You might have come across the term “torque” in action films, car commercials, or discussions among car enthusiasts, but perhaps you’re still curious: What exactly is torque? Let’s explore this concept.

Torque refers to the rotational force exerted around a pivot point through a lever. Picture tightening a bolt with a one-foot-long wrench: the twisting force you apply to the wrench is transmitted to the bolt. Torque is usually quantified in pounds-feet (lb-ft). For instance, if you use a one-foot wrench to apply one pound of force to tighten a bolt, you’ve applied one pound-foot of torque. To increase torque, you can either increase the force applied or extend the length of the wrench.

In a car engine, torque originates from the vertical movement of the pistons that drive the rotation of the crankshaft. This rotational force is subsequently transmitted to the wheels through the transmission and drivetrain. High torque generated at lower engine speeds (measured in revolutions per minute or RPM) contributes to accelerating some cars from 0 to 60 mph swiftly. Several factors influence torque output, including engine displacement, fuel type, gearing ratios, and other variables.

Torque and horsepower are closely related yet distinct concepts often highlighted by manufacturers when advertising cars. Torque represents rotational force, crucial for swift acceleration and moving heavy loads, which is why vehicles like pickup trucks emphasize high torque outputs.

On the other hand, horsepower measures how quickly work can be done. It’s akin to two athletes lifting a 100-pound weight: one may lift it gradually, while the other lifts it explosively. Both accomplish the same work, but the quicker lift demonstrates greater power.

In cars, torque launches you forward from a standstill, while horsepower sustains speed and enables reaching higher velocities. Both metrics are essential for understanding engine performance: high torque ensures rapid starts, while high horsepower supports maintaining and achieving maximum speeds.

Torque varies significantly across different types of engines, influenced by their unique characteristics and designs. Here’s how torque output differs among alternative engine types:

Diesel engines operate with a higher fuel compression ratio, generating greater force on the pistons and resulting in higher torque output compared to gasoline engines. The design of diesel engines typically involves larger piston sizes, which further enhances the leverage effect, boosting torque. Moreover, diesel engines reach their maximum torque at lower revolutions per minute (RPM), making them ideal for heavy-duty applications where strong low-end power is crucial.

Electric vehicles are renowned for their impressive torque capabilities. Unlike internal combustion engines, which require time to build up power due to mechanical inefficiencies and energy losses through various components, EVs deliver instantaneous torque to the wheels. This immediate power transfer is akin to flipping a switch on a blender and seeing the blades start spinning right away. The instant availability of maximum torque enables even entry-level electric vehicles to achieve surprisingly rapid acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in seconds, making them notably quick off the line.

Next time someone asks, “What is torque?”, you’ll be prepared to explain. Torque is the rotational force responsible for accelerating cars and handling heavy loads. Cars with higher torque at lower RPMs are better equipped for heavy-duty tasks. While closely related to horsepower, torque is distinct in its role and characteristics.