Buying your first RC car

Top 5 things you need to consider

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Learn what you need to know before you buy!

Before you buy your first RC car, there are a few things you need to take into consideration so you end up with the perfect vehicle for you. The most important ones being the vehicle type, its size, how it is powered, whether or not you want to build it or get a Ready-To-Run (RTR) and are you planning to race with it. The massive selection of vehicles can be overwhelming unless you are prepared with some vital information and this article will help you to successfully navigate through the numerous vehicle choices so you donít waste your money on the wrong one.

TYPES OF VEHICLES

Variety is the spice of life and with a big selection of different types of vehicles, this idiom definitely holds true for radio control. Think of any full-size wheeled vehicle and there is a good chance there is a radio controlled counterpart for it. Not only that, there are RC cars and trucks that are not modeled after a full-size vehicle at all and were created just for racing like 1/8-scale buggies and truggies. This leads to one of the questions you need to ask yourself. Which is more important, scale realism or high-performance? This does not necessarily mean you must choose one over the other, but it is a good idea to get an idea as to what interests you more. There are vehicles that walk the line between scale realism and high-performance like the Axial SCX10 line of trucks while there are vehicles at either end of the spectrum and everywhere in-between.

On-Road

As you start your search, the field of vehicles can be narrowed by dividing them into two basic categories, on-road and off-road. On-road cars are purpose-built to drive on flat, paved or concrete surfaces. In this category you can find all types of realistic-looking vehicles like production and race cars, commonly called touring cars, along with formula one, rally, dragsters, drift, semi trucks and even motorcycles. On-road is perfect if speed is your goal and/or if you want to hone your driving ability.

Off-Road

The off-road category is packed with many types of vehicles that can traverse all kinds of terrain. There are monster trucks, stadium trucks, short course trucks, desert trucks and buggies, dune buggies, rock crawlers, trail trucks, construction equipment and truggies which are a combination of a monster truck and a buggy. Off-road vehicles are built to be extra tough to handle harsh terrain and allow you to drive them nearly anywhere. This is typically the best option for your first car so that you are not limited with where you can run it and it will stand up to the abuse you will put it through as you learn how to control it.

Once you get a general idea of what you are looking for, it is time to consider a few things to help ensure you end up with the right type of car for you. It is possible that as you start your hunt, you may change your mind and end up with something completely different than what you expected.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT SCALE

Radio controlled cars are available in many sizes which is referred to as scale. The most common scale is 1/10-scale and this basically means the RC car is one-tenth the size of the full-size car it is modeled after. Another way to think about it is the full-size car is ten times larger than the RC version. Now, the term scale is not always an exact measurement of the vehicle in question, but more of a generalization to give you an idea of its size. There are the very large vehicles starting with 1/4- and 1/5-scale cars that measure over three feet in length and on the other side of the spectrum are mini and micro cars that can be as small as 1/64-scale, which is basically the size of a matchbox car. An easy way to remember scale is the larger the second number, the smaller the vehicle. Since this is your first RC car, shoot for something in the middle of the size range like a 1/10-scale unless space is extremely limited and you need to get something smaller like a 1/16-scale.

BENEFITS OF SELECTING 1/10-SCALE

  • You will have the largest selection of vehicles to choose from.
  • Its relatively small size makes it possible to drive almost anywhere.
  • Since it is a common scale, it will be easier to get help with any questions that might come up once you own the new vehicle.
  • Sourcing electronics and other accessories will be easier.
  • Easy to transport and does not take large amounts of storage space.
  • Can be easily worked on at a desk or bench.

ELECTRIC OR NITRO/GAS?

There are two choices for the way RC cars are powered; by either an electric motor fed by rechargeable batteries or with an internal combustion engine which can be nitro or gas. Nitro refers to the type of fuel used in a nitro engine and is short for nitromethane while a gas engine is exactly what you would think; an engine that burns gasoline.

