Automotive Definitions: Horsepower

Horsepower is a term often used when talking about automobiles, but does the average person really know what it means? There are many terms like this use in the automotive world, and we at Valley Honda would like to take a minute to go into a little more detail about what is meant when the term “horsepower” is mentioned. Jalopnik has a great infographic discussing the matter, which we’ll summarize below.


Horsepower is a unit used to describe power. James Watt first coined the term in 1782 for advertising purposes to quantify the power of his steam engines. One “unit” of horsepower is equal to 33,000 foot-pounds* of work per minute. Hypothetically, this means that the horse in question can move 330 pounds over a distance of 100 feet in one minute (or 33 pounds 1,000 feet in a minute, etc.). This number is obviously somewhat arbitrary since all horses are different, but that’s usually the standard number used.

To help put this number into perspective, the average human can reach up to 1.2 horsepower briefly, and a really in shape human can get to 2.5 horsepower for a limited time.

So basically, when someone talks about the horsepower of a car, they are talking about how powerful it is. A car with more horsepower would be able to move 1,000 pounds of weigh over 100 feet more quickly than a car with less horsepower. The higher the horsepower, the more powerful the car.

Horsepower is usually used when talking about the car’s engine, since that’s what powers the vehicle. For example, the 2.4-liter 16-valve engine of the 2013 Honda Accord LX produces 185 horsepower, while the 3.5 liter 24-valve engine of the 2013 Honda Accord EX-L V6 produces 278 horsepower.

We hope this summary taught you a little more about horsepower. Now when you hear or see that term, you’ll have a better understanding of what it means!


*One foot-pound is the amount of energy needed to displace one pound of matter one foot