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Torque indicates the car’s ability to do work and is the force resulting from rotations of your vehicle’s crankshaft (which makes your wheels spin). Horsepower is a measure of the rate at which the engine does work, or the application of torque over time.
Torque and horsepower are both byproducts of energy conversion—that is, what happens in your engine to transform air and fuel into usable energy.
Still, there's a lot more to torque and horsepower than just energy conversion. Each has an impact on your car's towing-ability, fuel efficiency, and of course, speed and acceleration.
Looking to brush up on the basics? The experts at car insurance comparison super app Jerry have compiled everything you need to know about torque and horsepower.
What is torque?
Torque is the force created by the rotational movement of your car's crankshaft—what causes your wheels to spin after you push down on the gas.
When this force acts upon an object, it translates into work. You can think of torque as the car’s ability to accomplish work, or a measure of strength.
What is horsepower?
Horsepower is a measurement of power, which is the rate at which the engine accomplishes work (which is generated by torque). You can think of horsepower as an indicator of speed.
Horsepower depends on a car’s torque and RPM (rotations per minute). Most of the time, your engine won’t be pushed to peak performance, so it will rarely reach the number listed as its total horsepower.
What are the differences between horsepower and torque?
Torque and horsepower work in tandem to make your car go. But depending on how—or what—you drive, you may be more concerned with one or the other.
What about when it comes to speed?
Horsepower is the largest determining factor for how fast your car can go. Your car's theoretical top speed will have a lot to do with your engine’s continual power output at high speeds.
If you're looking for a car with high top speeds, it's best to select one with high horsepower.
How about acceleration?
Acceleration is your car's ability to increase speed over time. It's also, for our purposes, where things get a bit tricky.
Pure torque and horsepower don't cause acceleration alone. The car's RPM (which is determined by peak torque, or the largest amount of torque your engine can produce) also plays a large role in acceleration capacity.
In short, it's all about balance. You need horsepower to push a car to its limits, but it's these limits (like peak torque) that determine how fast your car will accelerate to get there.
It's also why acceleration isn’t the only thing to compare when it comes to he world of performance and exotic vehicles.
Take, for example, Buggati's new Bolide Concept Hypercar, which despite boasting a whopping 1825 horsepower—according to Car and Driver—will hit peak torque at speeds in a completely different ballpark than, say, a Porsche 911.
It's also important to note that the amount of torque your car puts out changes depending on what gear you're in and that peak torque can happen at different gears for different vehicles.
What about towing?
If you're looking to tow, the only number you'll need to be concerned with is the car's torque. The force of torque just produces work, so it’s a measure of the car’s strength rather than its speed.
Torque gets your car moving and allows your vehicle to remain stable when towing heavy loads. High torque is why cars like pick-ups and large SUVs can carry such heavy loads—even up an incline—without losing control.
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Torque and horsepower will each affect your car's fuel efficiency.
High horsepower means that you'll blow through fuel more quickly. This is because your car can accelerate faster and will thus consume more energy. A lower horsepower number may make your car more fuel-efficient.
For torque, the same is true. Vehicles with lower torque will usually consume fuel more slowly and will thus be more efficient—depending on what you're hauling—than their higher-torque counterparts.
The biggest determinant of fuel efficiency, though, is you. How fast you accelerate or how often you stay in lower gears will have more impact on your car’s use of fuel than the car’s potential abilities.
What makes a car faster: torque or horsepower?
Depends on your definition of fast. If you mean top speed, then it's going to depend on horsepower.
But if you want a car with rapid acceleration, the most important value will be the car's peak torque—which is how much work your engine can accomplish while pushing itself to its limits.
What is a good torque for a car?
Good torque is going to be relative, depending on what you want from your vehicle. On average, the torque of regular cars and trucks can range anywhere from 100lbs to 400lbs, with affordable performance cars like the Honda Civic Type R coming in at 295lbs of torque and peak torque at about 2,500rpm.
If you're looking for high towing capacity, you might need something a little more heavy-duty. A few of the most capable trucks currently on the market are the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, and both have a whopping 910 lbs of torque.
However, trucks with 400 lbs of torque and above should meet basic towing needs.
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