Whether you're eight or eighty, if you love cars and enjoy tinkering with things, you'll get hours of fun and excitement from radio controlled cars. But there are a host of things involved in getting to the race and, if you're new to radio controlled vehicles and racing, you will probably have a lot of questions.
Our aim is to answer as many of these questions as we can and to provide you with the information you need to help you decide just what to buy. There's a lot of choice and, if you're a newcomer, you may need help choosing between on and off-road cars and electric and nitro powered vehicles. The more you know, the better you'll be able to choose the right vehicle for you.
Most people don't realize just how exciting this hobby have become - the hobby quality models made and raced today can get up to speeds of 60 mph and feature suspension systems that can be tuned just like a real car. Perhaps the most exciting part is the wide variety of types of vehicle available today. You can drive a race car, run a monster truck on dirt tracks or even fly a plane or helicopter!
Because of this, you should consider just what you plan to use your cars for before you buy. On-road or racing cars are made for speed, while off-road vehicles like buggies are designed to take on more rugged terrain. In addition, you can choose to buy your cars ready to run out of the box or as a kit to build yourself.
There are radio controlled cars and trucks for every kind of driver. Nitro engines for the speed demon, reliable ready to run electric cars for touring and even planes to fly. The electric cars run quietly and so are better suited to run right in your neighborhood, while the nitro motors give you the real feel of the racetrack. What you buy should depend on your experience and you should make your choice according to your experience so as to avoid frustration later on.
Something to keep in mind from the outset is that these vehicles are a high-end hobby, and can get quite expensive. If you plan to race your car, there are additional costs that come with competition. But if you're prepared for the cost, and if you choose carefully, you'll be rewarded with an amazing new hobby whose rewards certainly outweigh the cost. These are the decisions that need to be made before you buy:
- Do you want a ready to run car or do you want build your own?
- Do you want an on-road or an off-road vehicle?
- Which is right for you - a nitro or an electric vehicle?
No matter what you decide, if you keep your own experience and commitment level in mind, you'll be certain to get the car that's right for you.
Whether you race them or just tinker with their engines, radio controlled cars are great for kids of all ages. Though it might seem overwhelming at first, you'll find that the more you work on your cars and the more times you race, the more fun and exciting this hobby can be!
How Radio Controlled Cars Work
For a beginner, the sheer variety of brands and specifications of radio controlled vehicles can be overwhelming. There are literally hundreds of radio controlled cars and trucks available, all with different engines, performance levels and completely customizable details. This puts hobby quality radio controlled cars on a very different level from toys and replicas, and is what makes them so much more interesting and exciting to play with.
While the actual mechanics of how each radio controlled vehicle works can vary greatly from one to the next, the basic principles remain the same. Once you understand how radio controlled cars work, you'll have a better idea of just what's involved, and which one would be right for you.
There are four main parts to a radio controlled vehicle:
- Transmitter: This is the control you hold in your hand, usually powered by a 9-volt battery. Using radio frequencies, the transmitter relays the steering and control commands you give it to the receiver.
- Receiver: There are two parts to the receiver- an antenna and a circuit board inside the car. The radio frequencies sent by the transmitter are picked up by the receiver and relayed to the various parts of the vehicle.
- Motor: Radio controlled cars and trucks feature a variety of different types of engines, all with varying degrees of difficulty and output. The motor is often said to be the heart of the radio controlled car and is the most intricate part of building your own radio controlled vehicle.
- Power Source: Power is needed for acceleration, steering and overall engine output. Aside from the 9-volt battery in the transmitter, the power source depends on the type of car: electric cars run on rechargeable, replaceable battery packs while nitro cars use a fuel mixture similar to a real car.
Before moving on, let's just clear up one point which often causes confusion:
If you're new to radio controlled cars you might be confused by the terms "radio" and "remote" controlled cars. Though the two are often used interchangeably they are not the same thing at all as the way in which signals are transmitted to the vehicle is very different. You can spot a remote controlled car by the wire connecting the controller to the car. Radio controlled vehicles, on the other hand, use radio frequencies to send messages from the steering controls on the transmitter to the receiver in the car.
Electric or Nitro Radio Controlled Cars
Just like buying a real car, deciding on a radio controlled car takes research. Though all radio controlled cars have the same components - transmitter, receiver, motor, and power source - they vary widely in size, type, and degree of difficulty.
The first, most important decision to make is whether you want an electric or a nitro powered car. Nitro cars tend to be faster and more powerful, although their engines require a lot of maintenance and tuning. Electric cars, on the other hand, don't run quite as fast, but they're easier for beginners.
Once you've decided between an electric or a nitro powered car, you need to choose between a car that is ready to run right out of the box and a kit that you will need to build yourself. Ready to run cars are easier for beginners anxious to get to the race, but the build your own kits give you a better understanding of how radio controlled cars work. If you're not sure, keep in mind that most ready to run kits still include full instructions should you ever want to take your radio controlled car apart or replace some of its parts.
