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Brake Horsepower vs Horsepower: What’s the Difference?

When starting a search for a new car, you’ll often find people quoting the brake horsepower (bhp) as one of the most important figures you can look for. You’ve probably heard it mentioned a lot by Messrs Clarkson, Hammond and May, too. But what does it mean, and why is it important to you? Let us talk you through everything you need to know.

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What is Horsepower?

Horsepower, simply put, is how strong an engine is. In essence, if you have a higher horsepower figure, your car is going to have more poke when you put your foot down on the loud pedal. Horsepower is not, however, an accurate number of “how many horses” you have under the bonnet, as the average horse is actually capable of just under 15 horsepower.

While you may be searching for hp (or bhp, but more on that later), you will also find some statistics listed as either PS, CV or kW. PS and CV are exactly the same as horsepower, but are direct translations from their relative native languages. PS is the most common measurement used in Europe and stands for pferdestarke, which is German for horsepower. CV, meanwhile, stands for chevaux-vapeur, which is French for, again, horsepower. Finally, kW is more commonly used in automotive circles to describe electric car outputs, and stands for kilowatt, with 1kW equivalent to approximately 1.3PS.

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What is Brake Horsepower?

Brake horsepower is the UK’s traditional way of measuring a car’s power output, and is the figure you will find more commonly used in UK car magazines such as Autocar, WhatCar or Top Gear, or on TV shows such as Top Gear, The Grand Tour or Fifth Gear.

What’s the Difference Between Horsepower and Brake Horsepower?

The two figures are very similar, with 1hp the equivalent to just under 0.99bhp. While this may seem miniscule, when you start factoring in the larger figures now found in most cars, you begin to notice a difference. A car that has 400hp, for example, has only 394bhp. This is because bhp takes into account frictional losses in power from the engine, which is ignored by hp figures, meaning you will always have more horsepower than brake horsepower.

How is Horsepower Measured?

As we mentioned earlier, horsepower is not actually the equivalent of how many horses you have tucked in your engine bay. The term horsepower dates back to the 18th century, when inventor James Watt wanted to find a way to prove how much better his new steam engine was when compared to the horses that had, up until that point, done all the work instead.

Watt’s definition of a horsepower was the equivalent of a single horse pulling 33,000 pounds of water one foot in the air from the bottom of a 1,000 foot deep well in a minute. Simple. As strange as that definition may be, it is still used, and cars are put on a dynamometer (or dyno for short) to work out its power.

What Brake Horsepower Does Your Car Have?

The easiest way, by far, to find out the brake horsepower of your car is to look online, as most details are readily available on popular motoring websites Parkers or AutoTrader. Simply input your car details, and you will be presented with everything you want to know including your bhp, your acceleration 0-60mph, dimensions and expected range.

How to Check Your Car’s Horsepower

If you think your car has lost a few “horses” over the years, then the way to check is to get yourself onto a dyno. If you search for your nearest performance car centre, they will likely be able to provide you with a dyno test, although these can be quite pricey tests so you’ll need to be absolutely certain that you want an accurate reading.

For more tips and guides on how to get the most out of motoring, visit our Car Care hub, where we answer everything from how to change your oil to what to do if you hit a pothole, and anything else in between. Likewise, if your engine has lost so much power that it is now unable to move the car, it may be time to either scrap or sell for salvage, which is where Scrap Car Comparison comes in. With just one quick trip on our free quote generator, our dedicated team of experts can get you the very best price for your car.

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