture of American-made cars. The first one is General Motors, and the second one is Chrysler. Together they are collectively called the Big Three. The presence of competitors created the pressure to build cars at a cheaper cost, and this is another explanation of why cars are common today. If not for the Big Three, then the cars would be only available to very rich people, and because of that, there is no way for cars to change the way people live. Take, for example, mobile phones. There was a time when only businessmen, and those with the income to buy expensive electronic equipment can hope to buy a mobile phone. But because of the rise of competitors, cell phones today are very cheap, and as a result, there are probably more cell phones that were produced, than there are humans.
The car has radically altered the way people live. It is now possible for a family to live miles away from civilization because they can go to the nearest town to buy supplies if they needed to. They can live on the outskirts of the city, or they can live in the boondocks. It does not matter where they choose to live because the car is an efficient mode of transportation, and they can move from one place to the next if they are only able to maintain it in good running condition.
The car has also made it possible to build cities far away from traditional sources of food like the sea, river, or farmlands. It is now possible to build a town in the middle of the desert because the necessities of life can be brought to the people through vehicle transport. It is now also possible for people to travel to exotic locations and enjoy a quick trip that in ancient times may be impossible because of the extraordinary distance that they need to cross and the time that is required for long-distance travel.
The car made things that seem impossible at first possible. It did not only enable people to travel quickly over long distances, but it also allows them to carry heavy loads. In the last one hundred years, cars experienced a revolution in design, and because of this, there are trucks and other heavy machines that are derivatives from the original car design. The car is now no longer a simple means of transportation, it has also become the basis for the creation of other inventions that can now be used to build bridges and huge structures.
It is also possible now to connect with other people that live hundreds of miles away because of the car. Mail and packages can be sent from one state to the next because of the car. It is now possible for people to do business with each other even if they are not located in the same area. The big trucks that came from the evolution of the simple car design make it easy to complete these tasks. Aside from the capability of the car in terms of doing work, there are other things that I took for granted, and it is the fact that engineers and car designers work tirelessly to provide a means of transportation that is both safe and efficient.
The car can carry a person and load from point A to point B. However, this capability is nothing if the car cannot be relied upon to do these tasks regularly. Say, for example, I need to start the car because I need to go out and do something, but what if the car’s engine will not fail because of an ignition problem? Then the car becomes a useless piece of junk because it will not start. But when I turned on the ignition, the car roared to life without any difficulty, therefore, it is reliable.
Now, if I was able to start the car and when I was backing up I did not see my neighbor’s kid because there was no rearview mirror or side mirrors, then I could easily have hurt the kid, and, therefore, the car will not be seen as a blessing but as a curse. But the presence of the mirrors allowed me to see if some objects or humans are blocking my way, and therefore I can stop the car in time to prevent a terrible accident.
Now, if I was able to see the kid in my rearview mirror and yet I do not have the means to stop the car, then what would happen. The car would continue moving even if I wanted it to stop. It means that other objects and most importantly a person will be hurt because the car cannot be stopped. But this is not the problem with the car because somebody invented the brakes and therefore it is easy to stop the car when it is about to collide with an object or a person. Again, this means that a car can be relied upon because of its safety.
Now, let us say that I can control the car because I can navigate using side mirrors, rearview mirrors, and the brakes. But, if the car cannot be driven speedily, then it is also nothing. People will just get out of their car and walk because there is no need to go to all the hassle of driving if the speed of the car is like the speed of a turtle. But the car can move quickly from point A to point B in comparison to the speed of a walking person.
Now, let us say that a car can indeed quickly transport a person and its goods from one place to the next with relative ease, and yet the car stops in the middle because it does not have the fuel to go on. But this is not the case. The engineers who designed the engine made it an efficient engine so that a few gallons of fuel can bring the car to long distances to more than a few miles of road or highway. It is an efficient system. Although, it can be argued that fuel is expensive, it is not prohibitively expensive that no one can afford a full tank of fuel now and then.
Now, let us say that a car is efficient when it comes to speed and when it comes to fuel but what if a person meets an accident and the speed of the car is enough to damage the car. As a result, every time a minor collision is experienced the driver is dead. It means that people will be afraid to drive cars because of the potential danger it brings. But this is no problem with cars. Car design is not only efficient, but the engineers also made it relatively safe. As long as the driver is mindful of the speed limit and does not drive under the influence of alcohol or severely affected by drugs, then driving can be safe and pleasant. It is made possible by the many car safety features added to the vehicle. There are not only brakes but also seat belts. A seat belt is a very important invention related to car design because it has proven to save lives. As long as drivers are mindful to put it on, then there are fewer chances of serious injury. Aside from seatbelts, car designers were also able to incorporate the other features such as airbags and the ability of the car body to absorb the impact of the collision.
Aside from all these things, I also take for granted the device that is attached to the cars. It is the windshield. If this was not invented, then I cannot drive at top speeds because it would too uncomfortable for me. But because of the windshield, the driver’s face and body are protected from the strong winds generated by the speed of the car.
As a result, a driver can see the road and not be bothered by insects and even the rain that can hinder his view of the road and the other vehicles.
I also took for granted the windshield wipers. This little gadget is very important, but I turn it on when there is rain, and I am not even slightly interested that it is there and has made it possible for me to drive through rain and snow. Imagine if there is no wiper and the driver is sitting inside a car and unable to see what is happening outside. He is practically blind, and this would be very dangerous. But the windshield wiper allows him to drive during a storm, and even if there is heavy snow, it is still possible to use the car.
I am sitting there in the garage and about to reach out to the start button of the car when I realized that this invention is not fully appreciated by me. I have used it so many times since the time I learned how to drive and it has indeed made my life easier. It is now more convenient to travel, buy supplies, and go on a leisurely trip. A car a time saver, and it allows people to be more efficient when it comes to their work. There are other benefits of the car, and if one will list it down, the list will be a mile long. But I am not thankful for it. Sometimes I even complain about why I have to drive, and this happens when I am stuck in traffic or looking at the price of fuel. I also complain every time I need to spend a few hours to visit the car repair shop. It is not even to repair a broken car but to do the necessary maintenance checks. But cars have transformed the way people live. It is time not to take the car for granted. It is time to appreciate what the engineers were able to accomplish and the hard work that they put into the car design. Without their ingenuity and tireless effort, there would be no car.
Rubenstein, James. Making and Selling Cars: Innovation and Change in the U.S.
Automotive Industry. MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2001.