Next, you need to decide just where you'll be driving the car. Just as you probably wouldn't buy a gas guzzling SUV if you live downtown and have a long commute, you'll want to make sure you buy the radio controlled car that suits the kind of driving you'll be doing.
On-road radio controlled cars are built for speed, so if its racing and road running you have in mind, you'll want to stick to these lighter, faster vehicles. If you want to practice on rugged terrain and with jumps, the more rugged off-road radio controlled vehicles are probably best for you.
The last thing to choose is the size and type of radio controlled vehicle you'd like. The most popular class of vehicles is 1/10th scale, but there are also larger 1/8 scale and smaller mini and micro sized cars. Plus, the best part is you get to decide just what kind of radio controlled vehicle you'd like best—there are cars, trucks, buggies, boats, planes and even helicopters to choose from.
Electric Radio Controlled Cars
Electric radio controlled cars and trucks are generally considered best for beginners since, even if you choose to build your own car, they tend to be simpler and easier than nitro powered cars. They're also a great deal quieter and cleaner, meaning that there are fewer restrictions on where you can run them. In terms of speed and power, they do have a great deal of pickup, though not as much as nitro cars.
Electric radio controlled cars use rechargeable battery packs to power their motor and steering and these are normally recharged using a 12-volt car battery or wall socket. Batteries run for about 5-10 minutes, depending on the type of engine your car has, and charging the battery usually takes 15-30 minutes. Because of this, it is strongly recommended you have at least two battery packs to allow for quick replacement of the battery. This means that you can keep your car running while one battery is recharging.
At first glance, getting started with an electric radio controlled car can be much less expensive than a nitro vehicle. But there are other costs to consider as well, such as additional battery packs, a battery charger and other accessories that will add to the cost, making it closer to the price of a nitro car in the long run. Of course, this cost also depends on what kind of car you end up purchasing and what kind of battery pack it requires, as well as how often you run the car and the quality of the batteries you get.
The main reason why electric radio controlled cars are said to be easier than nitro powered cars is in the amount of maintenance and tuning their engines require. Though the care, maintenance and cost of battery packs is steep, it is still less trouble for the new driver than the air filters, tuning, fuelling and various other engine parts that require attention on a nitro car. Instead, careful conditioning and proper storage of your battery packs will keep your electric radio controlled running smoothly for years. Always consult your manufacturer's instructions to make sure you're getting the right battery packs for your car, and that you're caring for them properly.
Easier and cleaner, electric radio controlled cars and trucks offer the genuine racing experience to the beginner on an easy learning curve. Proper conditioning and maintenance of the car and its battery packs are still easier than the many parts and problems often associated with nitro radio controlled cars. If you're a beginner, or if you just want to get to the races, an electric radio controlled can offer you the speed and fun you're after for less work.
Also keep in mind that if you think you'd prefer an electric radio controlled car, but still want the experience of building your own car, that you can also purchase electric kits. These include complete instructions to build your own car from scratch, and because their systems are less complex than the nitro cars, they are a little easier to build yourself.
In order to prevent unnecessary wear and tear on your electric motor, it is important to break in your motor before you drive it for the first time and every time after you change its brushes. One easy method is to run the vehicle with the wheels off of the ground at about 1/4 power for about 5 minutes. This will slowly get the brushes fully seated to the commutator without causing wear and tear on the engine, and will allow your motor to run at its full potential.
Your electric car will come with instructions on how to change the brushes on the motor, as well as guidelines on how often this should be done. Remember, if you change the brushes on your motor, be sure to break it in again. How often you replace the brushes - and the motor for that matter - depends on where and how much you're running or racing your car. Generally, a motor should be replaced after it has gone through five or more pairs of brushes, but it will always depend on the individual car, its motor and how well they're running.
Nitro Radio Controlled Cars
Nitro radio controlled cars are named for the special type of fuel that gives them and their motors such kick. Though not the best choice for beginners, they are the choice if speed and power are what you want from your radio controlled car. The great popularity of nitro radio controlled cars and trucks is due not only to their speed, but is also because of the realism they offer - sights (smoke), sounds (tuned pipe) and smells (exhaust) just like the real thing! Over the last several years, the quality of nitro radio controlled cars has been greatly improved, making them safer and more reliable than in the past.
There are four defining features of a nitro radio controlled car:
- special nitro fuel
- high horsepower nitro engine
- tuned exhaust pipe
- Realistic, replaceable air filter.
Two different power sources are required for a nitro radio controlled car, starting with battery packs for the transmitter and receiver. The car itself, as the name suggests, really does use gasoline as its fuel: an oil and gasoline mixture, much like a real car.
