What is Torque in Cars and How Does It Work? Torque vs Horsepower

What is Torque in Cars and How Does It Work? Torque vs Horsepower

What is Torque in Cars

As automotive enthusiasts, we’re often fascinated by the power and performance of cars. One crucial element that plays a significant role in delivering that exhilarating driving experience is torque. Torque is to your engine what your favourite food is to your taste buds, leaving you hungry for more speed and power. It’s the magic ingredient that amplifies the engine’s power, allowing you to unleash controlled bursts of speed when needed, like a sprinter surging ahead during the final lap of a race.

To put it simply, torque is the twisting force generated by the engine, and it determines how quickly your car can accelerate. By understanding how torque works and its impact on your driving experience, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the intricate mechanics that make your car tick. So, let’s dive into the fascinating world of torque and uncover its secrets!

What is Torque in Cars?

Torque is a force that makes things rotate, like a twist or a spin. In cars, it’s the twisting force that the engine creates. When fuel burns inside the cylinders, it pushes the pistons down with force. This force travels through the crankshaft, making it turn and spin the wheels.

Torque is what helps a car accelerate. More torque means more twisting force from the engine, making the car go faster. However, torque isn’t the same at all engine speeds, and changes depending on the engine RPM (revolutions per minute). Depending on how the engine has been tuned, some have strong torque at low speeds, giving them power for quick starts, while others have peak torque at higher speeds, ideal for high-speed driving.

Also read : Engine Parts and functions: Working of the Car Engine Explained

How Does Torque Work in a Car?

By understanding how torque works within a car’s engine and its subsequent transmission to the wheels, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the mechanics behind your vehicle’s movement. The interplay of components and the optimisation of torque delivery are key factors in achieving an exhilarating driving experience.

Let’s understand how torque works in a car’s engine:

  • The Crankshaft

The crankshaft is like the engine’s “power transmitter.” It converts the up-and-down motion of the pistons into the rotational motion that makes the wheels turn and moves the car forward.

  • Torque Multiplication

Cars use a transmission system to boost torque. Manual transmissions have different gear options that let you choose the right torque for different driving situations. Automatic transmissions select the right gear as per the situation without requiring inputs from the driver.

  • Differential and Axles

Once torque leaves the transmission, it goes to the differential. This clever device splits the torque between the wheels, making sure the right amount is delivered to each wheel. When wheels break traction and spin during hard acceleration, a car can veer to one side, which is known as torque steer.

  • Wheel Torque and Grip

The torque delivered to the wheels affects their grip on the road. Higher torque means better traction in the right conditions, especially on tricky surfaces like slippery roads or rough terrains. This is essential for off-road vehicles or those towing heavy loads.

  • Power-to-Weight Ratio

Torque isn’t the only factor for car performance. The power-to-weight ratio, which considers both torque and the car’s weight, plays a big role. A higher power-to-weight ratio means better acceleration and overall performance.

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Torque and the Engine 

The engine’s design, displacement, and induction and exhaust system all contribute to the torque output, which directly affects the car’s acceleration, towing capacity, and overall drivability.

Here’s a closer look at the relationship between torque and the engine:

  • Acceleration

Torque is directly responsible for a car’s ability to accelerate swiftly. Higher torque allows the engine to exert greater rotational force on the crankshaft, resulting in faster acceleration from a standstill or during overtaking manoeuvres.

  • Towing and Hauling

Vehicles with high torque ratings excel at towing and hauling heavy loads. Torque provides the necessary force to overcome resistance and maintain momentum when faced with challenging terrain or substantial weight.

  • Drivability

Torque impacts a car’s drivability, making it easier to navigate through different driving conditions. Vehicles with ample torque exhibit better low-end power, ensuring smooth acceleration and responsiveness in everyday driving scenarios.

  • Hill Climbing

The ability to conquer steep inclines effortlessly is a testament to an engine’s torque output. Higher torque allows a vehicle to maintain speed and power when ascending hills, ensuring a comfortable and confident driving experience.

