AH, TORQUE ... ER, THAT'S THE THING THAT ... ERM ...
We've all been there: reading a car review in which they pitch two cars against each other. You already chose your favourite by the time you finished the title. Then you come to the paragraph where the brave motoring journalist writes "ah, but this car has more torque." That's better, you think. More is always better: everyone wants more cookies, beer, money, sleeping time. In reality you do not have the slightest idea what torque is.
To make myself into a wiser and more rounded human being, I decided to call up someone who knows physics. Martin suggested that torque is "the tendency of a force to rotate an object around an axis, fulcrum, or pivot." Right, got that. "Torque can be thought of as a twist to an object." Okay. "Mathematically, torque is defined as the cross product of the vector by which the force's application point is offset relative to the fixed suspension point and the force vector, which tends to produce rotational motion." Erm ...
I understand each of these words individually, but together they make no sense at all. My school lesson torque would be the turning force you apply on a bolt when you tighten it. If you want an extra point the symbol used for torque is τ , which is Greek - even more extra points for that.
"That's as maybe, but how does that do anything in a car?" I wondered.
I expected him to burst out into a long and complicated explanation. He did not disappoint. Within moments he chewed off my ear telling me about horsepower, newton meters, crank shafts, and what not. I stopped paying attention, the sound of his voice was like a waterfall, oddly soothing but after a while it turns into background noise.
After a long-suffering groan and falling off my chair, Martin decided to take pity on me. Apparently it is rather simple: Horsepower, and torque go hand in hand. TORQUE is the ability of an engine to do work. Meanwhile HORSEPOWER is how fast engine can deliver the torque. "Was that so hard?" I wondered. Apparently it was.
In relation to cars this means that the more torque an engine has the easier it is to turn the crankshaft even if there is resistance. That does not mean that it can turn quickly - that's why you have horses. There are cars which have a lot of both, but it really depends what you need in life: trucks and SUVs have more torque because they are designed to tow heavy loads. Meanwhile, your neighbour's nippy sports car is going to have more horses and lower torque.
Brilliant! Now when someone asks you "do you know what torque is?" - not that this ever happens in life - you're going to be prepared and can boast, "Yes!" If they ask you to explain, you can burst out into a long and boring explanation. You'll be able to watch the life fade slowly from their eyes, important events flashing past them before they fall over.
OR, you could make everyone's life easier and reply, "... magic pixies that make your car strong."
On another note: a small shout-out to my former physics professor, who never had any intentions to make my life easier.