I highly recommend getting an electric-powered vehicle for your first RC car. Between the two power choices, electric offers a simple flip of a switch to get running, is more reliable, there is less maintenance involved and it is just plain less complex than running an internal combustion engine. On top of that, electric cars are quieter so you wonít disturb your neighbors, are a lot less messy and are capable of unbelievable performance through use of brushless motors and Lithium Polymer (LiPo) battery packs.

Now donít get me wrong; I am not saying to write-off nitro/gas vehicles altogether. As you gain experience in this hobby and you become adept with your electric powered ride, then look into a nitro or gas car. The technology for internal combustion engines in RC has come a long way and are better now than they have ever been. There is also a cool-factor when running a fuel-burning machine as it appeals to your sense of sight, hearing and scent. Not only do the engines sound and smell realistic, they create somewhat of a spectacle especially when a thick plume of smoke streams out of the exhaust pipe when under hard acceleration. The majority of the internal combustion engines are nitro because gas engines tend to be larger and therefore are mostly used in larger size vehicles like 1/5-scale. It should be noted that recently a couple gas-powered 1/8-scale vehicles are due to hit the market and they are equipped with newly developed, smaller size gas enginesóthe HPI Savage XL Octane and Losi LST XXL 2 monster trucks.

READY-TO-RUN OR A BUILD-IT-YOURSELF KIT?

Ready-To-Run

Ready-To-Run (RTR) cars are a quick and easy entry into the hobby where the vehicle comes out of the box completely assembled with the electronics installed and the body already painted, decaled and trimmed for you. When comparing RTR vehicles, make sure you check to see if there is additional equipment needed to get it running. Some require a battery pack and charger for the car and ďAAĒ batteries for the transmitter which is used to control the car, while others are 100-percent complete with nothing extra needed to buy. This is a perfect option if you have no experience at all with radio control and you are not terribly handy. It will allow you to get your feet wet and as you own your car or truck, you will begin to understand the mechanics of how it works and will be able to maintain and fix your ride. Companies like Arrma, Axial, Duratrax, ECX, Helion, HPI, Kyosho, Losi, Team Associated, Traxxas and Vaterra all make excellent RTRs and should be on your list to check out.

There are variations on the RTR, namely a Race Roller and an Almost-Ready-To-Run (ARR). Race Rollers are typically reserved for competition-level vehicles where the chassis is completely assembled and sometimes equipped with race-ready modifications, but no electronics are installed or included and if it has a body, it is clear and requires painting. This allows you to install the exact running gear you want so that it suits the type of racing you are going to do. A good example of a Racer Roller is the TLR 8IGHT-T 2.0 Truggy. The ARR is generally referring to a vehicle that has an assembled chassis and needs some or all of the electronics and the body may or may not be painted. HobbyKing offers many of its vehicles in ARR trim where all you need to supply is a 2-channel radio system and battery pack. It needs to be noted that terms Race Roller and ARR donít mean the same thing to all manufacturers and will require you to verify the trim level of the vehicle before you buy it.

Build-it-yourself kits

The other option is a kit where you would have to build the car from parts and purchases the electronic gear separately as well as the paint for the body. Most kits require the radio system (transmitter and receiver), a steering servo, speed control, motor, and battery. Just check the specific kit that you are considering to discover exactly what is needed. For instance, some will include a speed control and motor and some will not.

If you are even slightly mechanically inclined, a kit is worth your consideration. Building a kit is a great way to gain understanding of how your vehicle works right down to the smallest gear in the drivetrain. It therefore makes you a more knowledgeable hobbyist and more likely to fix your vehicle if it breaks instead of paying someone to do it for you. You also gain the sense of accomplishment once it is built and you successfully drive it for the first time. If you choose to take this path, I strongly suggest a kit from Tamiya as they produce exceptional, high-quality kits that are very easy to build thanks to flawless fit and finish of the parts and outstanding instruction manuals that are clearly illustrated and effortless to understand.

