How Much Horsepower Do You Really Need?

October 22nd, 2019 by

2020 ford mustang

Anyone who has done any car shopping before has heard the term “horsepower.” It’s advertised in commercials by huge trucks whipping through the snow, going up steep terrain, and hauling loads across the country. Your average car buyer might understand what they want in terms of looks, gas mileage, and basic functionality. However, horsepower is not a typical buyer’s term. This doesn’t mean it isn’t something that should be brushed off during the buyer’s process.

So, how much horsepower do you really need in your next car? Understanding what horsepower is, as well as thinking about what you want is key.

What is Horsepower?

Horsepower is how a car’s engine power is measured. James Watt created the term based on estimations of how much work he believed a horse would be able to do. His work with horsepower pre-dated the automobile by a little more than 100 years, but his work with energy and power has been timeless (he was the namesake of the term “watts”). Watt’s word works around the idea that a single horse can do 33,000 foot-pounds of work per minute.

What does this mean, you might ask? Real-time scenarios help us understand. Imagine a cart attached to a horse. The cart itself weighs 200 pounds and in it is 130 pounds of apples – together equal to 330 pounds. According to Watts, the average horse would be able to move the cart of apples approximately 100 feet. 330×100 = 33,000 foot-pounds. This was helpful back in the day when horses were the main method of transportation. But how does this apply to a car used today?

How is Horsepower Measured In Relation To A Car?

We don’t use horses for transportation much anymore. However, Watt’s horsepower theory still applies very well to the vehicles we’ve used for transport the few hundred years after his death. Horsepower can be converted to other units, including BTUs, food calories, and even Watts. And when calculating the power of a vehicle, the units of its creation might be outdated, but the underlying intent is not.

Today’s vehicles don’t automatically calculate horsepower, because it is not the most essential part of a car. To figure out the horsepower of a car, you would first determine the torque of the vehicle and then use a simple equation to figure out the horsepower. You multiply the torque of the car by the rpm of the car and divide it by 5,252.

How Do You Plan to Use Your Next Car?

Sound confusing? Don’t worry. You don’t need an exact horsepower number ready when you go to the dealer for the next car. Instead, consider what your new car’s primary job will be, and the dealership representatives will help you make an informed choice.

If you plan on using your next truck or SUV for hauling and towing: You’ll want a car with high horsepower but a lower acceleration rate. The reason? Instead of focusing the engine power on getting your vehicle from slow to fast in minimal time, you’ll want your engine’s ability to concentrate on pulling a large load in a reasonable amount of time. It will also want to do so at a rate that doesn’t stress the engine. You will sacrifice the excitement of a sports car for this, but you’ll be able to go a lot of places and haul a lot more than you might with a smaller, faster car.

If you plan on getting a roadster, sports car, or similar performance car: Consider getting a car with acceleration-focused horsepower. This means your vehicle will go fast in less time, but if you imagine this as you would a horse, you’ve got to understand that it won’t be able to take large loads. A horse goes faster when it has less weight on it – this is why racing jockeys are typically short and lean. You cannot expect a horse built to go quickly to take on a huge cart full of apples. The same goes for a car.

If you need a daily driver: You don’t necessarily need to worry about horsepower. Sure, you might want something fun or something with the ability to hook a small cart up to it to take some trash to the dump. However, there are many great choices for cars that fit these specifications with lower horsepower.

Why Wouldn’t I Choose High Horsepower Every Time?

It’s tempting to forego further consideration about horsepower. After all, isn’t more horsepower ultimately better?

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Horsepower is excellent for two primary things in a car – going extremely fast in very short periods, and pulling a lot of weight. If you’re a person who relies upon their vehicle for towing or hauling, then you’ll want a car with good horsepower. However, lower horsepower is intentionally put into many vehicles, like economy cars, family cars, and family SUVs.

Additionally, more horsepower often equates to more money spent on your car. You get acceleration-focused horsepower and load-focused horsepower based on the way your car’s gearbox is set up. A gearbox meant for speed is highly specialized, which ultimately requires more money spent. The same goes for a gearbox focused on car loads. If you need a car to get to and from work, drive the kids to band practice, or occasionally travel the next state over to see your parents, you should consider a standard horsepower car.

Of course, we understand that deciding what car to buy is huge and probably will not be based solely on horsepower. However, understanding horsepower is a great way to figure out what type of car you might need and to narrow down your choices in the long run.

You don’t have to make the car buying decision alone. If you live in the Kansas City, Missouri area, the Zeck Ford dealership can help you out. We even offer in-house financing on all our cars, regardless of their horsepower. Best of all – they are all available at the best prices in the area. Click here to see how much financial assistance you qualify for, or stop by today.

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