Horsepower vs. Torque: Understanding the Difference

Horsepower vs. Torque

The 2021 Ram Heavy Duty may be the most powerful consumer-grade vehicle to exist, with over 1000 lb-ft of torque. At the same time, a 2021 Dodge Challenger SRT has an astounding 807 horsepower engine under its hood.

So, what’s the difference of horsepower vs torque? If you’ve found yourself asking this question when looking for a new vehicle, this article is for you.

Keep reading to become a resident torque vs horsepower expert among your friends.

What Is Torque?

Torque is a measurement of force applied at distance. Because a diesel engine has a longer stroke, this creates more torque per rotation than in a gasoline engine.

This is because when you have a longer distance of movement you have more leverage. More leverage means more torque. The most basic formula for torque is force multiplied by distance, so as you can see that even small changes in the engine add up quickly.

For example, try to turn a bolt using your fingers. Then use a wrench to turn it.

Which is easier? No doubt, it was easier to turn a bolt with the wrench and you were able to tighten it further. If you extend the handle on your wrench another few inches, it becomes even easier.

The tradeoff is distance. It takes time to travel distance, so creating torque with excess leverage could be a waste of effort.

What Is Horsepower?

If you’re in the market for a Honda CRZ or other street racing car, then horsepower is widely advertised.

If torque is force times distance, that’s half of the equation for horsepower. Horsepower is torque (force times distance) times RPM (revolutions per minute). RPM is how many times the shaft will spin around completely.

This is because power is the rate that work is done at. Doing something faster takes more power. The rate of work increases. This means that horsepower is almost the same as torque, but ads the element of time.

Horsepower vs Torque: Which Is Better?

So then, between horsepower vs torque, which is more important?

The answer is both — and also neither. You need both for any car to be useful, and neither is “better” than the other outside of any given context.

If instead, you ask: “Is horsepower or torque better for towing?” The obvious answer will be torque. Likewise, if the question is “Is horsepower or torque better for racing?” then the answer switches to horsepower.

Too much torque along with horsepower will physically deform mechanical parts of the vehicle in a drag race. At high speed and force, the metal begins to look more like rubber in slow motion. It may even unbalance a vehicle.

That said, you still need torque to get the vehicle moving forward and breaking that moment of inertia. The true answer lies in a balance of these two metrics.

If we have two identical cars where one has 200 horsepower (hp) and 100 lb-ft torque, where the other has 100 hp and 200 lb-ft torque, which will be the faster car? Higher power will always trump torque for speed.

Knowing The Difference

Now that you know the difference between horsepower vs torque, it’s much easier to make decisions about which vehicle buy and why you want it. It also makes it easier to buy within a given vehicle class and still get what you need.

Buying a pickup truck thinking it can tow or would automatically have good torque ratings would be a mistake. Want to know more about how cars, engines, and other technologies work? Keep browsing our articles to stay informed.