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The Difference Between Horsepower and Torque: Why It Matters

When it comes to your car’s performance, there are two critical things you need to consider: Horsepower and torque. While you may have heard these terms before, what do they mean? Here, we’ll go over the basics of horsepower and torque, why knowing about them will help you better understand car manufacturer selling points, and what these terms mean for your car’s performance. 

What Is Horsepower?

Horsepower is a unit of measurement that calculates an engine’s power. The most common way to measure an engine’s power is with a device called a dynamometer. This device measures the engine’s power output at different speeds or RPMs to determine when peak power occurs. It is helpful to think of horsepower as the speed of your car. The more horsepower an engine has, the faster it can move the car relative to its weight. 

What Is Torque?

Torque measures the rotational force your car’s engine can produce. For example, a sports car may produce high horsepower and, as a result, be capable of moving very fast. In contrast, a big truck may not produce as much horsepower but will produce more torque to pull heavy loads. 

How Do You Calculate Torque and Horsepower?

To calculate horsepower, engine torque must be calculated, then horsepower is determined by a mathematical formula. The higher the horsepower that an engine is capable of, the more torque it can produce. This is where transmission and gear ratios become essential. Car manufacturers can manipulate these factors to produce more torque at lower RPMs or higher horsepower at higher RPMs.  

Which Is More Important?

When it comes to your car, horsepower and torque are both critical. But which is more important? That depends on what you’re looking for in a vehicle. If you’re looking for speed, horsepower is more important. If you’re looking for power, torque is more important. But if you’re looking for a combination of both, you must find a balance.

While these two are closely related, it’s best to think of torque and horsepower when opening a lid. The amount of force you apply to the lid would be the torque, the amount of force needed to open the lid, and the speed at which you open the lid, would be closer to what horsepower is.

Understanding the difference between horsepower and torque is essential to becoming an informed automobile consumer. Consult your car owner’s manual to learn about the ratings for your car.

Photo by Andrey Vershinin from Getty Images via Canva Pro