Radio-controlled (R/C) cars are very popular hobbies for many. While there is a tendency to think of an R/C car as something for a child, the reality is that there are just as many adults who indulge in collecting these cars, and even racing them in various competitions. The cars are powered by several different sources and continually change based on newer technology. The toy-grade models are less expensive and are probably the ones with which most people are familiar—except collectors who are familiar with the hobby models and have the money to invest in these more expensive models. Both toy-grade and hobby grades are available; there are advantages and disadvantages to both just as there are advantages and disadvantages to both the electric-powered and fuel-powered models.
Getting started with your RC Hobby
With that comprehensive background on RC cars, let us look at how you can get started with this interesting hobby. Most beginners go for toy grade RCs and are almost always happy with those. But if you become serious about the hobby and decide to switch to hobby grade RC, there are six important factors to think about and these are:
2. Repair and maintenance
4. Type of vehicle
Here’s a quick look at each in turn:
The cost factor
RC toy vehicles are affordable, but hobby grade RCs can be expensive to buy as well as maintain as they are more complicated with more parts that might need replacing. Most hobby car enthusiasts really enjoy customizing their vehicles with parts such as tires, rims, motors, body kits, etc. The cost of these parts can add up to quite a substantial amount. You may be happy with an RC car that handles well and runs fast, but you will still incur the initial cost of the hobby grade RC vehicle.
Repair and maintenance
To ensure that your RC car is in top condition, you will need to take care of basic maintenance and repairs. This includes tuning the motor, adjusting the suspension, oiling gears, chassis alignment, repairing any dents, cracks and touching up paint work. It is quite like taking care of a real car, considering the parts involved.
You will need to devote time as well as patience to your RC hobby. Reading and understanding the various manuals and learning to assemble the parts can take up time. Even if you buy ready to run RCs, you will still need to learn how to operate them.
Type of vehicle
You must decide whether to buy or build your RC car. To get started quickly, the best way to go is to get an RTR or a ready to run model. With an RTR you don’t have to worry about assembling it. But if you enjoy tinkering with models and putting them together, then an unassembled kit is a good idea.
Beginners find the gas powered RC car attractive, but electric models may be a good start as they are inexpensive and quiet and do not need too many accessories. You just have to switch them on to run them and they can be run indoors. These are powered by rechargeable batteries that make your vehicle run at a speed of 20-30 miles an hour with a ten minute running time depending on your speed and motor.
Nitro cars burn real fuel and come with small engines similar to a lawn mowers’ and other equipment that use small engines. Your nitro truck will be as easy to put together and maintain as your electric powered vehicle. The nitro engine seems exciting because it is more realistic with real smoke, sound and smells from the exhaust.
An electric kit needs many battery packs if you want to run it for half an hour to an hour. The nitro kit car owner must ensure that his transmitter and receiver batteries are enough and refuel the car every five or ten minutes.
You can opt for an electric or nitro powered RC car. Nitro cars can only be run outdoors. Hobby grade RC cars are faster and more powerful than toy cars. Serious hobbyists go for the nitro-powered RC vehicles even if some electric cars seem to perform better.
Gas cars are powered by internal combustion engines that give you a speed of 35-45 mph. people who are serious RC car hobbyists prefer gas engines for their intricacy and complexity.
There are petrol powered kits like the Baja 5B buggy and 5T truck. Just like in a real car, these use petrol mixed with 2-cycle engine oil. These kits are quite big and measure almost a meter. They are also expensive, but this cost is balanced by the cost of fuel which is lower than nitro fuel. With a petrol kit, you only spend a few pennies an hour of running the car. Engine maintenance is also cheaper and involves less work.
Handling the speed and the power of RC hobby cars is something else, even if you are an expert at toy cars. You will need to practice your driving skills to make sure you are on track to avoid crashing or spinning out. The same goes for flying your RC hobby vehicle.
You may eventually decide to take part in professional RC hobby competitions. This is completely different from a friendly race in your backyard with friends. When you participate in competitions, you will be looking at the chance to win prizes, trophies, etc. and this means being a part of a serious sport that has rules and entry fees.
There are people with just a couple of RC hobby cars that they modify, upgrade or tweak. Some people prefer to specialize in specific types of RC such as large scale models, micro models, vintage cars, boats, etc. Some prefer to go for the ready to run and some enjoy building their own vehicles from scratch. The approach you choose depends on how much time, money and interest you have. Obviously, it is all about having fun and there’s no such thing as a right or wrong way to enjoy this hobby.