BASH OR RACE

It is a good idea to decide if you plan to race with your new vehicle or just bash wherever the RC adventure brings you. If you want to race then you should go down to the local track or hobby shop and see what types of vehicles are being raced in your area and this will give you an idea on what you should get. You might have your heart set on racing a 4WD buggy only to find out that nobody is racing that class in your area. You can take it a step further and not only get a vehicle in the class that is being raced but purchase the same car that is the most popular. This way racers at the track can help you with setting up the vehicle for the track and you know you will be able to get replacement parts for when that time comes.

ADDITIONAL BUYING TIPS

Once you get your search narrowed down for your first RC vehicle, here are a few additional buying tips to help make your final decision.

You Get What You Pay For

When you hunt for your first RC car, you will be enticed by companies that are offering super cheap cars where the cost is way lower than other brandís vehicles of the same type. Remember that you get what you pay for and if you go with an ultra-cheap price tag, you will end up with either a cheaply made vehicle, one with poor performance or one that requires a bunch of accessories to get it rolling. I am a firm believer to spend a bit more on the front end and this will keep you from spending a lot of money later on. A cheap vehicle might require you to purchase expensive option parts to improve it or you will be constantly replacing broken/worn parts or possibly both. Not only that, it is also a giant waste of your time and even more money. So, to put it simply, Donít Buy Cheap!

The Local Hobby Shop Is Your Friend

Although there are savings to be had when buying your car via mail-order, the Local Hobby Shop or LHS is a great source for getting information to help you decide on your first car and then can help with your new vehicle once you get it. A LHS for me here in Connecticut is RC Hobbies and More and they have proven time and again how helpful they can be. The shop is loaded with inventory and run by a knowledgeable staff. So, be sure to seek out your LHS to get their guidance and build a relationship with them.

2WD Vs. 4WD

Vehicles can either be two-wheel-drive (2WD) or four-wheel-drive (4WD) and you will have to decided which is more important to you. 2WD vehicles tend to be more affordable, are easier to work on and require less maintenance. The trade-off is that 4WD vehicles are easier to drive with better handling characteristics and can traverse more difficult obstacles if your choose an off-road vehicle.

Parts Support

Even the best car can become virtually useless if you canít get your hands on replacement parts. It is inevitable that RC cars break, regardless of how expensive they are, and you will have to get it fixed. In your search for your first car, see if parts are readily available. Definitely check and see what parts your LHS carries and that can help you make up your mind.

Hop-Up Option Parts

The availability of hop-up option parts should not be a major determining factor when making your decision. Even if there are not specific parts available for your vehicle, you will still be able to make upgrades with universal components like the motor or engine, radio system, servos, wheels and tires, body, gearing, ball bearings and even hardware.

Is It Easy To Work On?

Once you have the possible contenders listed for your first RC car, look into whether or not it is easy to work on. Some vehicles can be complex or have elaborate chassis that make it difficult to disassemble in order to perform routine maintenance, make repairs or add upgrades too.

What Support Equipment Is Required?

Chances are if you are planning to purchase a RTR, you wonít have to buy much else to get the vehicle rolling and keep it rolling. Nevertheless, you should still investigate if there are other items that are needed to buy because those items can make the cost of your vehicle increase dramatically.

Good luck on your purchase and have a blast with your first RC car!

