Horsepower & Torque: Why Do These Matter When Buying A New Vehicle?

A big part of the challenge when shopping for a new car is the confusing terminology that gets casually thrown around by both buyers and sellers. Sure, words like ‘horsepower’ and ‘torque’ sound impressive, but what do they mean? Do they really matter when buying a new vehicle? If they do, exactly how so? 
 
How do you factor them in when you’re making your choice of what to buy? We’ll help you answer all of those questions. 
 
Torque vs. Horsepower
 
First of all, it’s important to note that while horsepower and torque are connected, they’re not quite the same thing. They’re both measures of your engine’s capacity to do work, but they are applied in different ways. 

Both of them will have to factor into your decision when you’re shopping for a new car, but they’ll affect different aspects of the vehicle’s performance. Whether you’re looking for a car with high horsepower and torque will depend on your personal needs as a driver. 
 
What Is Horsepower? 
 
In the simplest terms, horsepower is a unit of measurement. While these days it’s most commonly applied to cars, it can technically measure the power that any engine has. Originally, however, it was a term coined by a nineteenth-century engineer named James Watts to compare the work output of actual horses to newly invented steam engines. Watts estimated that a single horse would be able to lift about 33,000 pounds one foot in one minute, or: one horsepower. 

Since the first engines were originally created to do the work that horses once did, this term had actual significance for Watts’ customers. Even today, however, we use the term ‘horsepower’ as a unit of measurement to describe the rate at which an engine can do work. 

The more horsepower an engine has, the more power it can bring to bear. If a car has a lot of horsepower relative to its weight, it’s considered a high-performance car. In the real world, this translates to speed and the ability of the car to move weight. 
 
What Is Torque? 
 
Things get a little confusing here because, like horsepower, torque is a unit of measurement. Torque is simply a measure of the twisting force on an object. It is measured in foot-pounds; so if you attach a one-foot long wrench to an object and apply one pound of pressure to the end of the wrench, this equals one foot-pound of torque. 

In an automotive engine, torque is a measure of the rotating force produced by the engine’s crankshaft. What does that actually do for the car? For starters, it’s what causes the vehicle to accelerate. If you hear a salesperson at your local Oregon dealership boasting that a car can go 0-60 in five seconds, what they’re really doing is bragging about the car’s torque. 
 
How Are These Elements Measured?
 
Both torque and horsepower are measurements of power. Power, in this case, is defined at an engine’s rate of doing work. Work, in this case, is simply defined as the distance moved as the result of a force. So the power of an engine boils down to the speed that it can move a certain distance. 

A more powerful engine will move faster in a shorter time; pretty straightforward. While there are complex mathematical equations that can help you discover your engine’s power, the simplest way to do it is to hook the engine up to a dynamometer. Torque itself can be converted to horsepower in a car by multiplying it by rpm/5,252. 
 
How Do These Measurements Of Power Apply To Vehicles? 
 
 If a vehicle has high torque and high horsepower, it’s going to be able to produce a lot of acceleration. Essentially, once you turn the key and the engine starts, how fast can you get the car to its maximum speed? And how fast is that speed? And how much power can the car bring to bear for towing? 

Naturally, a vehicle that has a lot of power is going to be more versatile and more expensive. The high-performance vehicles tend to be sports cars, muscle cars, and the like. 
 
Does It Matter When I’m Buying A Vehicle? 
 
While owning a vehicles with high torque and high horsepower is certainly impressive, it isn’t really all that critical for a lot of shoppers. If you have a high-performance vehicle, you’ll certainly have a lot of fun driving, but for the day-to-day tasks that your vehicle needs to perform, a lower horsepower will often be just fine. 

In fact, if you’re in the market for a compact vehicle to get yourself to work and the kids to school, you may want to opt for a lower horsepower for simple safety reasons. A car with greater potential for acceleration means that you’ll have to make decisions regarding safety that much faster. 

Horsepower also affects fuel efficiency; a really high-performance engine is going to burn through fuel significantly quicker than a lower powered car. So if you’re in the market for a compact car to get you from point A to point B, you may want to opt for one with a lower horsepower. 

However, if you expect to be using your vehicle for a lot of towing, you’ll definitely need a more powerful engine. In this case, you’ll want to look at the horsepower and torque of a car you’re in the market for. 
 
Don’t let promises of high horsepower be the only factor when it comes to car shopping; in many cases, it’s more important to get an agile, fuel efficient, and safe car. High horsepower and torque could actually be detrimental to those things. 

If you’re unsure what exactly it is you need in a car, head to your local Oregon dealership and ask the sales staff for more information. Tell them exactly what you plan to use the car for, and whether a lot of power and acceleration is important to these tasks. 
Categories: New Inventory

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