There are two kinds of nitro motors - the 2-stroke and the 4 stroke engine. The 2-stroke engine is similar to the kind of engine found inside motocross motorcycles and chain saws. This type of engine has no separate oil reservoirs, so the oil that lubricates it is included in the fuel mixture.
Conversely, the less popular 4-stroke engine does have an oil reservoir and depends less on a gasoline/oil fuel mixture for lubrication. When running or racing, the car's fuel tank will need refilling every 5 to 10 minutes.
The engine seen most frequently in nitro radio controlled cars today is a 23cc (cubic centimeter) displacement, 2-stroke engine. Its popularity stems from the fact that it's among the most powerful engines available for nitro radio controlled cars, putting out approximately 2.5 horse power. This engine would certainly be powerful enough to impress you with its speed.
You'll also need a starter for the engine, of which there are two types:
- a pull-start nitro engine (these use a process like your lawnmower to start)
- a non-pull nitro engine (these fire up with a starter box)
The pull start nitro engines cost a little more, but you don't have to buy a starter box and it's less you have to carry around to run your vehicle. Just take it out, pull on the starter, and you're ready to go! Be sure to check your instructions to choose a starter that's right for your car.
To keep your nitro radio controlled running at its best, constant maintenance is necessary. This includes keeping the engine clean and well-tuned, setting it up correctly and using good clean fuel. Also, if you're running your radio controlled off-road, you'll need to make certain it is properly cleaned after you run it, otherwise dirt and grit can slow down or even ruin your engine. Any special procedures particular to your car will be outlined in your owner's manual. Remember that your engine will only run as long as you treat it well so take great care of it.
Fuelling Nitro Radio Controlled Cars
Nitro radio controlled cars run on a blended fuel easily available at local hobby shops or online. It is made up of methyl alcohol (methanol), nitro-methane (nitro) and oil. In order to understand how nitro fuel work, you need to know what each of these three components does for the car:
- Methanol provides the main power to the engine and is the main ingredient in model fuel. It has an ignition point that allows it to be ignited with the kinds of platinum-element glow plugs used in radio controlled engines, and it releases more energy per pound of air than gasoline. It's easy to get, it's not expensive and you'll find model fuel much more reasonably priced than regular gas.
- Nitro-methane is added to assist the idle and acceleration and to enhance power output. Nitro is referred to as a “hot fuel” and is only used in small amounts in model fuels. It can be explosive if not handled correctly, so take care to read the fuel tips offered here, and always follow the manufacturer's instructions when filling up your radio controlled car.
- Oil is needed as a source of lubricant for all the moving parts in the engine. Here 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines will require different fuels, since 2-stroke engines have no separate oil reservoir and need oil mixed in with their fuel. There are two types of oil found in model fuels - castor oil and synthetic oil. These can be used by themselves or in a blend, with synthetics being far more common these days. This is mainly because synthetics are cheaper and less gummy than castor oil. For some engines, a blend with a large percentage of castor oil may work best, since it is actually a better lubricant at higher temperatures. The synthetics are far less messy, however, and leave less gum on your engine. You'll be able to choose from blends of synthetic and castor oil that vary in their percentages, so try out a few to find one that runs your engine best.
Fuel blends are expressed in percentages based on the amount of each component ingredient used, and of course the one right for you will depend greatly on your car and engine. Most model fuels contain mainly methanol, to which about 20-22% oil and 10-15% nitro is added.
Be sure to check your owner's manual for suggestions and guidelines about which blend is correct. Bear in mind that you may have to try out a couple of different types and blends before you find the one that's right for the way your engine is tuned. And if your engine isn't running properly, one of the first things you should do is change the fuel.
Taking proper care of your nitro car's fuel is extremely important. Not only will it help your car run better and make for less wear on the engine, model fuels are flammable and could be dangerous if not properly stored.
- Nitro fuel should not be stored in unsealed containers. Because methanol mixes easily with water, the container you store it in should be completely air tight. Otherwise, air could get in and evaporation or condensation could occur, ruining the fuel. It will cause your engine to run too hot and be quite damaging to your car's fuel and exhaust systems.
- Store your fuel at room temperature, and at a constant temperature. Again, you want to avoid any air in your container or in the fuel, which temperature swings can cause to condense. Do not store your model fuel in a room in which the temperature varies widely.
- Keep model fuel away from light. Nitro methane degrades in light, which means you need to store your model fuel in a cool, dark place. If you leave it exposed to sunlight or store it in a brightly lit place, the nitro will degrade completely, as though it hadn't even been added to the fuel in the first place. This will cause your engine to run very poorly, or cause poor starts or stalling.
