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How Force, Power, Torque and Energy Work

Many Forces

Usually, when we talk about force, there is more than one force involved, and these forces are applied in different directions. Let's look at a diagram of a car. When the car is sitting still, gravity exerts a downward force on the car (this force acts everywhere on the car, but for simplicity, we can draw the force at the car's center of mass). But the ground exerts an equal and opposite upward force on the tires, so the car does not move.

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Figure 1. Animation of forces on a car

When the car begins to accelerate, some new forces come into play. The rear wheels exert a force against the ground in a horizontal direction; this makes the car start to accelerate. When the car is moving slowly, almost all of the force goes into accelerating the car. The car resists this acceleration with a force that is equal to its mass multiplied by its acceleration. You can see in Figure 1 how the force arrow starts out large because the car accelerates rapidly at first. As it starts to move, the air exerts a force against the car, which grows larger as the car gains speed. This aerodynamic drag force acts in the opposite direction of the force of the tires, which is propelling the car, so it subtracts from that force, leaving less force available for acceleration.

Eventually, the car will reach its top speed, the point at which it cannot accelerate any more. At this point, the driving force is equal to the aerodynamic drag, and no force is left over to accelerate the car.

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