RC Cars: A Beginner’s Guide

Entering the world of RC cars can be intimidating for someone just starting out. It doesn’t have to be!

Here is a guide that will cover most of the basic information you’ll need to hit the ground running (driving?). If you think there is any information missing or incorrect, feel free to suggest any changes. Let’s get started!

the-elite-drone2

Nitro vs Electric

Nitro, which is short for nitromethane, is a type of fuel used often with RC vehicles. It consists of three main parts: nitromethane, oil, and methanol.

bubblesFun Fact: The nitromethane provides the engine with oxygen, the oil cools and lubricates the engine, and the methanol provides the energy for the engine. Pretty cool huh?

“Which one is better?”

This question seems to get asked a million times, and here is the answer:

It depends.

That’s right, I just gave you a response that doesn’t really answer your question and is probably slightly annoying. (Kind of like the time in school when you would ask the teacher if you could use the bathroom, and she would say “I don’t know…can you???”)

The type of car you use will depend on a bunch of different variables. If you’re just starting out, electric is probably the way to go.

Here’s why:

+ Electric cars are lighter than nitro cars, which means you don’t have to struggle to carry it anywhere.

+ Much simpler to use. Charge up the battery and you’re pretty much good to go.

+ Less maintenance is required.

There are some downsides that you should take note of:

Limited run time. Your driving is unfortunately limited by your battery life. Once the battery dies, you have to wait until it’s fully charged to use it again.

Batteries can be pretty expensive.

You should only try nitro cars after you gain more experience with the electric RC cars (unless you’re a daredevil). That being said, nitro cars are really fun to drive.

Here are some pros of nitro cars:

+ VERY LOUD! Makes driving that much more exciting.

+ More hands on. If you like tinkering and what not, nitro should appeal to you.

+ Pretty cheap to fix if any issues come up.

Which reminds me…

You WILL BREAK your RC car. It might be a bitter pill to swallow, but this is important for you to know. Repairs will be pretty cheap, as long as it’s not one of the electrical parts. As long as you don’t drive an RC car that’s not waterproof into the water, you should be fine. Don’t let the possibility of your RC car breaking hold you back from enjoying it to the fullest.

Some downsides of nitro cars are:

Fuel can be pretty expensive.

More maintenance is needed to keep your car up to par.

Now that you understand when each type of RC car is preferable, let’s take a look at all of the RC vehicles you can choose from.

bubblesFun Fact: The first RC car ever made was in 1966. It was a Ferrari 250LMn created by the Italian company, Elettronica Giocattoli.

 Types of RC Vehicles

 Monster Trucks

groundpounderrc

Monster trucks are RC trucks with a lifted suspension and BIG tires. If you want to run over things, this is the truck for you. Keep in mind that these trucks are usually on the slower side.

Buggy

rc-nitro-buggy

Buggies are vehicles with a narrow front and a wing on the back of the car. Unlike monster trucks, buggies have low ground clearance. This makes them great for flat tracks.

Stadium truck

 

t-trx37054-lgStadium trucks are a crossbreed of trucks and buggies. They have a higher suspension than buggies and are more well rounded. Unlike buggies, stadium trucks can handle uneven surfaces such as grass. Stadium trucks are often referred to as “truggy”, a combination of truck and buggy.

Short course truck

rr-sctruck

Compared to stadium trucks, short course trucks have less ground clearance and suspension. They are ideal for pavement and dirt roads. The outer body of these cars is wide so that the tires are protected.

Rock crawler

maisto-r_c-rock-crawler_

Rock crawlers are vehicles that are specialized in getting over obstacles (such as rocks) that the other RC cars couldn’t get over. These guys are pretty slow and are perfect for off-road driving. Most crawlers tend to be 4WD due to the uneven terrain they need to handle.

Scalers

scaler

Scalers are RC cars designed to look like actual cars, but at a smaller size. They usually have a leaf spring suspension. If you’re looking for a mix of RC driving and appearance, this is probably your best bet.

Touring car

touring-car-rr

Touring cars are low-clearance vehicles that are best suited for flat surfaces like asphalt, concrete, and carpets. They are similar to your typical race car, and have little use for suspension.

Rally car

rallycar

Rally cars are a hybrid between on-road and off-road vehicles. They are good on-road, and with the right tires they can do well on dirt tracks. They are not ideal for uneven terrain like the rock crawlers and the trucks are.

Drift car

rcdriftcar

Drift cars are similar to rally cars, but are made for drifting. Their tires are much slicker, which makes driving a bit more challenging.

Motors

There are two different types of motors you should know about. Brushed and Brushless.

