Why Horserpower Matters

When you’re shopping for a new car, all the specs can be overwhelming. Sure, it makes sense that a smaller turning radius means sharper U-turns, but when it comes to more complicated specs like horsepower, you may be left scratching your head. After all, any functional vehicle moves when you push the gas pedal and stops when you hit the brakes, so why does horsepower matter when choosing which car to buy?

The History of Horsepower

If you’ve ever wondered what horsepower means, the answer is surprisingly simple – it’s the amount of power one horse produces. That answer may leave you wondering, “Why on earth are we measuring the strength of a modern car in terms of horses?”As it turns out, the unit “horsepower” is a relic from the Industrial Revolution. In the mid-1700s, James Watt (yes, watt like the lightbulb!), invented his version of the steam engine. Up until this point, farmers, miners and other workers had used horses to haul their items. Watt needed an easily understandable way to compare the muscle of a horse to the productivity of a steam engine, and thus, the term “horsepower” was born.There are several stories about how Watt measured the power of one horse, ranging from ordinary observation to a test where he hooked horses up to a mill wheel. Regardless, he eventually surmised that a horse could produce approximately 33,000 foot-pounds per minute. While the real number was slightly lower, it was rounded up for the sake of marketing.What does 33,000 foot-pounds per minute look like? That depends on the circumstances. It could be a horse lifting:
  • 33,000 pounds one foot in just one minute
  • One pound 33,000 feet in just one minute
  • 1,000 pounds 33 feet in just one minute
  • 33 pounds 1,000 feet in just one minute
Of course, some of these combinations wouldn’t be physically possible with a horse, but they could be with machinery.

The Physics of Horsepower

It’s feasible that a particularly buff horse could produce 33,000 foot-pounds per minute of power – or at least, somewhere in the ballpark. But what does that really mean in terms of physics?Any type of power, including horsepower, is actually a measure of “work” multiplied by “time.” “Work” is the amount of “force” applied to an object multiplied by the “distance” it is moved. For example, shoving a heavy box across a long floor would require a lot of work, physically speaking.
  • Work = Force x Distance
  • Power = Work x Time
If you shoved a heavy box across a 100-foot hallway, that would require more work than shoving the same box across a much shorter 15-foot bedroom floor.However, if you shoved a heavy box across a bedroom floor in 10 seconds, you would produce more power than shoving the same box across the same floor in 20 seconds. Simply put, doing the same amount of work at a faster rate means you’re producing more power.Horsepower can be easily converted to other units you may be more familiar with. For example, one horsepower equals 746 watts. You can also find horsepower with the equation:
  • Horsepower = (Torque x Revolutions Per Minute) ÷ 5,252

Why You Want Higher Horsepower

Both horsepower and torque work together to ensure the smooth operation of your vehicle. Torque measures the rotational force of the crankshaft around the engine. Horsepower is a product of both torque and revolutions per minute (rpm), the amount of times the crankshaft rotates around the engine in 60 seconds.You will notice that horsepower and torque are usually advertised alongside a specific rpm value. This is because your car will produce different amounts of horsepower and torque depending on the rpm. In simple terms, horsepower and torque change depending on whether you’re flooring it on the Autobahn or rolling down your driveway at a slow crawl. Peak horsepower is achieved as you push the car to the redline, the maximum rpm, whereas peak torque can occur even at lower rpm.So, what does this all mean as you shop for a car? More horsepower usually means you can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour much more quickly. It could make the difference between taking 10 seconds or four seconds on a highway on-ramp. Higher horsepower also tends to correlate with better vehicle performance at faster speeds when combined with a lighter vehicle body. By contrast, more torque, especially at lower rpm, gives you more towing power. A combination of decent horsepower and torque gives you the all-around package.

Find Your Dream Car at Texan Hyundai in Rosenberg, TX

Many people don’t realize this, but high horsepower can be found even in affordable cars. At Texan Hyundai, our team will work with you to find the perfect Hyundai to match your need for speed. Take a test drive at our dealership or request more information by calling us at (866) 413-5029 today!
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