By on February 22, 2009

It's the LB/FT family vs the TORQUES family!

I present to you the results of the little brouhaha that I started way back on 3 February. Despite assertions that I was “making a mountain out of a molehill,” I feel it is important. I like standardization because it makes life easier but I also recognize that on a site like this, with its mixture of news and opinion, standards may have to give way to flexible guidelines. Spike_in_Irvine commented, “There is always tension between saying what is right and saying what is commonly used,” and I agree. I personally like the use of “torques,” “ponies,” and Farago’s occasional many flourishes of French because it adds personality. But, I won’t let it get out of hand; and, I will ensure that a review or news item contains the proper terminology.

One hundred people answered the survey. Survey says . . .

Thirty-eight percent (the majority plurality) of respondents want us to use “lb/ft” and “hp” and several asked that we include the rpm at which peak torque and horsepower are generated. We will if that information is easily obtainable (and free of charge). To make it easier for our writers, I will handle converting “lb/ft” to “lb·ft”. Whether to include metric equivalents was divided at 56% yes and 44% no, though more than half of all respondents want that information displayed on mouse-over only. Several people want info boxes. I’d love to have them, too, but if you saw the code for this site or knew what it takes to get a widget approved and installed by the mothership, you’ll understand why this probably won’t happen.

Fuel economy raised a few heckles from the peanut gallery: more than a few want gallons per n miles. That’s not common usage in the States, but to make it easier for our foreign visitors, I will include a link to the official Department of Energy/Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy site (if available for reviewed vehicle) which helpfully provides that information along with other metrics, e.g., “Carbon Footprint,” “Air Pollution Score,” and “Annual Petroleum Consumption.” Strangely, the DOE/EPA site doesn’t include vehicle weight. If we can easily get that figure, we’ll include it so that power-to-weight ratios can be calculated.

Wrapping up, I thank all most of the people who commented. In fact, Robert and I were so surprised by the passionate/scathing/hyperbolic comments made in the original post that we created The Truth About Grammar. There aren’t many auto blogs that involve their readers in decisions like these, so feel special because TTAC is special. My mom told me so.

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28 Comments on “TTAC Family Feud: Technical Descriptions May Vary...”

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  • avatar

    I like the new Truth About Grammar concept and look forward to lively discussions about apostrophes or not. :-)) You might check out the Word Detective too; he’s got a great sense of humour and does amazing in-depth research on obscure words or at least obscure meanings. I used to present my students with a “word of the day” and remember being surprised that they’d never heard of procrustean. Let’s see who’s willing to lie down on that bed today?

  • avatar

    This post seems like an invitation to grammar nerds, so here goes:

    I’ve never heard of heckles being raised. Hackles, yes, but not heckles.
    Of course, I’ve not spent much time with the peanut gallery, and I suppose those guys are liable to raise all manner of things.

  • avatar

    Sigh. In Canada the government insists on using L/100km and after all these years I still have no inherent sense of what is lousy, about average and great mileage when expressed that way.

  • avatar

    You’re right, I don’t know what it takes to get a widget approved and installed by the mothership, but info boxes seem like such a good thing that I think it might just be worth it.

    Also, maybe there are other ways in order to avoid widgets, why not just pre-write some html code and then just copy and paste it at the end of the article? Sure, it’s not an elegant solution, but it’s not too much work, is it?

  • avatar

    Also, maybe there are other ways in order to avoid widgets, why not just pre-write some html code and then just copy and paste it at the end of the article? Sure, it’s not an elegant solution, but it’s not too much work, is it?

    Some sites, including one that I administer, dynamically translate units based on a) location of the user’s IP block and/or b) an individual user’s preference.

    Even a basic user-settable preference of:
    * US (miles per gallon, lb.ft
    * Imperial (miles per gallon with heritage, foot-pounds)
    * Metric (liters per 100km, newton-meters)
    * SI (for the pocket-protector set)
    * Whimsical (rods to the hogshead, torques)
    …would do.

  • avatar

    Wow, as a native Detroiter, automotive guy, living in Europe the last decade, I had hopes that my fellow country(wo/)men would finally migrate to SI.

    Say what you (don’t) like about the frogs and SI, but the Imperial System is a misch-masch of arbitrary and un-related measurements (about the only thing I like about it is that Farenheit, when designing his arbitrary scale, felt freezing 32° should be diametrically opposed by boiling 212° as E opposes W.)

