We’ve all been to dyno events. The driver trots his truck out for everyone to see, he mounts the dyno, gets the strappers to secure everything down so we don’t witness a horrifying accident, tests things out, then unleashes hell on the drums. The crowd goes wild, the announcer yells out the horsepower, and then tries to bestow the torque number on the masses, who can’t hear it because they’re all still cheering because the truck hit 2,000 horsepower oh my gosh you guys! Horsepower may be the flashier number, but torque is still just as important to the equation. Literally, as it turns out. The mathematical equation that determines a vehicle’s horsepower uses torque as one of the variables. Without torque, there would be no such thing as horsepower.
So what is torque, exactly? Torque measures the twisting force on an object around an axis. For example, if you’re rolling up a poster or a large sheet of paper, you’re applying torque to it. So when we measure torque, we’re measuring how much force it takes to cause an object to rotate. If you’re taking the lug nuts off your wheel, for example, and the handle on your lug wrench is two feet long, if you apply 20 pounds of pressure to turn the handle, congratulations! You’ve just exerted 40 pound-feet of torque (20 pounds times 2 feet).
Let’s take a quick aside to address the thing a lot of you are probably yelling at me right now: “It’s foot-pounds, dude!” Some of you may think that there’s no difference between pound-feet and foot-pounds, but there is a difference. Foot-pounds are a measurement of energy; more specifically, they measure energy output, which is known as work. This measurement is more commonly known as a joule. Pound-feet, on the other hand, is the correct measurement for torque. It measures the change of an object’s momentum. To get super nerdy about it, energy (foot-pounds) is a scalar, which means it is a measurement of quantity without direction, while torque (pound-feet) is a vector, which is force applied in a specific direction.
Okay, now that we’ve had our monthly Science Minute, why is torque important to the grand scheme of things? Is it more important than horsepower? It’s kind of odd that horsepower has become the one thing everyone looks at when determining a vehicle’s effectiveness, or, hell, even its worthiness, while torque sits in the corner, muttering under its breath about how no one appreciates him. Torque is what you’re using when you grab your little brother to give him an arm burn. Torque is what gets your wheels spinning from a standstill, so the more torque you have, the faster you can get off the line when you stomp on the pedal. In the same way, torque is the main factor in determining your low-end power and therefore is hugely important for towing. Going back to my example at the beginning, how many times have you gone to a dyno event and seen a truck blow everyone else out of the water with its horsepower number, only to get totally smoked in the drag race or sled pulls by somebody with more torque? It happens a lot. Torque is important because you wouldn’t have horsepower at all without it. So give torque a little respect. It’s earned it.