Why All 0-60mph Times Are Bogus

Published On 11/18/2016 Published On 11/18/2016

If there's one statistic that absolutely blows the doors off of all others when it comes to popularity, it's 0-60mph. It's usually the very first question asked, even before horsepower. Kids at gas stations don't ask about Nurburgring lap times. They ask, "How long does it take to hit 60?" Everyone's gone 60mph before, and most people have floored their car when a light turned green at least once. Thus, it's a highly relatable measure of time and speed.

Even if a car hits 200mph -- which is an incredible feat of engineering -- but gets beat off the line to 60mph by so much as a tenth of a second, it's a serious knock on its credibility. That's insane when you stop and think about it. Zero-to-60 times are, in fact, a complete and utter crock. 

Courtesy of FCA

Tire differences have a critical impact on 0-60 time

It's no secret that tires are a giant factor in a car's acceleration off the line. Take the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, for example. On street tires, it "hits 60" in 3.4 seconds. On tires specifically designed for drag racing, however, that number jumps all the way down to 2.9 seconds. That's an extreme example, obviously, but even differences between the tires a car comes with and those you put on after the first set is dead can have a pretty big impact.

Tires provide the traction with which the car applies the engine's power and converts it to forward motion, so when you compare two cars with different tires, the 0-60 time is kinda invalid. For a more clear example: Tires are undoubtedly the single greatest reason that most of your favorite muscle cars from decades past are slower than your run-of-the-mill minivan today.


Different roads make a difference, too

Different surfaces have different characteristics. Some are smooth, almost polished, and that makes it hard for tires to grip on to anything while you're accelerating... which hurts a 0-60 time. Others have surfaces with grooves that a tire's great at gripping. If car A and car B both have 0-60 times that are even remotely close to each other, and you don't know exactly how those times were set, you still don't know which car is quicker.

And that's not to mention the impact of temperature, or even the altitude

Engines like cool, dense air -- it helps them make more power. A cool day at sea level is a very different prospect than a warm day in, say, Denver, where the air is notoriously thin. Don't underestimate the effect that has on a car's 0-60 time. There is such a thing as too cold, though, because a tire generally won't like cold weather. After a certain point, it becomes hard, and it's like trying to drive on a different set of tires all over again.

Flickr/Nikos Koutoulas

The driver? Of course the driver matters…

Some cars have fancy launch control systems that aid in acceleration while minimizing the effect of a driver's skill level. They're usually clunky systems that aren't the most user-friendly to operate, but still, trying to launch a car from a complete standstill without those aids means relying to a great extent on driver skill… which is obviously very different from one person to the next. That's literally why the sport of drag racing exists; otherwise, the "fastest car" would win.

As does his or her weight... and the fuel level

Even if you have two drivers of exactly the same skill level, if one weighs more it's a distinct disadvantage. That matters more in lighter cars (because the weight is a higher percentage of the total), but it's still there, regardless. For that same reason, it matters how much fuel is in the car. A full tank of gas can weigh over 200lbs, which is like carrying a not-light passenger with you.


And you know what? There's still almost no difference.

Even without these myriad reasons that explain variation -- and this is by no means a complete list -- the physical difference on the road between a car that hits 60mph in 4.3 seconds and a car that hits it in 4.5 seconds is minimal... as in less than a car length. Watch the video above. You're on board in a Corvette, going up against an Audi RS5. The race to 60mph is over roughly 4.5 seconds after the cars start moving.

In other words, if two cars are separated by just a few feet in a drag race under vastly different conditions, you ultimately have zero idea which one is legitimately the quicker car to 60mph unless you test them back-to-back on the same day with the same driver. And that is why zero-to-60 times are bullshit.

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Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook. Needless to say, he doesn't like 0-60 as a measure of a car's capabilities.



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