    Hearing that we (Americans) are still prefering hp to kW and ftlb to Nm is disheartening…

    Getting one’s mind around “how much fuel does it take to go a distance” vs. “how far can I go for a given amount of fuel” ain’t (sic) that hard. (Only wierd thing is, for a Detroiter, realizing that the distance from 11 Mile Rd. to 12 Mile Rd. is 0.62km… but everywhere else where the roads are not on a mile-grid system, this is no problem.)

    If TTAC (great site, and great community, btw) is going to report about engines made with metric bolts in hp, ftlbf, mpg, does that mean that CID is about to make a renaissance?

    (This whole topic reminds me of walking in a parking lot with my dad, and seeing, on the hatch of a new Gremlin, X.y Litre, and asking my dad what that meant, and even he – a non-gearhead auditor – knew – don’t ask me how – that this was related to engine displacement. And of how Ford decided to make the Fairmont it’s first all-metric car, but then realized late in the program that the RR-axle could non parlez SI.)

  • avatar

    38% is a plurality, not a majority.

    The metric system is the tool of the devil. My car gets forty rods to the hogs head and that’s the way I likes it.

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    Yeah, tom is right, tables are easy, html 101 stuff. I know because I took an intro to html class and I can do this:

    hey never mind I tried to build a quick table using html code to show what it would look like but it made it into the table instead of showing the code. Anyway, you shouldn’t have to run any widget stuff by the bosses – building a table template & dropping it at the end of each review really wouldn’t take much effort and it would contribute significantly to the reader’s experience (IMHO).

  • avatar

    Being a grammar whore, a gear-head, and an engineering major, I feel compelled to point out that lb/ft is a spring rate and has nothing to do with engine torque. Torque is a moment, calculated by multiplying a given force by the distance from the axis the force rotates about. Force*Distance= Newton*meter=pound*foot.

  • avatar

    I don’t care about units, which is why I didn’t participate in the survey. I care about insightful commentary and the healthy bullshit filter employed here on a daily basis.


  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    @Robert.Walter: Mishmash not misch-masch.

    @jetfast: pound * foot = foot * pound, Right?

    What Jeff Puthuff wants to do is change lbs./ft. which is wrong to “lb·ft” which is the same as pound * foot.

  • avatar

    Two things…
    For the grammer geeks, The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” quotation marks.

    Second… Robert, if you want me to write an AJAX driven unit conversion widget for the site, let me know. You should be able to simply drop in an HTML server side include and let it show the metrics any way people want to see them.

  • avatar

    @ NickR :

    I’m the opposite, actually. My head got so full of MPG numbers, some of them in imperial gallons, and some in US gallons, that I just gave up on the whole mess, and starting remembering L/100km for cars. Once you get to know ratings for a number of representative cars, it gets pretty easy to judge numbers that you run across.

    And to be honest, L/100km makes a lot of sense to me in the real world too. It tells me how much fuel it’s going to take to get where I want to go, rather than how far I could hypothetically go on some amount of fuel.

  • avatar

    @Robert Schwartz: Correct, because of the commutative property of multiplication, pound*foot=foot*pound

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Can anyone tell me why my torque wrench is calibrated if foot·pounds, not pound·feet?

    I’m glad other people loose sleep over this sort of thing … so I don’t have to! Ooops, ( … ) isn’t accepted by most English teachers, and neither is ooops. When in doubt, do what communicates content, nuance and emotion as best as possible. The get-it-right crowd is perpetually doomed to catching up with ever evolving usage. Hopefully someone with official power will soon solve the problem of American English having no gender neutral singular human pronoun. Common usage is adopting “they” for this role, but the guardians still resist.

    BTW, do you know that Webster’s primary purpose in creating his 1828 dictionary was to establish a clear break with the way the British used the English language? He went to great pains to ensure that the American way was officially different from the British way. Politics is everywhere.

    I do dearly wish the US had gone metric (SI) as I was promised in grade school. I always know what the next larger or smaller wrench or both size is in metric, but the mental gymnastics required to recall the various increments of the SAE fractional system are a real nuisance. Then there is the mixed fraction math required when doing woodworking! The Gospel of American Exceptionalism sometimes leads this country to do highly counter-productive things.

  • avatar

    To yankinwaoz:

    Thank you for that link. After I saw some of the funny pics, I took the link to the instructions for using quotation marks.

    This was a very useful review. I learned that I’m probably guilty of misusing quotation marks in recent times. Heh, that’s not the least of my grammar sins. I’m probably an even worse offender of unnecessary hyphen use!