Last edited by Paul Onorato; May 07, 2014 at 02:43 PM..
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May 07, 2014, 04:26 PM
Fan of just about anything RC
SoloProFan's Avatar
Clearly put. Since parts of this question is also covered in the Electric Car Faq thread (https://www.rcgroups.com/forums/show....php?t=1961030) I added a link to this topic as well, for extra info.
Last edited by SoloProFan; May 08, 2014 at 03:34 AM.
May 07, 2014, 06:42 PM
Time For Me To Fly!
fastmax's Avatar
Very nicely done. This should assist many newcomers in making a better decision.
May 07, 2014, 07:37 PM
Always Indecisive
electricrc68's Avatar
Nice write up! It really has a lot of good information...heck, I didn't even know some of it even though I've been in the hobby for 3 years!
May 07, 2014, 09:01 PM
Ph.D. - Chocolate Chip Cookies

article


Thanks for the thorough article.
May 07, 2014, 10:05 PM
DFS#000178
Rampage's Avatar
I will always, ALWAYS recommend a 1st timer get a kit over an RTR. That way they know the mechanics of the vehicle and how to fix it when they break it. God knows how many people I know have tried to get into it, snapped an A-arm and shelved their car/truck over a simple fix because they couldn't wrap their head around a simple repair. Because they didn't build the vehicle and had no idea how it worked.

Kits are getting scarce and what kits remain are usually expensive or team-based race kits, but they aren't impossible to find. I'll always recommend a kit first.
May 07, 2014, 11:55 PM
Cookie
10x8's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rampage
I will always, ALWAYS recommend a 1st timer get a kit over an RTR. That way they know the mechanics of the vehicle and how to fix it when they break it. God knows how many people I know have tried to get into it, snapped an A-arm and shelved their car/truck over a simple fix because they couldn't wrap their head around a simple repair. Because they didn't build the vehicle and had no idea how it worked.

Kits are getting scarce and what kits remain are usually expensive or team-based race kits, but they aren't impossible to find. I'll always recommend a kit first.
Totally, absolutely agree with you.
May 08, 2014, 01:30 AM
"Do not touch the trim!"
jhazz138's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rampage
I will always, ALWAYS recommend a 1st timer get a kit over an RTR. That way they know the mechanics of the vehicle and how to fix it when they break it. God knows how many people I know have tried to get into it, snapped an A-arm and shelved their car/truck over a simple fix because they couldn't wrap their head around a simple repair. Because they didn't build the vehicle and had no idea how it worked.

Kits are getting scarce and what kits remain are usually expensive or team-based race kits, but they aren't impossible to find. I'll always recommend a kit first.
I do not disagree with this way of thinking however I think the plus side of rtr is that you get to have the fun of driving before you have to work on it. And lets be realistic if someone wont fix an A arm will they build a kit? I'm about a year and a half into things and I'm thinking kit from now on. I wish there were more out there now that I know what I want and need in a truck. When it comes down to it whate er gets you driving is kool with me! Oh ya nice write up!
May 08, 2014, 06:43 AM
Ph.D. - Chocolate Chip Cookies
Seems like the kits are harder to come by. The rtr is typically to cheap for my style of driving. I would rather pay a bit more, get better parts, and enjoy the assembly because its part of the hobby. I'd like to see a website www.rckitsonly.com or something neat like that for the serious hobbyist in the future.
May 08, 2014, 10:27 AM
DFS#000178
Rampage's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by jhazz138
I do not disagree with this way of thinking however I think the plus side of rtr is that you get to have the fun of driving before you have to work on it. And lets be realistic if someone wont fix an A arm will they build a kit? I'm about a year and a half into things and I'm thinking kit from now on. I wish there were more out there now that I know what I want and need in a truck. When it comes down to it whate er gets you driving is kool with me! Oh ya nice write up!
Kits come with detailed instructions and a repair is generally as simple as reversing those instructions until you learn the ins and outs of the vehicle.

I've never owned an RTR that came with build instructions and it was always a sort of "figure it out on your own" kind of process.

At best I'd be able to look up an exploded view online, or find the kit version of the same vehicle and look at the manual.
May 08, 2014, 01:30 PM
"Do not touch the trim!"
jhazz138's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rampage
Kits come with detailed instructions and a repair is generally as simple as reversing those instructions until you learn the ins and outs of the vehicle.

I've never owned an RTR that came with build instructions and it was always a sort of "figure it out on your own" kind of process.

