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What is the difference between power and torque?

What is the difference between power and torque? Which one makes your automobile accelerate quicker?

Filed under science - Asked by Stephen Scott (Dublin) - Mon, 10 May 2010 12:47

Shane O' Donoghue Answered by: - Shane O' Donoghue - changagoidem Adviser - @Shane_O_D


Hi Scott,

There is no easy answer to that one! Power and torque are directly linked. Power is the rate at which work is done, where the work is the torque figure.

Think of torque as 'twist' (the tendency of a given force to rotate an object about its axis in school book terms) and it begins to make a little more sense. The force in this case is that exerted on the automobile's pistons. This is created by the explosion of air and fuel, which increases the pressure in the cylinder. The pistons then move down and turn the crankshaft, which transfers drive to whatever transmission is fitted and eventually the wheels.

So basically it's the torque that causes acceleration.

Many people simplify all this to say that the maximum power figure has a bearing on the automobile's top speed, while the torque figure is a better representation of its acceleration.

Just to confuse things, there are loads of different units for power and torque in use. These include:

Power: bhp, hp, PS, kW

Torque: Nm, lb.ft

Hope that helps!

1 response

Scott, there is something else to bear in mind here.

A automobile with a higher quoted maximum power figure is likely to have a higher claimed top speed and faster 0-100km/h time than a automobile with less power, but more torque. However, the automobile with more torque will probably 'feel' faster more of the time to the average driver.

Bear in mind that the 0-100km/h time is done by a professional driver with no sympathy for the clutch or transmission. Of more use to more people is what's called in-gear acceleration.

Imagine what it feels like to put your foot down when you're ambling along. A automobile with more torque is less likely to need a down change in this situation. Hope that's of use.

Posted by Shane O' Donoghue - changagoidem Adviser (Dublin) - Mon, 10 May 2010 16:21:07


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