- Do not store fuel more than a year. In addition to following all these steps, you must also replace your model fuel frequently. Though proper storage will keep your fuel fresh and running clean, it cannot be stored for years and years. Most manufacturers offer some guarantees on their fuel, but these will not apply if you have stored it for an extended period of time. Most importantly, old fuel can be dangerous, so don't leave it stored indefinitely.
Nitro Radio Controlled Car Engines
Nitro Engines: 2-Stroke
The 2-stroke is the engine most commonly found in nitro radio controlled cars. The "Stroke" of the engine refers to the number of times that the piston travels through the engine sleeve in the combustion chamber. 2-stroke engines produce power in one cycle, which is divided into the two "strokes". The piston has two positions: top dead center where the cycle begins and ends, and bottom dead center, which is the middle point of the power cycle. Combustion causes increased pressure in the chamber and forces the piston down. As this occurs, the exhaust ports are opened so gases can escape through the manifold. The second stroke begins when the piston reaches bottom dead center and then moves back up the engine sleeve. This causes the pressure to build up again as the piston approaches top dead center once again, completing the power cycle. The next stroke occurs as soon as combustion from the glow plug sparks it again.
Nitro Engines: 4-Stroke
Less common but more powerful, 4-stroke engines are more like what you'll find under the hood of your real car or your lawnmower. Though similar to a 2-stroke, a 4-stroke engine has 2 full cycles with 2 strokes of the piston each (for a total of 4 strokes). Unlike the simpler glow-plug ignition that a 2-stroke uses, a 4-stroke regulates the air and fuel in the chamber with a geared cam mechanism. Intake timing is how much and when this air/fuel mixture enters the cylinder, while exhaust timing refers to the escape of hot gas from the cylinder.
The easiest way to understand what happens in the 4-stroke power cycle is imagine the 2-stroke cycle simply stretched out to get the most out of each segment of the piston's movement. The piston begins at top dead center and as it travels down the cylinder the geared cam allows fuel and air into the combustion chamber.
The intake valve closes when the piston reaches the bottom of the cylinder, which is then forced back up by the flywheel and drive train components. This compresses the air and fuel, and the pressure causes combustion as the piston reaches the top of the cylinder again, completing what is referred to as the compression stroke.
As the fuel mixture ignites it initiates the so-called combustion-stroke, during which the piston travels back down the cylinder and up again. In the final "power" stroke the gases are forced out to the exhaust systems, just as in the 2-stroke engine. The cycle is then repeated.
4-stroke engines rely on intake and exhaust valves to complete their power cycle. This is combined with a number of other features - a moving crankshaft, several valve-train components, camshaft, rod and pistons and the geared cam mechanism - to make a more powerful, but more advanced engine. The improved management of fuel and air flow in and out of the engine makes the 4-stroke more efficient, though their advanced mechanisms mean they require meticulous attention and maintenance.
Nitro Radio Controlled Car Maintenance
So now that you know what's under the hood of your radio controlled, there are few more tips that will help your car run better:
- Improve your acceleration by proper preparation of your clutch. Over time, a glaze can form on the clutch and the clutch bell, which causes the car's acceleration to decrease noticeably. Scuffing both the clutch shoes and the clutch bell with fine-grit sandpaper or steel wool and a good cleaning with motor-spray will remove this glaze, and prevent the clutch from slipping against the clutch bell.
- Extend the life of your car's differential by breaking your motor in gently. Your car's differential is filled with small, complicated gears that make it both complicated and expensive. This is not a part you want to replace frequently, but carefully breaking in your car before racing or running it full out can greatly extend the differential's lifespan. To break in your engine, run it at 1/4 power a few inches off the ground, and then run some slow, steadily powered figure 8s. This should set the gears in the differential and you can run it full out without damaging the engine.
- Make sure you keep your header in position. Your car's header is attached with a tiny spring, meaning it comes off very easily if you hit something or if your car gets hit by something. If you're racing it can be a huge problem to put this back on in a hurry, so be sure to attach your header to the engine block more firmly using a small piece of safety wire. Make sure you twist the wire firmly around the header and be sure to cut off any excess.
- Brace your air filter to prevent losing or damaging it. The small piece of the same safety wire that secures your header should also be used brace your filter. Again, twist it tightly to prevent the filter from becoming loose and remove any excess wire.
- Protect your pull-start cord from fraying and breaking. Over time, the cord of a pull-start engine can often become worn and frayed. This can be prevented by covering the edges of the opening. Try using duct tape or cutting up a small section of fuel tubing. Make sure not to obstruct the opening, but rather create a smoother edge to the opening for the cord get in and out of with out fraying. Never leave your pull start cord pulled all the way out- if this happens, it could get stiff or be impossible to reinsert it.
- Follow your manufacturer's instructions for the best results. Your car will come with complete instructions and owner's manual, which you should read carefully. Should you run into something you can't fix or an engine that simply won't run properly (or at all!), it's best to consult your local hobby shop for some expert advice and help.