Should you join a club?
When you take up the RC hobby, it is not mandatory to join a club, but getting together with a group will certainly take your enjoyment to a new level. You will also find active online groups that you can join and get tips and advice from.
Where can you buy RC vehicles?
You can buy your hobby RC cars, trucks, planes or boats from hobby stores or from manufacturers. The hobby grade kits come as RTR or ready to run, ARR or almost ready to run and kits with which you can assemble the entire vehicle on your own.
As a beginner, RTR kits can be convenient for you since you can get started right away. They cost the same as the kits that need to be assembled and come with all you need, including the radio, the servo, the motor and a painted body. You just need to charge the batteries and fill the gas tank and you are good to go. It is a good idea to buy a spare pair of batteries and charger. Some good examples are the Schumacher mini buggy and mini stadium truck 4 WD RTR 1/18th models.
What about ARRs?
ARRs come completely assembled at the factory and you just need a screwdriver and needle nose pliers to put the finishing touch to it to get it going. A great example is the 1/10 Trinity TSpec 1:10th Touring Car which only needs a radio system to have it running.
A word about Kits
Most beginners wonder what type of kit they should buy. This depends on the kind of area you plan to run the vehicle in. So if you are trying to decide whether to buy an on-road or off-road kit, here’s what you need to know. On road kits can run at high speeds and resemble the race cars. They have an easy four-wheel drive with lifelike treaded tires and bodies. But they are not made for uneven terrain. You can get on road kits in electric and nitro versions in different sizes. Off road kits have larger tires and long shock absorbers and are good for rugged terrains. They can jump over obstacles easily and are good on race tracks and field. Off road kits also come as electric and nitro versions and two wheel and four wheel drive versions. You will enjoy the four wheel drive trucks as they are the most fun. Kits are generally not difficult to assemble since they come with comprehensive instructions and supplies. A good example is the XRAY T1 Factory Kit 1/10 scale luxury competition touring car. You can upgrade, customize and enjoy these vehicles and take part in racing competitions. The good thing about hobby grade replacement parts, upgrades and a range of accessories is that they are available years after the manufacturing date. Hobby grade vehicles handle much better and are faster than toy vehicles.
Description of R/C Cars
Radio-controlled (or R/C) cars are self-powered model cars or trucks that can be controlled from a distance using a specialized transmitter. The term "R/C" has been used to mean both "remote controlled" and "radio controlled", where "remote controlled" includes vehicles that are connected to their controller by a wire, but common use of "R/C" today usually refers to vehicles controlled by a radio-frequency link. This article focuses on radio-controlled vehicles only.
These cars obtain their power from several different sources. The electric models have small and very powerful electric motors with rechargeable nickel-cadmium, nickel metal hydride or lithium polymer cells. Some other models may use brushed or brushless electric motors. Most of the models that operate on fuel use glow-plug engines which are small internal combustion engines. The fuel component is a special combination of nitromethane, methanol and oil (usually a blend of castor oil and synthetic oil).
Some models have recently been introduced that are rather large in size. Their source of power is a small gasoline engine that is similar to the motors you see on string trimmers and use a mixture of oil and gasoline. For novice operators it is advisable to work with one of the electric models rather than the fuel-driven ones although even these models become more complex if you purchase the more expensive ones for those who possess more skill.
It doesn’t matter whether you choose electric or fuel-driven R/C cars; both are available for both on-road and off-road operation. You want to keep in mind that off-road models have fully-functional suspensions that allow you to use them on different types of terrain; on-road models do not have this capability and must be operated strictly on smooth and paved surfaces.
Types of R/C Cars
Toy-grade radio control
The term "toy" or "toy-grade" in regards to radio control cars is used to describe vehicles of the pre-assembled type generally found in discount stores and consumer electronics stores.
Hobby-grade radio control
In recent years, hobby-grade "ready-to-run" (or "RTR") models have become available from every major manufacturer of radio-controlled cars, attracting many hobbyists who would otherwise have purchased a pre-assembled car (ARTR or Race-Roller). Vehicles of this type need little or no final assembly and in most cases, the bodies are shipped painted and trimmed, requiring little or no work from the owner before they can be used (other than purchasing and installing batteries).
