Even those who know next to nothing about cars, understand that a vehicle’s top two performance metrics are horsepower and torque. These two terms are littered across every spec sheet, review and online comparison video known to man. Even here at Ziems Ford Corners, we toss the words “horsepower” and “torque” around pretty liberally. Whether we’re discussing the 600 lb-ft of torque in the Mach E or the up to 430 horsepower of the F-150, horsepower and torque are both a hot conversion topic! But few shoppers truly comprehend the differences, so the meaning of both tends to get lost along the way. Though most can grasp the general premises of horsepower and torque, their definitions, history and applications aren’t as well known.
What Is Horsepower?
Horsepower (HP) is a unit of measurement used to reference the “rate at which work is done” by an engine or motor. However, there are different standards and types of horsepower. Two common definitions used today are mechanical or imperial horsepower, which is about 745.7 watts, and the metric horsepower, which is approximately 735.5 watts. The term was adopted in the late 18th century to compare the output of steam engines with the power of draft horses. The term now applies to all engines and motors.
What Is Torque?
In mechanics, torque is the rotational equivalent of linear force or force multiplied by distance.
In the case of the automobile, it is “the rotational equivalent of linear force.” Essentially, it’s the amount of force applied to an object with a twisting motion, i.e. a motor applying force to a crankshaft, which consequently rotates the tires. Torque can be thought of as a twist to an object around a specific axis. It is also referred to as the moment of force, rotational force or turning effect, depending on the field of study. The concept originated with Archimedes.
When the term horsepower was invented, horses were the most common work animal. The term was originally created by Scottish engineer James Watt to promote his steam-powered business. By comparing the output of a steam engine to that of the draft horses he was able to determine how much more effective it was. Thus, horsepower was born.
Why do we Need Both?
The two concepts are very much two sides of the same coin. When accelerating, both torque and horsepower matter, as one goes with the other. Torque is the brute force that gets you up and moving from idle. Horsepower supplies the muscle that keeps you moving at speed. The difference is torque is doing the work, while horsepower is how fast that work is being done. Horsepower and torque, along with where each falls on a vehicle’s engine rotation per minute (rpm) range, help to determine a vehicle’s speed and acceleration.
Which is better?
To answer that in simple terms, they are different but equal. Torque is the force you feel pushing you back in your seat on acceleration, while horsepower is the speed achieved at the end of that acceleration. According to the experts at Ziems, torque is vital to every engine’s operation, but horsepower is what distinguishes a good engine from a great one. So, if you’d like to get more horsepower and torque in your ride, stop by our showroom and sales lot today!