There's nothing like the realistic roar and smoke of a nitro radio controlled car which is fast and powerful enough to make for some exciting racing. Bear in mind, however, that nitro cars and the engines that power them are very complex and require frequent tuning and meticulous care - much more so than an electric radio controlled car. Because of their greater complexity, you will also find nitro cars tend to be more expensive. What this means to you as a driver is that you need to decide in advance what your budget is and just how experienced you are with engines and radio controlled racing.
If you're beginner but you still have your heart set on a nitro car, they can be purchased in ready to run versions that will get you in the race as soon as you open the box. Although these still require the same ongoing attention and maintenance, you will be saved the initial trouble of building the car from scratch.
Ready to run nitro cars and trucks are more expensive than the ones you build yourself, but they're far easier if you're still unsure of your mechanic ability. Also, since even ready to run kits contain complete instructions on how they go together, you can rest assured you'll be able to repair, maintain and add to your car for a long time to come.
The main attraction of nitro radio controlled cars is their realism and their power. They're fast, they roar and they smoke just like real cars! They can be tuned to reach speeds of up to 60 mph and they can race as long as you keep filling the gas tank. Though not recommended for complete newcomers to radio controlled racing, nitro radio controlled cars are by far the most popular option.
Ready to Run Radio Controlled Cars
If you are a complete newcomer to radio controlled cars and racing, this is definitely something you should consider for your first radio controlled vehicle. Ready to run radio controlled cars are a little more expensive, but they require little or no assembly.
For younger drivers not quite ready for the building portion of radio controlled cars, or for drivers who simply want to get to the race, there are a wide variety of ready to run nitro and electric radio controlled vehicles from which to choose.
Some manufacturers ship their ready to run kits without the receiver installed. If this is the case, they will provide complete instructions on just how to position the circuit board inside the car. This, in addition to slowly breaking in the engine, is the only thing ready to run kits ever need before they’re ready to race.
Ready to run radio controlled cars usually come with complete instructions, so if you need to tear down your car at any point to replace parts, you can. They simply save you the initial work of putting them together, which for beginners is often overwhelming. If you’re completely new to radio controlled vehicles and unsure about your mechanic ability, you’ll definitely want to make your first radio controlled car something that comes ready to run.
Build Your Own Radio Controlled Cars
If you don't mind getting dirty and like to tinker with things, you'll definitely want to consider building your own radio controlled vehicle.
Build your own kits are complex and time consuming, but when it comes time for maintenance and repairs, nothing compares to knowing your radio controlled car from the inside out. Though it is initially more difficult, you'll find that the experience comes in handy down the road when you want to change engines, or simply change the air filter.
Also, if you want to save money, you'll definitely want a build your own kit. Also, by building your own car you will often get a better model. Other costs, such as batteries and fuel, are the same whether you build your own radio controlled car or choose a ready to run kit.
The length of time it takes to build your radio controlled car and just how difficult it is depends on the car, the manufacturer and your experience. Build your own kits feature complete, step-by-step, illustrated instructions that walk you through the process. Follow these instructions carefully, and do not expect to build your car in one sitting. Breaks will help you concentrate better and make fewer mistakes.
Before you begin, consult the following checklist to make sure you've got everything you need to get your radio controlled up and running:
- Your car's instruction manual. Read it over first! Before you begin assembling your radio controlled, you should read through the instructions in order to anticipate difficult steps and head off potential disaster or wasted time later on. Take care not to get ahead or skip steps, as this could result in needing to start over again.
- A notepad and pencil. In addition to making important notes in your instruction manual, you will also want to keep track of screw positions and settings. Pay special attention to lefts and rights, fronts and rears. Though these are usually marked on the parts themselves, you may need to make additional notes to make sure you get them right.
- A well-lit, uncluttered building area. This should include a clean dry towel to prevent parts from bouncing and rolling, it will protect your bench (or the kitchen table) and it will absorb any liquid you spill. Be careful not to set up your "pit" in a place that could be disturbed, such as in reach of younger brothers and sisters. Cover your work with a cloth or towel when you're not there to prevent any lost pieces. Finally, make sure there is ample light.
- Hardware trays. It is recommended to keep your small parts in a container of some sort, use take-out container lids, fishing-tackle boxes or muffin tins to keep things organized. When you're building, be sure to keep everything sorted and separate.
- A small but select set of tools. You'll need a basic but good set of tools, including:
- Screwdriver: Nos. 1 and 2 Phillips-head drivers, a 1 ¼ inch flat-blade screwdriver and a set of jeweller's screwdrivers are considered sufficient.
- Pliers: Pairs of slip-joint and needle-nose pliers are necessary, and nitro models may require channel-lock pliers for holding flywheels.
