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If you’re curious about the radio controlled (R/C) car hobby, then this page is worth a read! While there’s a huge amount of information on the internet about R/C cars for beginners, it is difficult to know where to start if you’re unfamiliar with the hobby. This page will explain the basics, give you some locally focused RC information, and provide links to some great online articles if anything in particular sparks your interest.
Why are R/C cars such a great hobby?
There’s a lot of great things about the R/C hobby. Sure, it’s easy to understand that RC cars and trucks are fun to drive around, jump over stuff, and race with your friends. But it’s also worth remembering that it’s a learning opportunity; you’ll have a chance to gain a better understanding of both mechanical and electrical systems, along with vehicle handling. Plus there’s a huge feeling of achievement when you successfully build a kit, or replace a broken part and get your car running again. It’s a perfect hobby that gets you playing outside in the fresh air, and doing something that doesn’t involve a computer screen. There’s also a social aspect to the hobby, as there are many local R/C groups with regular events and outings.
But most importantly it’s a fun hobby that doesn’t discriminate between age or gender, so all generations of a family or group of friends can get in on the action.
Hobby Grade vs. Toy Grade
Most people have been exposed to what are known as “toy grade” R/C cars – typically the kind sold in a generic department store like Wal-Mart. Not surprisingly, one of the first things people want to know is how a “hobby grade” RC differs from what they’re familiar with – the toy grade R/C car.
Here’s a quick summary of the main differences:
|Toy-grade cars||Hobby-grade cars|
What R/C car is right for me?
People often ask “What’s a good R/C car?” The answer is simply, “Any R/C car that YOU can have fun with is a good R/C car.” It’s not necessarily the fastest, the biggest, or the most powerful. Whatever appeals to you is what you should get. This section is simply meant to expose you to the different types of R/C cars on the market – there’s no recommendation as to what’s the “best” type of R/C car.
Below is a table of the most common types of radio controlled cars available. There’s a brief description of each type of R/C vehicle to help you decide what sort of car would suit you best. For more information on each R/C discipline, follow the links provided in the table to more detailed pages with links to manufacturers.
|RC Discipline||Off-Road Racing||On-Road Racing||Trail Trucks||Drifters||Bashers / Fun|
|Classes Available||1/10 scale 2WD and 4WD buggies, Short Course Trucks (SCT), 2WD Stadium Trucks, 1/8 4WD buggies||1/10 and 1/18 scale 4WD touring cars, 1/12 scale ‘pan’ cars, 1/10 scale Formula1||Typically 1/10 scale 4×4 off-road trucks such as Jeeps or pickup trucks. Very realistic appearance.||1/10 4WD or RWD cars that slide or “drift” around corners. Very realistic appearance.||Monster trucks and buggies of all sizes.|
|Driving Surface and Style||Dirt or grass tracks with jumps and bumps.||Smooth asphalt or carpet tracks.||Muddy, rocky and snowy trails in the woods or other wilderness areas.||A variety of smooth surfaces (pavement, smooth concrete, tiled floors).||Pretty much anywhere, pavement or dirt, doing jumps and zipping around.|
|Read the rest of this page before you click on the links below|
|More Info||Off-Road Racing||On-Road Racing||Trail Trucks||Drifters||Bashers / Fun|
How fast do they go?
It’s a question often asked by passersby, and it’s not a straightforward answer. Most R/Cs travel somewhere between 25 and 70 km/hr. There are some exceptions, of course. Off-road trail trucks are meant to tackle very rugged terrain, and usually travel somewhere between a walking and jogging pace. On the other end of the spectrum, with the correct skill level and certain modifications, R/C cars can be made to travel even faster than 70km/hr. With today’s battery and motor technology, you can pretty much make an RC car go as fast as you want them to, as long as you have the skill and an appropriate place to run them.
Where can you use them?
As you have read in the table above, lots of R/C cars can drive on any terrain, but it’s important to find an appropriate place to use them. Your own yard is a great starting point, and the Halifax R/C Park in Beaver Bank is a totally enclosed area that has a basher area that is perfect for getting to grips with how they drive. You should always be considerate of others who might be using the space where you are driving. Take care around people and animals if you take your R/C car to a park or other public place. And always keep off the streets when there are 1:1 (life-size) cars driving around.
How much do they cost?
Prices for a hobby grade R/C car start from about $180 Ready-To-Run (RTR) before tax. A more advanced model would be around $250-$500 before tax. Of course, just as you can build a $10,000 mountain bike, you can spend more than $500 on an R/C with upgrades if you wish. We always advise to start at a budget you are comfortable with to see how you enjoy it and go from there. Even the cheapest hobby grade R/C cars might seem like a lot of money to some people, but there are a few things to consider:
- Like anything in life, you get what you pay for. The higher quality electronics, stronger materials, increased power, higher speed, better handling, etc., of hobby grade R/Cs drive prices up.
- Hobby grade R/Cs do not sell in the massive numbers that toy grade R/Cs do. The combination of better quality and smaller sales numbers drive prices of hobby grade R/Cs up relative to toy grade R/Cs.
- Investing in a hobby grade R/C means that you are investing in a HOBBY. You can get many years of enjoyment from a hobby grade R/C, as they are better quality than toy grade R/Cs. And, as explained previously, you can buy replacement parts to fix crash damage with a hobby grade R/C, meaning that you can protect your investment.