The electric models used to operate using brushed motors, but these are becoming less popular because brushless models have more power and do not need as much maintenance as car possessing brushed motors. While the motors are rated in relative terms with a Kv number, the true ability of the motor to send power to the car depends on the quality of the batteries the operator uses as well as the wires and connectors that supply power to the motor. Because of the power element in a brushless motor, they are also used in the larger size monster trucks and the 1/8 nitro-powered buggies that have been converted from fuel power to electric motors. It is possible to find some 1/5 scale gas to electric conversions, but they are not very popular because of their high price.
The size of most fuel engines will range from .12-.35 cubic inches based on restrictions placed by the governing bodies for radio-controlled racing. It is possible to find engines that do not meet these specifications, and because they will not be used in any sanctioned races, it is unnecessary for them to comply with the regulations placed on sanctioned races. The size of the engine is relative to the class of the car: 1/10th scale for both on and off road cars that have .12-.18 cubic inch engines and 1/8 scale for those using .21-.32 cubic inch engines. There are certainly exceptions; nothing in engine size is engraved in stone. For instance, many Schumacher and Thunder Tiger/Team Associated RC models include much larger engines as art of standard equipment on some models.
Model cars that use fuel-powered engines have the capability to reach moderate speed without any type of modifications. The cars will achieve maximum power at medium to high speeds but with a slower throttle response than models operating on electrical power. This difference in response is because of clutching and a lack of torque. Electric motors are designed to produce immediate torque, but both nitro and full-sized gasoline engines need time for the engine to spool and the clutch to engage. On the down side, electric engines require the operator to remove the body shell and battery fasteners to recharge the battery while fuel-powered cars can be returned to operation within just a few seconds. You can also operate nitro cars continuously without the need to take breaks so they can cool down. Of course, this is taking into consideration they are properly tuned.
One of the good things about nitro-powered cars is they operate like full-sized fuel vehicles by using a two stroke engine rather than the electric motor that operates electric powered cars. Nitro enthusiasts are drawn to the sound of the engine and the higher stock top speeds, but unfortunately you will find unburned oil in their exhaust which will place a coating on the chassis. This fact will cause the necessity for more cleaning than the owner would need to do for an electrical engine. The cleaning process is achieved using compressed air nozzles and some type of solvent such as denatured alcohol. You must keep your vehicle in top notch condition by properly tuning it. This means you must learn to maintain the highest performance and fuel economy, keeping engine wear and overheating to a minimum even if you have one of the ready-to-run vehicles. If you try to operate a nitro-fuel motor when it is not operating at its best you not only run the risk of reducing its performance when it is most crucial but you can cause damage even under ordinary circumstances.
Disadvantages of a nitro-fuel motor
While nitro-powered motors provide higher stock performance and allow you to operate them for longer periods of time, there is also the tendency for great mechanical wear over time than you would experience with the electric counterpart.
The higher speed and weight that accompanies fuel-powered vehicles usually causes higher speed collision which in turn causes more damage to the vehicles involved in the collision. This is turn leads to more safety concerns, something you must consider when you are attempting to decide whether to choose an electric or gas powered model.
The various maintenance tasks such as cleaning the air filter, general chassis cleaning, replacing clutch parts as they wear out, lubrication after running the vehicle (essential before storing the vehicle) and maintenance of other parts such as the glow plug can be quite frustrating for the novice RC user.
Another disadvantage of nitro-fueled cars is their motors must be rebuilt after you run approximately 2-8 gallons of fuel through the engine. This is caused by a loss of compression, and poor tuning and overeating can accelerate the problem. You can also cause serious engine damage if you over-rev any engine when it lacks load or ingestion of dirt in the carburetor. In short, this means there is a higher maintenance factor in maintaining a nitro-powered engine compared to an electric-powered one.
Gasoline powered vehicles, also known as "fuelies" or "gassers", run on premixed gasoline and oil. They cost much more (usually $800–$3000 RTR) than nitro and electric cars. They are also much bigger and therefore require much more space to run. They do not usually have as high top end speeds (compared to nitro and some electrics) but have lots of power and do not take a lot of fuel to run.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Toy-Grade Radio Controlled Cars
One of the main advantages of toy grade radio controlled vehicles is one of cost. A hobbyist can purchase a medium-scale toy R/C for approximately $50-$100 cheaper than an entry-level hobby class car with an electric engine. Cars in the toy class are easy to use, have speeds usually under 20 mph thus decreasing the level of potential danger, and they are easier to set up than the easiest ready-to-run hobby class vehicle.
