If you’ve ever heard people talk about cars, read an article about automobiles, or seen a car-related television show, you’ve most likely come across the term ‘horsepower’ mentioned several times. It’s also a term you’ll hear if you’re seeking to buy a new or used vehicle, but what does it really mean?

The power output of a car’s motor or engine can be described in a variety of ways, making it quite unclear at times. For this reason, we will take a look at horsepower and what exactly it means. 

What is horsepower?

The metric used to represent the power produced by a vehicle’s engine is referred to as horsepower (hp). The greater the figure, the faster it moves theoretically and the more power is transferred to the wheels. 

Other variables that impact a car’s performance, such as its weight, come into consideration as well. A heavyweight car will require more horsepower to speed up. For example, if two cars both have a 200 horsepower output, but one weighs 500 kilograms more, the lightweight car will accelerate faster.

Then there’s the question of how power is assessed. Because not everyone interprets the information the same way, you’re likely to discover a car with multiple power figures. Keep reading for more information on horsepower.

Why are there so many different methods for calculating engine power?

A car’s power output can be measured in a variety of ways. Horsepower refers to the amount of power the engine produces, whereas brake horsepower (bhp) simply refers to the amount of power that gets to the wheels. Brake power will always be less, therefore the two terms are not interchangeable.

What is horsepower?

Kilowatts (kW) and Pferdestrke (PS) are two more power units that are becoming more popular.  These also quantify the engine’s real power output, but unlike PS, which produces a number that is nearly comparable to hp, kW is an entirely different meter – 75kW is roughly equivalent to 100hp.

If you’re comparing two cars, aim to match up like-for-like parameters as much as possible to get the most realistic comparison. In general,  Kilowatts are a unit of measurement for power output. Based on your preference, you might measure kW from the engine or the wheels. However, kWs are more commonly used to refer to engine power.

The term horsepower can be traced back to the black and white era when a man named James Watt (as in the kilowatt) was said to have utilized horses to determine how fast he could extract materials from a mine. The word has lasted over time, but numerous substitutes (such as kW and PS) have popped up.

PS vs hp

PS is the most used unit of measurement for vehicle manufacturers in Germany, as well as the rest of Europe. Its prominence is waning, as the kW has become the EU’s favored unit of power. 

Although it may seem inconvenient that the EU chose such a unit, it makes tons of sense because of electric vehicles (EVs). Because electrical power is most usually expressed in kW, as electric cars grow more popular, automobile makers should market electric vehicles in units that buyers are familiar with.

Bhp vs hp

As previously stated, the difference between hp and bhp is that they are measured in separate areas. An engine’s output is measured in horsepower (hp). bhp stands for horsepower measured at the wheels. Brake horsepower is measured within the wheels of autos, which is a simple method to remember this.

Horsepower vs torque

Car makers frequently list horsepower as the headline figure but dig a little deeper into a vehicle’s performance and you’ll find torque. Don’t be alarmed; this isn’t another power unit. Torque is a unit of measurement measuring how much turning force an automobile can create. It is usually expressed in Nm (newton metre) or lb/ft (pound-foot).

It can be measured at either the wheels or the engine. The amount of torque in your car determines how rapidly it accelerates. Your wheels turn easily if you have more torque. A torque measurement may be accompanied by an engine speed, such as 1,500-2,500rpm. This indicates that peak torque is delivered around these revs, thus if the revs are too high, it’s best to shift up a gear. Electric vehicles, on the other hand, differ in this regard since torque is given quickly, with no need to increase the revs.