The Differences Between Horsepower and Torque Explained

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Admittedly, automobiles have eased our lives to a great extent. A statistical report published in 2021 indicates that almost 90% of families own at least one vehicle. Given that this is a worthy investment, we should learn some basic differences, such as those between horsepower and torque, before making a purchase.

Now, suppose you’re wondering about their roles and which one is more important while buying a new or used car. In that case, we’ll help you understand the main roles of horsepower and torque and which is more important in a vehicle and then explain the difference between them.

What Is Horsepower?

Simply stated, horsepower is the amount of power an engine produces. One horsepower is the power required to move 33,000 pounds one foot in a minute, or move 550 pounds one foot in a second. This computation helps measure the amount of power transferred to the wheels under the hood of your car. This measurement takes into account distance, time, and weight.

In a car’s engine, horsepower is perpetual power. After the vehicle takes off, the capacity to reach a high speed and maintain the high speed is where horsepower comes into play. The horsepower churned out from your car’s engine is what keeps the car moving at such high speeds. More horsepower translates into a smooth ride after acceleration.

  • Horsepower is calculated as torque times rpm/5252, where rpm refers to rotation per minute.
  • The international (SI) unit of horsepower is called the brake horsepower (bhp).

What Is Torque?

Torque, on the other hand, is a rotational force that results in acceleration. In automotive applications, torque determines the engine’s ability to do work. The force generated by the displacement of engine cylinders rotates the engine crankshaft, and the transmission uses this torque to set your car’s wheels in motion. 

The more force exerted on the crankshaft, the more torque is produced and the more work your automobile can do. This is why bigger cars such as SUVs and trucks utilize engines that deliver a high amount of torque. In other words, if you do a lot of towing, torque is the most important power figure to keep an eye on. High torque helps your truck or SUV accelerate from a halt and pull heavy loads up steep inclines. 

  • Torque is calculated as force x distance.
  • The SI unit of torque is the Newton-meter (Nm).

Horsepower vs. Torque: What’s the Difference?

Horsepower and torque have a direct relationship with each other. While torque describes the force, horsepower describes the rate of that force. They may sound somewhat similar, so let’s expound on the difference between them. The main use of torque is to make a vehicle accelerate in the initial stages of movement, while horsepower dictates the rate of acceleration of the car.

If you’ve got an engine with high horsepower but barely any torque, it’s going to take you a considerable amount of time to reach your highest speed, which isn’t convenient for most car buyers. But, ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much horsepower or torque your automobile has. All that matters is if you’re content with the driving performance.

In a few words, torque affects the load-bearing capacity while horsepower impacts a car’s speed. This is why some SUVs and most load-carrying trucks use diesel engines to generate more torque than their petrol counterparts. But when it boils down to purchasing a car solely based on horsepower and torque, the scale tilts more toward power as measured by torque as it affects the overall performance of a car, especially acceleration.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the five main differences between horsepower and torque:

  1. Horsepower helps dictate the top speed at which a vehicle can run. In contrast, torque is more acceleration-oriented. It’s insignificant whether the torque is less or more. However, cars with higher horsepower ratings do still depend on torque and are specially made to have the correct balance between torque and horsepower for the ultimate driving experience.
  2. While horsepower is a standard of measurement, torque isn’t and is calculated in pound-feet or Newton-meters.
  3. Horsepower is considered together with torque to aid in determining an engine’s overall performance in terms of acceleration. However, the computation of torque is solely based on multiplying distance and force.
  4. The higher the horsepower a vehicle has, the faster it’s going to burn fuel, both under normal driving conditions and on acceleration. On the contrary, the lower torque a car has, the slower it burns fuel, depending on your everyday hauling and driving habits.
  5. Horsepower determines the power that an automobile’s engine can produce. On the flip side, the focus of torque isn’t the power but the twisting force that the engine’s crankshaft can generate.  

Which Is Better?

While both are needed to drive your automobile, the answer hinges on what you’re trying to achieve. For most casual drivers, neither is better than the other. They just need their family SUV or sedan to cruise the highway and easily navigate the parking lot. But if you’re transporting a heavy load of supplies or towing a boat or trailer, you need a high-torque engine. If you’re trying to win a race or set a record for the best lap time at the local track, you need an engine with high horsepower.

After reading all this, you’re hopefully not too confused and feel that this detailed explanation was helpful. If so, now that you know more about the difference between horsepower and torque, the next step is to figure out which is most important to you. At New Jersey State Auto in Jersey City, we’ve got a huge selection of used cars to cover all different tastes and preferences.

We also know that nothing teaches quite like a hands-on experience. If you prefer a live demonstration of the difference between horsepower and torque, the sales team at New Jersey State Auto always enjoys educating our customers. Contact us online to schedule a test drive!