What Is Horsepower? 

What Is Horsepower? 

While it is not necessary to understand or even be aware of every tiny aspect of a car, it is helpful for a vehicle owner to have a broad understanding of its inner workings. Horsepower is a unit of measurement. It is usually used in reference to the output of engines and/ or motors. James Watt, a Scottish engineer, coined the term in the late 18th century as a means to compare the output of steam engines with the power of draft horses. Watt figured out a mathematical method to equate horses to power engines. He measured the capability of a draft horse to pull a load weighing 150 pounds and found it could do so while walking two and a half miles per hour. Horsepower varies from vehicle to vehicle, and as such is an oft-advertised measure of engine power that is the basis for countless car purchases. 

Average Car Horsepower

The average horsepower in a typical American standard sized car is around 120-horsepower engine. Larger vehicles, including SUVs are likely to have a 200-horsepower engine, whereas smaller cars may only have a 70-horsepower engine. Pickup trucks usually have a base horsepower between 275 and 300. Specific examples of vehicles sold in the U.S. and their respective horsepower ratings are as follows:

  • Toyota Corolla: 132 horsepower
  • Toyota Camry: 178 horsepower four cylinder, optional 301- horsepower V6
  • Honda Civic: 158-180 horsepower
  • Honda CR-V: 194-190 horsepower

When purchasing a vehicle, horsepower should be one of the considerations to keep in mind. It is, however, important to note, that while significant, horsepower is not the only factor that impacts a vehicles performance and ability. 

Calculating The Horsepower Of A Vehicle

There are several different ways to calculate the horsepower of a vehicle. The most common formula for calculating horsepower is the following:

  • Horsepower = Torque x Speed / 5252

The dynamometer (an instrument which measures the power output of an engine) is used to calculate the torque. The tachometer is the tool that measures the working speed or revolutions per minute (RPM) of an engine. Another method is to calculate the horsepower of a vehicle is to check the size of the engine and the total numbers of cylinders it has. 

Horsepower Requirements

In order for a vehicle to be operational, it needs enough power to function. For example, a car that is moving at a speed of 60 mph generally requires between 10 and 20 horsepower so it is able to maintain the rate at which it is traveling. Most parts of a vehicle will rely somewhat on the power from the engine to be able to function. If a vehicle’s headlights are on, the alternator is relying on power from the engine to generate electricity to power the lights. Vehicle air conditioning units also pull power in order to work when turned on. Overcoming the rolling resistance of the tires and wind resistance also requires energy. As such, there are many considerations that must be factored into determining the ample amount of horsepower needed for a modern vehicle, to assure it runs effectively and efficiently. 


For centuries, horsepower has played and continues to play an enormous role in the overall performance of a vehicle. However, there are a couple common misconceptions surrounding horsepower. These include: the more horsepower a vehicle has the better and cars with lower horsepower are not worth the investment. While higher horsepower vehicles are usually more expensive, demand more attention, and have more a stylish appearance, it is highly common for a lower horsepower vehicle to function better. Midsize and compact vehicles with modest power engines are generally more financially accessible, highly efficient and have excellent safety features. The selling point for these vehicles is not reliant upon horsepower, but rather their agility. Unless you are in desperate need for your vehicle to go from zero to 60 mph in a fraction of a second, the high price tag that comes with more horsepower is likely unnecessary. 

Further Information

As an automotive parts and supply shop with decades of experience we have access to extensive inventory. Northstar Automotive is staffed with incredibly knowledgeable professionals, dedicated to provide topnotch service to all its customers. Let us help you make sure you are equipped with everything you need to ensure all of your vehicles are in excellent shape. Please feel free to contact one of our sales associates for more information. We look forward to connecting and providing you with outstanding assistance.



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