Rod Shelffo
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What is Torque? A Breakdown of the Basic Terms

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Car Engine

Starting the search for a new car can be intimidating, especially when you don’t know the lingo. You start searching for a new car, comparing brands, and these crazy words fly by as you scroll through the website. The salesman sounds like he’s speaking Latin, and everything seems to fly over your head. 4-cylinder, 356 lb-ft of torque, Supercharged engine (Like Superman? Just a super-duper engine, right?). It can be overwhelming.

To help you decide which specs (Oops, there’s another term for you; specs = specifications) are most important for your car search, here is a list of some of the basics to get you started.


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Engine displacement Volume of all the cylinders in the engine;
The higher the displacement, the larger and more powerful the engine is
Cylinders  The place where the car burns the gasoline;
More cylinders = more power; less cylinders = better gas mileage
Supercharged & Turbocharged Increases the power of the engine without additional cylinders;
A Turbocharged 4-cylinder can produce the power of a 6-cylinder;
Here’s the difference between Supercharged and Turbocharged
Torque How much work an engine can do;
The higher the torque, the more a vehicle can tow
Horsepower How quickly an engine can do that work;
The higher the horsepower, the faster the vehicle can accelerate
Transmission How the vehicle shifts gears;
This is where you choose if you want automatic or manual
RWD/FWD/AWD Rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive;
Determines which of the wheels the engine provides power to
Fuel capacity  How many gallons of gasoline the vehicle can hold at one time;
Affects how often you fill up your tank (and how much it costs when you do)
MPG Miles-per-gallon;
This is how many miles you can travel with one gallon of gas
MSRP  Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price;
this is the price the car company suggests dealers should sell the car for

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If you are ever unsure about any of these terms during the car buying process, don’t be afraid to ask someone at the dealership. They are always happy to help you with any questions you may have.

  • Rod ShelffoContributor

    After four years in The Marine Corp, Rod formed a career at Hatfield Buick GMC that has spanned more than 25 years. He is married to Lori, has one daughter, Staci, and two grandkids, Kimberlyn and Kaden. He's an avid golfer and past president and active member of the Redlands Optimist Club.