- Flush cutters: These are best for the fuel lines and other parts that require a close, clean cut.
- Hobby knife, no. 11 blades: Blades should be replaced often and the knife should always be used carefully and with supervision for younger drivers.
- Soap, extra fuel tubing. A bar of soap can be used as a clean, dry lubricant for pieces that fit tightly or which fit through tight spots. Extra fuel tubing is useful for a number of things, like on the end of your screw driver to hold the screw in place while you get it into position.
- Patience. More than anything, this is the biggest challenge; especially if this is your first build your own radio controlled car. Following the illustrations closely and making sure you don't rush or skip steps is the best way to ensure success. Above all, be patient—building an radio controlled car from the ground up is tricky time-consuming business that will only result in error and frustration if you rush it.
If you choose to build your own radio controlled car or truck, it can be very rewarding, but bear in mind that it is quite difficult. Though electric radio controlled cars are slightly easier to build than their nitro counterparts, it is still strongly recommended that new drivers gain experience running and maintaining a ready to run radio controlled before they attempt to build one from scratch.
Types of Radio Controlled Cars
So you've you decided you like the simplicity of the electric radio controlled car or the realistic sights and sounds of the nitro class. Now the next decision is just what type of radio controlled vehicle is best for you. Choose according to what you plan to do with your radio controlled car and on your level of experience.
On-road cars are the most popular type of radio controlled car. The standard for on-road cars is 1/10 scale cars, though 1/8 scale cars are not uncommon. The recent increase in micro and mini cars means there are hobby quality on-road cars which are now as small as 1/18 scale.
Both nitro and electric radio controlled cars come in on-road versions, and are available ready to run or as build your own kits. Built and geared for speed, an on-road radio controlled should be your choice if you plan to race your car. Touring cars need a smooth, paved surface on which to run though even running up and down the street you'll be amazed by their speed.
If you want to be able to run your radio controlled car just about anywhere, you'll definitely need the rugged construction of an off-road vehicle. These sturdy cars and trucks will handle jumps, uneven terrain, hills and even sand. They come in two or four-wheel drive versions, and are perfectly capable of driving in your back yard, a vacant lot or just about anywhere.
Like their on-road counterparts, off-road radio controlled cars can be purchased ready to run or as build your own kits and there is a wide variety of both electric and nitro cars and trucks from which to choose. Off-road radio controlled cars, though not the fastest cars available, are durable, rugged and can be run practically anywhere.
The touring and racing cars are perhaps the most common type of radio controlled vehicle. The wide variety of styles and cars in both electric and nitro kits makes them an easy choice for the beginner, and the higher end build your own models can be great for advanced hobbyists. Lightweight and fast, these are the ideal racers.
If off-roading and rugged, sturdy vehicles were what you had in mind, then a truck is likely to be the radio controlled vehicle for you. Both electric and nitro monster trucks are fast and tough for running off-road courses. The ready to run radio controlled trucks would be suitable for beginners.
These durable little vehicles are powerful enough to handle on and off-road terrains with speeds of up to 60 mph. usually only available in nitro kits; they are a lot to handle for a beginner.
Radio controlled flyers are amongst the most popular and exciting radio controlled vehicles. Electric and ready to run versions are the most accessible for the beginner, though of course there are nitro and build your own versions to allow for growth and customization.
Radio controlled airplanes are extremely light weight, and can be made to fly at very low speeds. The electric versions are also quiet enough to be run in a school yard. This makes them a great option for someone new to the radio controlled scene, though there are fewer competitions for this type of radio controlled vehicle.
Though a little too complicated the beginner, radio controlled helicopters are exciting and challenging to fly. They are usually run on gas, and can be great fun for the experienced flyer.
Boats and Watercraft
Available in both electric and nitro powered versions, radio controlled boats are not usually ready to run. The need for waterproofing adds an additional level of difficulty and, though they are not recommended for beginners, those familiar with the workings of radio controlled vehicles will find boats and other watercraft the most fun of all to build and race.
Radio Controlled Car Sizes
Standard, Micro or Mini?
Next, now what you know what type of radio controlled you want, you need to decide what scale it will be in. Hobby quality radio controlled cars come in a few different sizes: as small as 1/18 scale and as large as 1/8 scale. Nitro and electric cars are usually made at the industry standard 1/10 scale. This can be confusing for a newcomer but, if you're in any doubt about the size of the radio controlled vehicle you're interested in, just call in at your local hobby shop and make sure it's what you want before you buy.
To give you an idea of the variety available when it comes to scale, this is a brief rundown of the sizes of nitro radio controlled cars on the market today:
- 1/10 scale touring cars: Engine powered touring cars can be extremely fast, reaching speeds of up to 55mph. As with electric touring cars, nitro vehicles feature 4WD and realistic body lines and are only meant for on-road use.