Brushed

Brushed motors are called “brushed” because there are two brushes (one positive and one negative) that supply power to the motor. These brushes push against the commutator (the moving part of a rotary electrical switch) on the central staff.

Here’s a diagram of what I mean:

screen-shot-2014-03-27-at-19-08-32

Because of the friction caused in this process, the motor isn’t as efficient as a brushless motor, and it won’t last as long. However, that doesn’t mean it’s useless.

Some reasons why brushed motors are useful:

+ They are inexpensive. Because they are cheap to make, prices will be much lower than brushless motors.

+ The wiring is simple as there are only 2 of them that are used to provide power.

Some reasons why they aren’t that great:

They don’t last very long.

They are not as efficient as brushless motors.

Another useful thing to know about brushless motors is that they have a rating system called turns(t). The lower the amount of turns a motor has, the faster it is. Basic motors will be around 20t-30t, while high performing motors will be around  5t-12t.

When you purchase an RC car with a brushed motor, that motor will usually be non-rebuildable(sometimes called “cans”). There are rebuildable motors that allow you to replace the springs and brushes when they get worn out.

Brushless

Brushless motors are motors that do not require a physical commutator. What that means is very little maintenance, if any, is required to ensure the motor is functioning properly.

screen-shot-2014-03-27-at-19-08-37

Benefits of brushless motors:

+ Much faster and more efficient than brushed motors.

+ Very low maintenance

Downsides to brushless:

More expensive than brushed motors

The rating system used for brushless motors is called KV. KV is used to describe the revolutions per minute (RPM) that the motor will turn when a volt is applied with no load attached to the motor (aka revs per volt).

There are some issues about the definition of KV that are discussed here, but all you really need to know is that higher rated KV motors will go faster, and that lower KV motors have more torque, making it better for heavier RC cars.

There are two types of brushless motors: sensored and sensorless.

With sensored motors, there are extra wires used to connect to the electronic speed control (ESC). These wires help the motor have better control.

Sensorless motors are cheap, but they don’t run as smoothly as sensored motors do.

2WD vs 4 WD

2WD drive means that two of the wheels are powered, and 4WD means all four of the wheels are powered. Where you’re driving, what you’re driving, and you’re skill level will help determine which of these is the better option.

For on-road cars, 2WD will be a better choice. The nice thing about 2WD is that it’s more durable than 4WD, and that there is less maintenance required. However, 2WD is more difficult to drive than 4WD.

For off-road driving, 4WD is ideal because it’s much easier to drive. The downside is that 4WD vehicles have lower run times, and require more maintenance since there are more moving parts involved.

Electronic Speed Control (ESC)

ESCs are devices that determine how fast the motor will run. Which ESC you use on your RC car will depend on which motor it is. For brushed motors, you will need a brushed ESC, nd for brushless motors you will need a brushless ESC.

Gears

The two gears that you should know about are the pinion and the spur. The pinion is the gear that’s mounted on the motor, and the spur gear is the larger gear  that’s meshed with the pinion. The combination of the two sizes will be referenced as a gear ratio.

A high gear ratio means a slower speed, but more power. In order to increase the gear ratio, you need to decrease the size of the pinion or increase the size of the spur. In contrast, increasing the size of the pinion or decreasing the size of the spur will mean a faster speed, but less power.

Suspension

Suspension plays a vital role in the performance of an RC car. The suspension helps the car make turns and land jumps. Shocks, springs and pistons are the three main parts of the suspension.

The shocks  absorb any jolt caused by an up or down motion, the springs prevent the car from hitting the ground (especially on hard landings), and the pistons inside the spring prevent the car from bouncing around.

Batteries

lipobatteryThere are two types of batteries that are typically used with RC cars. These two batteries are lithium polymer(LiPo) and nickel-metal hydride (NiMH). NiMH batteries are cheaper and relatively safer than lipo batteries, which makes this battery ideal for beginners.

However, LiPo is a better investment since it lasts longer and provide more power. Lipo has a rating system called “C”, which represents how fast a battery can deliver power. The higher the c-rating, the faster the battery is.

LiPo is the overall better option. Just make sure that you are charging LiPo batteries correctly to prevent anything bad from happening. When purchasing a battery, make sure you get the correct size, otherwise the battery won’t fit in the car.

Conclusion

I hope this guide was useful to people just starting out. Keep in mind that the information in this guide barely touch the surface in terms of all of the information there is to learn about RC cars. As you spend more time in the hobby, you’ll pick up more and more information and become a better driver.

One Response

  1. D baker May 23, 2017

Leave a Reply