Vehicles in the toy class are usually designed to look like real cars with features that many vehicles in the hobby class lack such as lights that operate, sounds, windows, doors, and hoods the user can open, and interiors that are quite realistic albeit at the expense of weight and durability. Some toy class vehicles also have sound systems with radios or MP3 players that actually work. Toy class R/C vehicles are available in many different designs including common models of cars and trucks, tanks, bulldozers, motorcycles and even an array of odd vehicles that have rather uncommon and unorthodox designs.
While the cost factor is an important selling point for toy class R/C vehicles, it is important for potential users to keep in mind they are usually manufactured with a focus on design combined with the need to maintain low production costs. For instance, hobby-grade cars have standardized motors with separate electronic components that a user can replace individually if they happen to fail; toy-grade cars usually have non-standard motors with chassis components that are not replaceable and a single electronic circuit board that is built right into the vehicle’s design. This makes most models other than Nikko and Radio Shack models difficult or impossible to repair. This means when one component on the vehicle stops working, the entire vehicle becomes unusable.
Toy-grade vehicles also suffer from poor performance. Most have engines that are small and weak, powered mostly by alkaline or NiCad batteries thus limiting their top speeds to 5-15 mph. The batteries do not last very long and require frequent replacement. Very few come with any kind of a suspension, and those models that do happen to feature some kind of suspension system include one that has a very primitive or simplistic design. The steering is usually non-proportional and includes only three positions: straight, full left and full right. They usually lack a proportional throttle as well with the only options offered being stop and go.
It is necessary to purchase additional accessories for all R/C models. Electrical vehicles require battery packs and a charger for the battery pack. These are necessary to provide power to the car and are not usually included when you purchase the vehicle. It is also important to have a soldering iron and other supplies for those who wish to build high-performance battery packs or upgrade the initial electronics with low-resistance connectors. The most popular battery for RC cars is the Li-Polymer Battery with a hard case; the battery has an output of 7.4 volts.
A glow plug heater is essential to start the engine in nitro-powered vehicles. You will also need 4 AA batteries or a rechargeable 6-volt 5-cell battery pack in order to operate the electronics in the vehicle. It is also necessary to have a pullstart, starterbox, battery operated rotostart of an electric drill to crank the engine of nitro vehicles. Another requirement for operating nitro-powered RC cars is expensive model fuel, spare glow plugs, and post-operational oil.
For those who operate gasoline-powered vehicles, the only accessories necessary are a receiver battery pack and a way to start the engine such as the pullstart which is usually included. If you are purchasing a hobby grade vehicle you will probably need 8 AA batteries in order to operate the transmitter although there are a few models that will operate on a rechargeable transmitter pack or rechargeable AA batteries.
There are many sources available for operators who wish to upgrade or increase the performance of their hobby grade cars. These parts allow the user to do everything from simply making improvements to the vehicle that will increase the life of R/C car parts to making improvements to the overall performance. Many users of hobby grade vehicles perform their own upgrades by searching classified advertisements and online forums.
For those who are interested in starting right away, you can purchase “ready-to-run” R/C cars. This means when they leave the factory they are already tuned for optimum racing performance and do not need any additional adjustments. If you choose to purchase one of these “ready-to-run” vehicles you will still need to inspect them before operation in order to make sure there are no loose parts. Another way to purchase R/C vehicles is to purchase them in kit form or choose models that are partially assembled. It will then be necessary for the owner to complete building the car and tuning it before he uses it the first time. In most cases, however, the owner will need to purchase radio gear and sometimes even the car’s engine when he buys a kit.
Where can you run or race your car or truck?
When you buy your hobby RC car or kit, make your decision based on the area you live in, where you can run your car or truck. To run your car, you will need a paved surface like open parking lots at, say, the local school, church, office complex etc. For trucks, any type of surface is good as they are capable of handling dirt tracks and other types of terrain. If you have open fields, vacant lots or construction yards are good locations to race or run your truck. You might need to get permission first, though, if they are private property.
If you have a friend you may enjoy getting used to running your hobby car around your area, up and down your street. Gradually you may decide you want the excitement of racing and competing with others. Once you have your own racing group, you can probably find a parking lot that is vacant to get going.