The answer is simple, and you probably had it figured out before you even looked at this page: weight. The car engine, as powerful as it is, has a lot more weight to move than the smaller, less powerful motorcycle engine. Of course, there are other forces at play here, including wind resistance and rolling resistance, but let's concentrate on the weight portion of this situation -- specifically the weight of the car.
Base weight is a term that you may have heard if you've ever shopped for a new car, or if you like to read the car reviews in any of the popular automotive magazines. The base weight of a vehicle is, in simplest terms, how much your vehicle weighs. It may sound like a pretty straightforward measurement, and for the most part, it is. But there are a few fine points that should be understood about the way the measurement is taken. Automobile manufacturers determine the base weight of a vehicle by weighing it with no cargo or passengers onboard. The measurement also includes the weight of a full tank of fuel and other fluids like engine oil, coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid and any other fluid that's considered essential for vehicle operation.
Well, that's it, right? Not much more to say about base weight? Wrong. You may be surprised to hear that the actual base weight of a vehicle can be much higher than the advertised curb weight. How is that possible?
It's because the base weight is just that, the base weight. In other words, the weight of the vehicle with only the base trim features installed from the manufacturer, not the optional equipment. For example, base weight doesn't take into account the optional extended cab version of a pickup truck, the optional 16-way power adjustable captain's chairs in a minivan or even the optional sunroof that you just had to have.
Wait just a minute -- a sunroof adds weight? You may have thought that because the sunroof is basically a hole in the top of your vehicle that the weight would actually be reduced. Unfortunately, the sunroof glass, the metal track system that it travels back and forth on and the extra switches and wiring weigh more than the small piece of metal and insulation material that they're replacing. Did you want the multi-speaker sound system with a trunk-mounted CD changer? How about the optional floor mats? It may just be a few pounds here and there, but it adds up quickly.
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Returning to our example of the compact car versus the motorcycle, the most significant disadvantage the car suffered was its horsepower-to-weight ratio. Yes, the car has much more horsepower than the motorcycle, actually more than twice the amount available at the wheels; however, the car weighs four or five times the amount of the bike. In this case, it should have been easy to determine the winner even before the light turned green. The deciding factor wasn't driver ability -- it was weight.
Depending on the make and model year of your car or truck, you may be able to find your vehicle's curb weight on the following chart.