Nine Times Automotive Innovations Totally Changed Driving

Time to go for a drive! Let’s put on our goggles, crank up the starter, and hope the brakes work this time…

That’s how things used to be, before 120 years of automotive innovations made driving easier, safer and just more fun. Here are nine ways driving has changed drastically.

Car Innovations Over History

Top 9 Car Technology Innovations of all Time

Crash! Car insurance is invented

Did you know car insurance was one of the very first automotive innovations? Not long after the gasoline-powered car went into production, it was followed by another first: car accidents. The first person known to be killed by a car was a woman named Bridget Driscoll, a Londoner who was struck in 1896. The car had a top speed of 4 mph, but apparently Driscoll was so confused by the machine that she froze.

A year later, Travelers Insurance wrote the first-ever car insurance policy: $7.50 for $1,000 of liability protection. Collision, fire and theft coverage came later.

Seeing the light: The first electric headlights

It’s not like everyone was driving in the dark beforehand; oil-burning or carbide headlamps had been used for a decade to light the way. Then in 1898, the Columbia Electric Car from the Electric Vehicle Company got a snazzy optional upgrade: electric headlights. They didn’t work all that well, but this car technology would soon become the norm.

Ah-woo-gah: The first car horn

Drivers soon realized they needed some kind of warning system to tell people to get the <beep> out of the way. While they used whistles and bells for a while, the first effective car horn, called the Klaxon, was patented in 1908. It was designed to be both loud and directional, so pedestrians would immediately know where to look.

Screeeeeeeech: Four-wheel brakes were invented

The earliest car brakes worked by pressing a block of wood against the tires. Not a great system. By 1902, Ransom E. Olds of Oldsmobile had developed a drum brake system, operated by a foot pedal, that could stop a car going 14 mph in 21.5 feet. Still not great, but better. The big automotive innovation came around 1915 with the introduction of four-wheel brakes that could rapidly stop a car going as fast as 80 mph.

No more “99 Bottles”: Cars get radios

Until 1930, the only way you could hear music in the car was if you (or your passenger) sang. Then the car radio was invented, and road trips got a lot more enjoyable. The problem was, the first radio cost $130 — almost a quarter of the cost of a Model A Ford at the time. That’s like paying $3,750 to have a stereo in your new Ford Fiesta.

Ditch the clutch: Automatic transmission

While the concept of an automatic transmission can be traced to 1908, the first one that really worked well was Oldsmobile’s Hydra-Matic system in 1940. This automotive innovation was a big deal because it promised to make driving easier and more accessible to everyone. “All you do to drive is steer, step on it, stop,” an ad from the time promised.

No more sweaty seats: Air conditioning

Cars got A/C a lot earlier than you probably thought; the first car to have factory-installed air conditioning (then called a “weather conditioner”) was a 1940 Packard. It was unwieldy and expensive, however, and Packard discontinued the system in 1941. The 1953 Chrysler Imperial included a more sophisticated A/C system with temperature controls. Now, only a few new cars come without standard A/C, including the Dodge Dart and Jeep Wrangler Sport.

Rerouting… GPS navigation

The first built-in GPS system was GuideStar, offered as an option in the 1995 Oldsmobile Eighty Eight. It required an antenna, a computer in the trunk, and a data cassette with software and maps. The next big automotive innovation was portable GPS units from companies like Garmin and TomTom, which became the universal Father’s Day gift around 2006. Now, of course, phones have taken over the job of copilot — and soon, they’ll replace car keys as well.

Drivers get richer: Car insurance comparison

Every auto insurer promises to save you money. But which one will actually give you the best deal? In 2013, compare.com introduced a new way to find out: a website that would give drivers multiple free car insurance quotes. In just minutes, anyone could compare premiums and coverage from several insurers. It was a pretty good idea, if we say so ourselves. Get your free quotes now!

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You could save up to 32% by using Compare.com!

Based on a survey of 100 California Residents. Average savings determined via a comparison of their selected policy against their self-reported annual premium.