At best I'd be able to look up an exploded view online, or find the kit version of the same vehicle and look at the manual.
This is why these forums are so important. And why I realy apreciate the knowedge that gets passed on by you more experienced guys!
May 08, 2014, 04:26 PM
efx
efx
Rookie in training, heads up
efx's Avatar
I've always hated the words "hop-ups" instead of just saying upgrades since that's basically what you do when you replace a plastic part for a cnc part for example. It always sounded like someone that couldn't figure out a word for that, said it and everyone else just kept repeating it. You are not jumping on anything or mounting a horse. Okay I'm just messing around with that, but yeah. I agree, my old Tamiya kits are still working fine after all these years.
Last edited by efx; May 08, 2014 at 09:02 PM.
May 08, 2014, 06:29 PM
Kowalski !.....Options
mredzadventure's Avatar
Great article Paul keep -em coming
May 08, 2014, 06:56 PM
Paul Onorato's Avatar
Thread OP
Thanks for the kind words guys.

By the way, just want to make sure you guys saw it...we are giving away the TrakPower VR-1 charger with DPS power supply. Here is the link: https://www.rcgroups.com/forums/show....php?t=2159089
May 11, 2014, 06:50 AM
Registered User
632bigduke's Avatar
Great article
I've always bought ARTR because I've never got time to build a kit.
I thought I'd jump on a HPI SS kit thinking it was just bolt on and set up .
Boy was I WRONG!! These things come in a 1000 parts . I really thought at the very lest the tranny and diff wound be built seeing how most " newbie " DO NOT HAVE ALL THE LITTLE TOOLS " to build these "kits "
I couldn't believe that HPI sells a kit that the owner has to build the tranny and diff ??!!
So for a new guy thinking " I'll get a kit so I can learn " you better think twice unless you've got days and hours of time and TOOLS and the biggest thing " know how " your asking for trouble lol.
I've been running 1/5 gas for years and even I was a bit lost on the 1000 parts kit lol
The tranny and diff wasn't impossible but I can't imagine a totally NEWBIE jumping on this
( HPI SS kit)
So I'd suggest a ARTR and if you have any space at all GAS !! Gas is a very good way to go for many reasons .
1- cheap ($3.50-$5.00 gal depending on your location )
2- run for 20-45 min on 1 tank
3- no glow plugs ($$)
4- no glow plug heaters
5- carb tuning is much easier than nitro ( 90% of the time once set it's good )
6- 2 stroke oil is easily found ( but Honda hp2)
7- almost everyone has or had a weed eater at some point or a small gas engine so the basics are already known .

Nitro IMHO is fading out and it's so $$$$
Tuning is crazy for new guy because the engines are always responding to outside temp and air .
Theres more nitro issues but you get the point . I've got 2 losi nitro trucks and 1 nitro top fuel dragster that a gas motor want EVER be as fast but I'm waiting on these new small 1/10 scale gas motors to hit the market to test in my dragster and dirt dragster .

Electrics are very fast and I've got a few of these but there pavement cars because IMHO the lipos don't last near as long in BAJA style running so my lipo cars are just that "cars" and they are stupid fast on pavement but as I've said IMHO lipo on dirt for me wasn't fun . Im sure if I'd bought $500 lipos and bigger esc / motors then sure they would walk over my gas trucks but I never invest in lipos for 1 car if I can't use those lipos I'm other toys lol

So IMHO and from watching the new market changes GAS is going to be a good choice
I think battery power will always be the 1st choice for new users and that's because there. Intimidated by gas/nitro but once they see , test or see there buddies gas Rc then they will have to get one .
This is just mho and thoughts that I've had as a Rc truck/car guy for over 15yrs and I've always thought nitro was cooler until I got into gas boats !! And a zenoah 26 and 29.5 changed my hole way of thinking lol
Good luck and again
GREAT ARTICLE


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