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Engine nitty-gritty (Part I of II)

This post might be common news to some, “new” news to others, or simply a re-fresher that is always handy to have close when thinking about a new (or used) car purchase. While the exterior and interior are quite important, as are the various functions (touchscreen, speaker quality, miscellaneous extras), the car will drive according to what’s under the hood. Understanding how this big piece of metal thrusts forward and at what speeds is vital, and this two-part piece will touch on just that.

Horsepower and Torque

Horsepower and torque measure the amount of power an engine creates. Both terms are confused by nearly everyone at some point in time in their car driving tenure. Torque is measured in pound-feet (expressed as lb-ft or ft-lbs). More specifically, it measures pulling power. For example, if youve ever felt that pull backwards when you press the gas pedal, that is torque at work. Vehicles that need lots of torque are those that are hauling and pulling things. But torque is not confined to farmers in Kansas or someone hauling furniture. Obviously, some folks love the feeling of increased torque and it doesn’t much matter if they’re going to the mall or moving gravel. But in a practical sense, massive amounts of torque are not necessary to get from A to B.

Horsepower enters the conversation as a function of torque, coupled with engine speed (revolutions per minute or RPM). Horsepower rating communicates how much power the engine makes, and this isrelatively straightforward. The more horsepower, the more power. In general, engine size is quoted in three ways – horsepower will come first and next is what is known as displacement (typically quoted in liters). Last are cylinders, which will indicate how big the engine is.

Fleshing this out, a car with 200 horsepower (hp), 3.0-liter V6 means that the vehicle will produce 200 hp from an engine that is 3.0-liter with a total of 6 cylinders. With that, now on to cylinders …

Stay tuned for Part II.

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