Common Units of Torque
Newton meter (Nm)
1 Nm = 0.737 lb-ft
1 lb-in = 0.113 Nm
1 lb-ft = 1.356 Nm
If you have ever tried to loosen really tight lug nuts on your car, you know a good way to make a lot of torque is to position the wrench so that it is horizontal, and then stand on the end of the wrench -- this way you are applying all of your weight at a distance equal to the length of the wrench. If you were to position the wrench with the handle pointing straight up, and then stand on the top of the handle (assuming you could keep your balance), you would have no chance of loosening the lug nut. You might as well stand directly on the lug nut.
Figure 3. A simulated dynamometer test of two different engines
Click here for the large version.
Figure 3 shows the maximum torque and power generated by two different engines. One engine is a turbocharged Caterpillar C-12 diesel truck engine. This engine weighs about 2,000 pounds, and has a displacement of 732 cubic inches (12 liters). The other engine is a highly modified Ford Mustang Cobra engine, with a displacement of 280 cubic inches (4.6 liters); it has an added supercharger and weighs about 400 pounds. They both produce a maximum of about 430 horsepower (hp), but only one of these engines is suitable for pulling a heavy truck. The reason lies partly in the power/torque curve shown above.
When the animation pauses, you can see that the Caterpillar engine produces 1,650 lb-ft of torque at 1200 rpm, which is 377 hp. At 5,600 rpm, the Mustang engine also makes 377 hp, but it only makes 354 lb-ft of torque. If you have read the article on gear ratios, you might be thinking of a way to help the Mustang engine produce the same 1,650 lb-ft of torque. If you put a gear reduction of 4.66:1 on the Mustang engine, the output speed would be (5,600/4.66 rpm) 1,200 rpm, and the torque would be (4.66 * 354 lb-ft) 1,650 lb-ft -- exactly the same as the big Caterpillar engine.
Now you might be wondering, why don't big trucks use small gas engines instead of big diesel engines? In the scenario above, the big Caterpillar engine is loafing along at 1,200 rpm, nice and slow, producing 377 horsepower. Meanwhile, the small gas engine is screaming along at 5,600 rpm. The small gas engine is not going to last very long at that speed and power output. The big truck engine is designed to last years, and to drive hundreds of thousands of miles each year it lasts.