  • Fuel Efficiency

Torque also influences fuel efficiency. A well-tuned engine with sufficient torque can operate at lower RPMs while still providing adequate power. This efficient use of engine resources translates into better fuel economy.

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Examining How Torque Is Generated Within an Engine

Generating torque in an engine involves several important factors. Let’s take a simpler look at how torque is created:

  • Combustion

Torque is a result of the combustion process in the engine’s cylinders. When the air-fuel mixture ignites, it creates pressure and rapidly expands.

  • Crankshaft

As the expanding gases push the piston down, the crankshaft converts this motion into a spinning motion, generating torque.

  • Piston Design

The design of the pistons affects torque. Longer piston strokes result in more distance travelled, producing greater torque.

  • Compression Ratio

The compression ratio, which compares cylinder volume at different piston positions, influences torque. Higher ratios often mean improved torque.

  • Valve Timing

Proper timing of the intake and exhaust valves is crucial for torque. Well-timed valve movements ensure efficient air and fuel flow, leading to better torque output.

  • Engine Management Systems

Modern engines use advanced systems to optimise torque. Electronic fuel injection and ignition timing control help maximise torque while maintaining fuel efficiency.

Also Read : 5 Warning Signs of Engine Failure You Should Not Ignore

How Does Torque Work in Different Transmissions

In this section, we will provide you with a comprehensive comparison of various transmission types, examining their torque delivery, operation mechanism, gear changes, efficiency, and driving experience. We will also highlight the unique characteristics and functionalities of each transmission to better understand how they influence your driving performance and preferences.

Let’s take a look: 

Transmission TypeTorque FunctionKey AspectsAdvantagesDisadvantages
Traditional AutomaticTorque smoothly transferred via torque converters using hydraulic pressureSmooth gear changes
No clutch pedal required
Convenient for city driving
Easy to use
Ideal for stop-and-go traffic
Suitable for relaxed driving
Lower fuel efficiency compared to manual
Limited control over gear selection
Continuously Variable (CVT)Torque transferred through a belt-driven system with an infinite number of gear ratiosSeamless gear transitions
Continuously variable ratios
Efficient use of engine power
Smooth acceleration
Good fuel efficiency
Constant torque delivery
Delayed response during hard acceleration, engine revs high before speed increases (Rubber band effect)
Less engaging driving experience
Dual-Clutch (DCT)Torque transferred via two independent clutches for quick gear shiftsRapid gear changes
Two clutches for odd and even gears
High-performance driving capability
Smooth and quick shifts
Efficient power delivery
Engaging driving experience
Complex technology with higher costs
Potential for jerky low-speed operation
Automated Manual (AMT)Torque transferred using an automated clutch systemSemi-automatic operation
Cost-effective compared to traditional automatics
Good fuel efficiency
Easy to use in traffic
Affordability and lower maintenance
Suitable for budget-conscious buyers
Jerky gear shifts during manual mode
Slower gear changes compared to DCTs
TiptronicTorque transferred automatically or manually using paddle shiftersManual control over gear changes
Smooth automatic mode when needed
Combines benefits of automatic and manual
Flexibility for different driving styles
Improved performance and control
Not as responsive as DCTs
May not offer as many gear ratios as CVT
Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG)Torque transferred via dual clutches for quick and smooth shiftsFast and precise gear changes
Combines benefits of manual and automatic
Efficient power delivery
Superior performance and sporty driving experience
Seamless gear transitions
Good fuel efficiency
Higher cost compared to traditional automatics
Potential for complex maintenance

Turbochargers and Torque

Turbochargers are a popular technology used in modern engines to boost performance, and they have a direct impact on torque output. Let’s see how turbochargers increase torque and explore their benefits and limitations.

