Understanding Horsepower

What does horsepower mean?

The term "horsepower" is commonly heard in the discussion around cars. It is often talked about when buying a car so it is worth knowing what if refers to. 

The term was developed with the transition from horse-and-carriage to steam engines. James Watt (inventor of the Watt steam engine) was trying to compare the power of the engine to something people understood - from this, the equation that one horse could do 30,000 foot-pounds* of work per minute was developed and is now equal to one horsepower.

(*Confused about what it means by foot-pound? Foot-pound refers to how much energy it takes to raise one pound the distance of one foot. In our automotive context, how much horsepower a car has, equates to having enough energy to lift a pound the distance of 30,000 feet, per horsepower, per minute.)

To understand what range you should expect when buying a car see the comparisons below:

A Ford Focus | 1120kg** | 136hp

Porsche | 1350kg** | 300hp

Ferrari Enzo | 1365kg** | 650hp

Formula 1 Car | 600kg** | 900hp

** The weight is relevant to these comparisons as for the highest speeds you want the highest horsepower with the lowest weight. If two cars that have the same horsepower but different weight, the lighter car will be faster.

If you are looking at buying a new or second-hand car, contact the Motor Hospital and we can give you advice about getting the best price, what to look for as well as servicing a second-hand car. 


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