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”. The abbreviated form is also used in Dutch and German.