Torque and Horsepower

The question of the difference between torque and horsepower confuses a lot of people. These two terms are, for example, widely used by the car industry to describe the capability of vehicles. But, if you don’t know what they mean then they are meaningless! Let’s take a look at both terms.


Torque is a force that turns or rotates something. It is often used to measure the ability of something to do something - so, for example, it may be used to show how well a car engine is able to do a job. Although torque is part of horsepower it is not the same thing for, as we will see, horsepower shows how quickly work will be done.


Horsepower is used to define the energy that is needed to lift a certain weight for a certain distance in a certain time frame. So horsepower is used to measure power - the higher the horsepower the more powerful the machine. The term horsepower probably dates back to the British inventor James Watts who developed steam engines during the Industrial Revolution. Before steam engines became viable sources of power, horses were used to drive machinery, hence the term horsepower.