For towing, what's more important, horsepower or torque?

Measuring Torque and Horsepower

If you'd like to know how and where torque is generated, look no further than this cross-section of a diesel engine.
©­ Dodge


­Let's lay down the basics. Horsepower is a measurement of work, meaning a force ap­plied to an object and the displacement of that obj­ect in the direction of the applied force. What does this mean? One horsepower equals 33,000 pounds-feet per minute (4,562.41 kilogram-meters), or the energy it takes to move a 330-pound (149 kg) object 100 feet (30.5 m) in one minute. 


Torque is a twisting force that rotates or turns an object, like a wheel. When you use a lug wrench on a bolt, you're applying torque to it. Unlike horsepower, even if the object doesn't move, torque can still be exerted on it. Torque is measured in pounds-feet, meaning a force in pounds acting on the end of a lever measured in feet. For example, if that lug wrench is 2 feet (0.6 m) long, and you put 100 pounds (45.4 kg) of force on it, you are putting 200 pounds-feet (27.65 kg/m) of torque onto the bolt. Read How Force, Power, Torque and Energy Work for more information on torque.

Once we're able to measure torque, we can then measure horsepower. The formula is simple: Multiply torque by the engine speed (measured in rpm), then divide that by 5,252 to get the horsepower at that rpm level. In other words, to get the horsepower of a vehicle generating 350 pounds-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm, you would calculate (350 X 4,000)/5252, which equals around 267 horsepower. It comes down to this: torque measures how much work is being done and horsepower measures how fast that work is being done [source: Polk].

In the next section, we'll analyze torque's advantages when towing a trailer.