July 14, 2024

What is Torque and Horsepower?

When it comes to understanding a car’s capabilities, torque is a key concept that often gets overshadowed by horsepower. Torque tells you a lot about how a car will perform in the real world, so let’s take a closer look at what it is and why it matters.

What is Torque?

Simply put, torque is a measure of the force being used to rotate something. Whether you’re turning a knob or a screwdriver, you’re applying torque. In the automotive world, torque is expressed in pound-feet, representing the force (in pounds) applied over a distance (in feet). A good way to visualize torque is with a lug wrench.

Imagine you have a flat tire and need to loosen the lug nuts. If you find that you can’t generate enough torque with your current tools, you’ll need to either increase the amount of force applied or the distance over which it’s applied. This is where a longer wrench handle or a pipe for added leverage can come in handy.

Understanding Horsepower

Now that you grasp the concept of torque, understanding horsepower becomes easier. While torque determines if a task can be done, horsepower looks at how quickly it can be done. To calculate horsepower, you multiply torque by speed (in RPM) and divide by 5,252. Horsepower focuses on the rate at which work is accomplished.

Just like in our flat tire scenario, where hitting the wrench with a hammer helped apply force more efficiently, horsepower is about achieving work at a faster pace. This is why handheld impact guns deliver quick bursts of torque repeatedly to get the job done.

While torque gets things moving, horsepower ensures they move quickly. An internal combustion engine works by applying torque to various components, just like using wrenches to turn nuts. The transmission acts as a set of wrenches, allowing you to choose the right one for the task at hand.

Which is Better: Torque or Horsepower?

In racing, both torque and horsepower play crucial roles. Torque determines the engine’s potential, while horsepower indicates how quickly that potential can be realized. Factors like gearing, aerodynamics, and suspension design also impact performance. Ultimately, both torque and horsepower are important, but they don’t tell the whole story.


Q: What is the difference between torque and horsepower?

A: Torque is the measure of force used to rotate something, while horsepower focuses on the rate at which work is accomplished.

Q: How are torque and horsepower related in a car?

A: Torque gets things moving, while horsepower ensures they move quickly. Together, they determine a car’s performance.


While torque and horsepower are both essential in understanding a car’s capabilities, they each play a unique role in determining performance. Torque gets things started, while horsepower ensures they move swiftly. By grasping these concepts, you can better appreciate the dynamics of vehicle performance.

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