- 1/10 scale stadium trucks: Nitro stadium trucks are identical to electric stadium trucks, except for the engine power. They're suitable for racing or recreation, on or off road, averaging a peak speed of about 30mph.
- 1/8 scale monster trucks: These monsters are equipped with major horsepower. Consequently, they can travel on-road and off-road up to 40 mph, tearing through and over anything in its path!
- 1/8 scale buggies: Similar to other 1/8 scale vehicles, they have the power to traverse rough terrain on-road and off-road, are very durable, and travel up to 60mph.
- 1/8 scale on-road cars: The revolution of radio controlled performance, these vehicles reach speeds of close to 80mph, coming standard with shifting 2- or 3-speed transmission. Intended for experienced enthusiasts, their foam tires provide tremendous grip, and they are suitable for smooth on-road courses only.
Radio controlled Micro and Mini Cars
The most recent development in radio controlled cars has been the introduction of micro and mini-sized vehicles from Japan and throughout Asia. These tiny but powerful little radio controlled cars offer the same racing excitement as the big boys for only a fraction of the cost.
Only recently introduced to the North American market from Asia by companies like Radio Shack, micro radio controlled cars offer an extremely low price-point for out-of-the-box racing fun. Priced at $50 or less, these are a great choice for a driver not ready for a full-sized radio controlled car or a newcomer to radio controlled racing who wants to see what all the fuss is about.
Measuring only 2 1/2 inches long, micro radio controlled cars feature the same kind of motor that makes your cell phone vibrate. Best of all, these little engines are interchangeable, so you can tweak your micro vehicle with a different motor for more speed. Specialty tires and hubcaps can be added to customize the look of your micro car, as well as enhancements to the torsion and steering controls.
Mini and micro radio controlled cars are always ready to run, right out of the box. Your little vehicle will come with the following:
- rubber non-stick tires
- micro scale working engine
- realistic, running chassis
- receiver and circuit board
- customizable body
The greatest advantage these little cars offer is their versatility. Unlike the noisy, smoky nitro cars, or the load hum of an electric race, micro radio controlled cars are clean and quiet. They can be run indoors or out, even in your garage or basement. This means you don't have to wait until the next race to run your car.
Mini radio controlled cars, like their standard-sized electric cousins, run on rechargeable battery packs. When your car is out of juice, it usually pops into the controller itself, which is then plugged into the wall. With your transmitter doubling as your charger, your car will be ready to race again in under a minute. If you want to race longer, the fast recharge time for these tiny vehicles is a great selling point.
Overall, though they are not as customizable and intricate as the larger 1/10 and 1/8 scale cars and trucks, micro and mini radio controlled cars have the same acceleration, controls and feel. Their tiny size makes it possible to run them anywhere from your garage to the kitchen floor so you can race any time you like - down the hall or up the street!
For about a quarter of the cost of a regular radio controlled car you get a car with responsive controls, tuneable suspension and customizable exterior. But, like their larger counterparts, you can still get the kind of car you're after. Mini and micro versions of all the most popular vehicles are available. They're the ideal option if you're on a limited budget, but are still eager to get to the race.
The Cost of Radio Controlled Cars
In comparison with some other hobbies, radio controlled cars can get somewhat expensive, depending on your level of commitment to it.
Even if you build your own radio controlled car or truck and save the cost of the ready to run kits, additional parts and fuel and battery packs can add up, not to mention the entry fees for races if you plan to compete.
But beware of the widely available cheaper versions which claim to be good quality radio controlled vehicles.
These break easily and cannot be repaired like hobby-quality radio controlled cars, which can be maintained to run smoothly for years and fixed properly if anything ever goes wrong.
Expect to spend at least $280.00 per vehicle initially, with a more complete beginner setup costing about $450.
Running and Racing Radio Controlled Cars
Proper maintenance of your radio controlled vehicle is the key to achieving the best possible results. While the car may still perform while not in its best form, you can be assured that keeping it in good order will ensure the best results. By keeping your car clean, well-tuned and properly maintained, you can be sure you'll get the top performance out of your radio controlled car.
Before you head out to the track there are a few suggestions that you should follow to make sure everything goes smoothly on race day:
- Mark your initials on all your car's parts. It's frenetic and exciting in the pit, which means in the haste of repair, refueling and racing, it can be very difficult to tell which parts belong to which racer. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that a lot of parts from different makes and models look remarkably similar. Avoid confusion by marking all your car's parts with your initials and take care to keep track of those parts on race day.
- Mark your initials on all your tools and equipment. Use a marker to write your initials on all your tools and equipment to avoid mix ups and losses. Over time you'll spend a great deal of time and energy completing the set of tools and gear you need for your car—so be careful with your equipment. Marking your name on your tools makes it more likely you'll get them back if you lose them, and prevents confusion in the event that several racers are using the same tools.