  • avatar

    John Horner:

    “When in doubt, do what communicates content, nuance and emotion as best as possible. The get-it-right crowd is perpetually doomed to catching up with ever evolving usage.”

    Agreed, but maybe you should have said “get-it-right-at-all-costs” when referring to the grammar-myopic. Oops, does that paragraph reveal a little get-it-rightedness in me?

    Well, I do feel that it’s important for one to proofread and at least make a faithful attempt to be clear, concise, and reasonably grammatically correct.

    To each his/her own, but I appreciate that anybody would even care to read my thoughts. So really, it’s the least I can do to make it a little easier for them to read my words without stumbling over gross mispellings or language screwups.

    If I am not certain of the correct spelling of a word, I’ll look it up, as I just now did with my above use of the word grammatically. As I said, it’s the least I can do.

    I’m only human, so mistakes will inevitably find their way in, but if I make an honest effort (by catching most of them via proofreading), then my main subject has a better chance of being received AND perceived at the other end.

    As to the usage of measures of weights, volumes, torque, and force: I say use your best judgement, but do try to avoid getting bogged down. Ultimately, technical engineering details matter little to me, because I don’t get joy from reading reviews or looking at product specs; never have, never will.

    I will only do it if it becomes necessary one day for me to gain understanding of selected concepts so that I can make an informed purchase or fix/replace decision.

    Maybe one day, I’ll decide to give up gardening and Saturday afternoon drives so I can take up mechanical engineering as a hobby. On second thought…naaawwwww!

  • avatar

    John Horner: Can anyone tell me why my torque wrench is calibrated if foot·pounds, not pound·feet?

    It’s arbitrary because it’s the pounds applied times the length of the lever. It’s multiplicative, so it doesn’t matter whether you say pound.feet or foot.pounds. 100 pounds on the end of a 1 foot lever is the same torque as 1 pound on a 100 feet lever.

    Take the torque wrench back and ask for a replacement – it’s clearly defective :-)



  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    You guys must have missed the original discussion re pound-feet, foot-pounds, etc. (in the 3 Feb post).

    The product of a force times a distance, as in “pound-feet” (“Newton-meters,” for those metrically inclined), is torque. Remember the universal standard convention that the force comes first; the distance second.

    When the distance is named first, and the force second, the product represents something equally real but quite different: work. (Cite)

  • avatar

    Good point Jeff.

    And that reveals another problem with imperial measures – they don’t work in calculations without conversion factors.

    The energy (Calories) expended by moving 1 foot against 1 pound of force is…. 1 foot-pound. But what’s that in Calories?…. Too hard. And pound is actually a weight, not a force and so it goes on.

    The energy (Joules) expended by moving 1 metre against 1 Newton of force is.. 1 Joule. Voila!



  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    RicharD: Thanks. Fixed.

    As for boxes of info, RF may have a different opinion, but I think it’s too much trouble. Between format and fact-checking, I don’t have enough time to do it properly. (I had been awake for 26 hours straight when I posted these articles.) Besides, that info is available elsewhere if you really have to have it.

  • avatar

    Keep up the good work Jeff. It’s a thankless job. So, thanks.

    Details matter. If you stop getting the details rights, pretty soon you start getting it all wrong.

    E.g. The other day I began reading an article in the Financial Times about Saab. A few lines in, the author noted that GM also owned that other Swedish manufacturer, Volvo. At that point I stopped – what insights could be gained from an article written by someone who patently knew so little about the topic?



  • avatar

    yankinwaoz :
    Two things…
    For the grammer geeks,

    For the grammar (and spelling) geeks, too.

  • avatar

    The designation ft/lb makes no sense, whether the pound is weight or force. The definition of torque is Force x Distance, or “the ability to do work”. (Horse)Power is force x distance / time, or “how fast can you do it” (if you’re a horse).

  • avatar

    Frank, that’s funny! I can’t believe I didn’t notice it the first time through…

  • avatar

    I’m with Chuck. Assuming the 800-word limit is still in place, it would be a shame to substitute entertaining seat-of-the-pants commentary with units. Measurements, in whatever standard you wish, are available just about anywhere. Thoughtful impressions are harder to come by, and my guess is that is what drives most readers to this site.

  • avatar
    B. Filthy

    I’m not much of a car guy at all, but I love TTAC because you sweat the details like this. It’s not simply great car writing, it’s great writing (and, generally, great commentary). Viva TTAC and keep it up!!

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