Key Car Specs to Understand…Before You Buy

When you watch car commercials on TV…you’re often presented with alot of car specss…many of which you think you should understand, but probably don’t.  Some car specs make total sense. Eight airbags means eight airbags. I’m gonna run down the top dozen or so specs make them real simple and most importantly, tell you the ones you can largely ignore starting with 0 to 60…

Zero (0) to 60 is the holy grail of performance benchmarks.

It is obviously how fast a car can go from a standing stop to 60 miles an hour. The quickest it can do that, either with a really good driver on a manual transmission, or relying on automatic transmission. The thing about zero to 60 is you never do that. How often in real life do you go from a standing stop to 60. Nonetheless, it’s a good benchmark because it encompasses a lot of acceleration phases of a car. You see cars don’t accelerate as quickly through all ranges of speed. They may be quicker 15 to 23, then slow down a little bit 24 to 46 and then speed up again 46 to 60. It’s kind of a wavy curve, 0 to 60 captures all that in totality and gives you kind of one big lump number… Horsepower, good grief.

They spent a lot of time screaming about this in car advertisements and specs don’t. Horsepower has this arcane definition from way back in the day. It’s the power you need to lift 550 pounds, one foot off the ground. In one second, there’s a time factor there because it expresses work, horsepower and even more peripheral number than 0 to 60 time. You care about things like acceleration field, fuel economy, towing capacity. Those things are all related to horsepower but they’re not expressed literally by the number.

There is another number I do want you to get more caught up in. Torque. This is how hard the car’s engine can twist something and twisting is the whole idea behind moving a car. The engine twist the guts of the transmission which twist the drive shaft which twist the wheels and off you go. Torque is measured in pound feet. A pound foot is when you have, let’s say, a one foot long lever. This wrench, for example, and I apply one pound of force at the end of it. The one foot mark that is one pound foot, okay? That might undo something that might not. For example, I’ve got a bolt sitting here inside this vise. Stick my socket on it. I’ve got my one foot wrench here. And maybe or maybe not, this one foot-wrench with a pound of force is gonna undo it. If it doesn’t, what am I gonna do? Gonna get a bigger hammer, or in this case, a bigger wrench. Here’s a two-foot wrench, more or less. As you know from experience, if I drop that guy in, and now apply the same one pound of force. I’m probably going to undo that bolt, right? Leverage makes a big difference, more torque. Imagine this wrench was actually 266 feet long, huge thing way out there. And I take a long walk I go to the end of it and I still apply my one pound of force.

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