- If you have a nitro radio controlled car always use fresh fuel and bring plenty extra. Model fuel should not be stored for extended periods of time since the nitro methane it contains can degrade over time if exposed to air or water. Old fuel should be disposed of properly, and you should always race with fresh, clean fuel. Make sure you use a brand you are familiar with in competition: a race is not the place to test a new type of fuel. You'll want to know how much running time the fuel you're using produces and bring plenty extra to re-fill your car's tank.
- If you have an electric radio controlled car your batteries are the most important thing on race day. How your electric car does on race day depends entirely on your battery packs. Be sure to follow your manufacturer's instructions on how to properly condition your batteries to extend their life and get maximum performance from them. When you're racing, you'll want to have several battery packs so that when one runs out, you don't have to wait to recharge it. You need to know your car's running time per battery pack in advance so you can count on how many battery packs you need to bring, and whether your charger can charge them up quickly enough between races.
- Develop a race-day checklist for your car's systems and your tools. Well prepared racers go through the same list of checks on their car and all its systems every time they race. Develop this list at home when you prepare your car for race day and include important reminders like securing fuel lines, checking gaskets, testing the glow plug, making sure the gas tank isn't rattling. Test runs will help you know what to look for, and what to double check on the day of the race. Remember to add any equipment you need to fix these day to day problems to your tool box on race day, just in case you need them.
- Be respectful of other racers in the pit and on the track. There is nothing like the roar of an radio controlled race, but excitement and exhilaration are no excuse for poor sportsmanship. Always be respectful of other racers and their equipment. In the event of an accident, remove your car from the track as quickly as possible. If you have complaints or disputes they should be brought to the race officials immediately and all judges decisions should be accepted as final. In the pit be courteous to other racers by keeping track of all your tools and equipment. Labeling your gear and keeping track of all of your belongings while you're racing and marshalling will ensure that there are no problems with other drivers and their equipment. Remember space is limited!
Where to Race Radio Controlled Cars
Radio controlled cars generally need a paved surface to run on, so open parking lots of schools, churches, and office areas provide plenty of space to play on. If you're racing or practicing on someone else's property, it is extremely important to ask their permission first. And, if there are younger children out running their cars or watching, make sure there is proper supervision.
With radio controlled trucks, the type of surface doesn't matter as much, since they can be driven on pavement, dirt, gravel and all types of ground. Even long grass can be tackled - though only for short periods of time. Open fields, vacant lots, and construction yards are perfect places to run or race, as long as it's safe and you have permission.
Though many people enjoy simply running their car by themselves up the street, this can be made infinitely more fun by practicing and racing with others. Setting up pylons easily turns an empty parking lot into a racetrack, while a vacant lot can be host to a tug-of-war.
If you prefer off-roading or a more rugged challenge for your vehicle, you can construct your own jumps in a field, yard or lot. Scraps of wood or cardboard can be used to make ramps and jumps or challenging obstacle courses. Off-road radio controlled vehicles have a lot of power, but don't overestimate their torque when you construct your track. Make sure that if there are younger children playing you have proper supervision.
But if you prefer official races, they're held often enough that you can be racing every few months. For some hobbyists there's nothing that compares to radio controlled car racing. Most race areas are on-road (paved) tracks, usually in unused parking lots. Other locations are off-road, featuring all-dirt surfaces with lanes separated by boards or plastic pipe. Most metropolitan areas have a race track nearby. To find the racetrack nearest you, start with the internet and the yellow pages.
Radio Controlled Truck Pull
One of the most fun things you can do with radio controlled trucks especially is to participate in a truck pull. For the best performance possible, it's best to become part of a team, not only for the social factor, but also because team associated radio controlled trucks are known for their durability, power, race-ability and reliability as they combine experience, knowledge and parts to make the best possible vehicles out there.
If you're looking to participate in a radio controlled truck pull, you should begin looking into a truck that runs on a nitro engine, as they are certainly the most powerful and long-running.
Electric versions of truck-pull caliber trucks do exist, but for those interested in serious competition, nitro engines provide the right amount of power. Since nitro gas powered trucks have been on the market for over 15 years, they have had ample time for perfection and adaptation to the unique requirements of a truck pull.
If you become a part of a team, the odds are that you will be using kits to design your vehicle. This takes patience, especially for beginners, but with enough practice, it becomes easy to alter and add to your radio controlled truck. Once your vehicle is complete, don't for a moment think that it is finished, as you will be continuously upgrading and updating your truck to keep it competitive with the other radio controlled truck pull participants. Adding new parts all the time to an older kit can give it a new life at a much lower cost.
Radio controlled truck pulls can be extremely challenging. They come in different levels, terrains and courses, depending on the organization that has assembled the track.