How Turbochargers Increase Torque Output

  • Forced Induction
  1. Turbochargers forcefully increase engine power using exhaust gases
  2. They compress more air into the engine, leading to higher torque
  • More Air, More Fuel
  1. Turbochargers compress air and fuel for stronger explosions, generating increased torque
  • Improved Low-End Torque
  1. Turbochargers excel at boosting torque at low engine speeds, enhancing responsiveness and acceleration, ideal for city driving
  • Engine Downsizing
  1. Turbocharging allows smaller engines with high torque output like larger engines, improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions

Benefits of Turbochargers

  • Turbochargers boost engine power, enhancing acceleration and overall performance for a thrilling driving experience
  • Smaller turbocharged engines produce higher torque, leading to improved fuel efficiency, consuming less fuel while maintaining impressive power
  • Turbocharged engines emit fewer pollutants due to their better fuel efficiency, contributing to a cleaner and greener environment

Limitations of Turbochargers

  • Delay between pressing the accelerator and feeling power boost, impacting immediate throttle response, especially at lower RPMs
  • Turbochargers produce considerable heat during compression which makes it essential to have effective cooling systems and oil lubrication are vital to maintain performance and prevent damage
  • Turbocharged engines are pricier due to added components and engineering which also results in more intricate and expensive repairs and maintenance

Torque vs Horsepower

Torque and horsepower are two related but distinct concepts that are often mentioned in discussions about car performance. Torque is the twisting force that an engine generates, measured in units such as pound-feet (lb-ft) or Newton-metres (Nm). Horsepower is a measurement of power, representing the rate at which work is done. It indicates how quickly an engine can perform tasks, such as generating torque.

Horsepower is calculated using the formula: Horsepower = (Torque x RPM) / 5252. This formula shows that torque and RPM play crucial roles in determining horsepower. An engine with high torque at a high RPM will generate more horsepower.

How Do You Calculate the Torque?

Calculating torque involves considering a few key factors related to the engine’s specifications. Here’s how you can calculate torque:

  • Torque Formula

The formula for torque is Torque = Force x Distance. In the context of an engine, the force refers to the rotational force generated by the engine’s pistons, and the distance refers to the distance from the centre of the crankshaft to the point of force application.

  • Force

The force applied to the crankshaft is the result of the combustion process within the engine’s cylinders. It is determined by the pressure generated by the expanding gases pushing the pistons downward.

  • Distance

The distance in the torque formula is the measurement from the centre of the crankshaft to the point where the force is applied. This distance is known as the crankshaft’s radius or the length of the crank throw.

The Bottom Line

Torque is the twisting force that powers a car, enabling acceleration, towing capacity, and overall performance. It is generated by the engine through the combustion process and transmitted to the wheels via the transmission system. Turbochargers enhance torque output by compressing incoming air, resulting in more powerful explosions within the cylinders. 

Understanding the relationship between torque and engine performance is crucial for appreciating a vehicle’s capabilities. While torque provides the initial force, horsepower indicates sustained power and speed. Calculating torque involves considering force and distance, providing insights into the engine’s rotational force. Torque is the unseen hero that propels cars forward, making driving experiences thrilling and dynamic.


Q. Is high torque good in a car?

Yes, high torque is desirable in a car for quick acceleration, towing capabilities, and overcoming resistance in situations like climbing steep hills or off-road driving.

Q. What is speed vs torque in a car?

Speed refers to how fast the car is moving, while torque is the twisting force that enables acceleration and maintains speed.

Q. What is torque, and why is it important in cars?

Torque is the rotational force produced by the engine that enables a car to move. It’s important for acceleration, towing, and overcoming resistance. Higher torque means better performance.

Q. Does torque affect a car’s acceleration?

Yes, torque directly affects a car’s acceleration. Higher torque enables quicker acceleration by generating more rotational force.

Q. Can torque be increased in a car?

Yes, torque can be increased in a car through methods like engine modifications, optimising intake and exhaust systems, and tuning the engine’s performance parameters. These enhancements boost the engine’s power output.