- If you choose to progress into the hobby and get additional vehicles, then some of the equipment you got with the first can be used with the second (tools, batteries, chargers, and maybe even the transmitter).
- Cost is relative. A video game console costs easily $400+ these days, and games are often $50+. So there are many other popular forms of recreation that involve a similar investment.
RTR or Kit?
Radio controlled cars are available primarily in two formats:
- Ready-to-run (RTR) – The box from the store contains everything you need to get the car going with about 5 minutes of basic assembly plus the time it takes to charge the battery (usually a few hours). It’s a way to get the quality and performance of a hobby grade RC with the convenience of a toy grade RC.
- Kit – The box contains the parts and hardware (screw, nuts, washers, etc.) to build the vehicle yourself. The kit will usually come with a body that you paint and adorn with stickers in a personalized way. Kits include detailed instructions to guide you through the construction process. When you are finished, you’ll have a “rolling chassis”. However, you will have to buy some other electronic components separately to get the model running. This has the advantage of allowing you to choose components that you prefer. Some kits do include some of the electronic components, while some don’t include any. So make sure you know what a kit includes before purchasing.
Historically, hobby grade R/Cs were kits, but nowadays virtually all major R/C manufacturers offer RTR models. In fact, the majority of R/Cs on the market today are RTR. Whether you buy an RTR or a kit really depends on personal preference – some people enjoy the building process of a kit, while some want the convenience of an R/C that’s ready to go right away.
It is worth noting that an RTR is often cheaper than the same model built from a kit. As the RTR has everything bundled into one package (usually including a battery and basic charger), there is usually a considerable savings on the cost of electronics that would have to be purchased separately to complete a kit. Having said that, there are many reasonably priced kits on the market.
You could also buy someone’s previously loved car, which may include enough to get you going, or require you to add some missing items. You’ll probably get a bit of dirt in the deal too! If you’re looking at a used vehicle, and you’re new to the hobby, we highly recommend that you get advice from someone who has R/C hobby experience. An experienced R/Cer can help you make an informed (and wise) decision.
Where can you buy one?
There are two options available; a local hobby shop (LHS), or online (at a hobby shop or supplier much further away). If it’s your first RC car, then we generally recommend going into a local hobby shop and talking with the staff there. Try any of the following Maritime hobby stores:
Mighty Small Cars – http://www.mightysmallcars.com/ – 552 Windmill Road, Dartmouth, NS, B3B 1B3. +1 902-423-9298
Maritime Hobbies and Crafts – http://www.maritimehobbies.com/ – 1521 Grafton St, Halifax, NS, B3J 2B9. +1 902-423-8870
RC Wings & Wheels – http://www.rcwings.com/ – 215 Dominion Street, Bridgewater, NS. +1 902-530-3169
Great Hobbies – http://www.greathobbies.com – 171 Buchanan Drive, Charlottetown, PEI, C1E 2E4. +1 902-569-3262
Freedom Hobbies – http://www.freedomhobbies.ca/ – 3134 Main St., Salisbury NB Canada E4J 2L6 . +1 506 215-FREE (3733)
Good Time RC Hobbies – https://www.facebook.com/GoodTimeRCHobbies – 868 Smith’s Cove, Digby, NS. (902) 245-5747
Canadian Stores Further Away
The Zoom Room – http://thezoomroom.ca/ – 16700 Bayview Ave. Unit 24, Newmarket, Ontario, L3X 1W1. (905) 836-7893
Try’d and True Discount Hobbies – https://www.facebook.com/Tryd-and-True-Discount-hobbies-9054339074-576-Ritson-rd-south-Oshawa-Ont-721065274642769/ – 576 Ritson Road, Oshawa, Ontario. (905) 433 9074
Galaxy Hobby – http://www.galaxyhobby.ca/ – Unit 17, 3663 Mavis Road, Mississauga, Ontario L5C 2Z2. (905) 848 3368
International Online Stores
WARNING – prices are generally shown in US dollars, and shipping is always an additional cost (and if your order included LiPo batteries then shipping will be quite expensive). It’s worth remembering that there will also be an additional charge (taxes and customs commission) when the packages arrive at your door/mailbox. There’s lots of intricacies with ordering from outside of Canada so we have a dedicated page for tips to avoid unnecessary fees.
Tower Hobbies – http://towerhobbies.com/
A Main Performance Hobbies – http://www.amainhobbies.com/
Hobbyking – http://www.hobbyking.com/
RCMart – http://www.rcmart.com/
….and many more.
Engines or Motors?
Something we’ve not mentioned are those R/C cars powered by an internal combustion fuel engine. There are both nitro and gasoline powered RCs on the market today and there are many experienced users of those types of cars. However, with modern battery and electric motor technology, the majority of RCers run electric cars and trucks. Electric cars are very quiet compared to nitro and gas cars, which make them easier to use while being considerate of your neighbors. Electric cars are cleaner, easier and typically less temperamental to work with. Today’s high output electric RCs are now as powerful as, and accelerate more quickly than, nitro and gas ones. The remaining advantage of nitro and gas cars is only run-time, where cars with engines can run almost continually so long as they are refueled every 30min or so. If you have a real need to hear the noise and smell the exhaust from an engine, then feel free to consider a nitro or gas car, but be aware that they require more maintenance and tuning.
It is also important to note that some privately-owned RC tracks do not allow gas or nitro RCs due to noise concerns. Always make sure that gas or nitro RCs are allowed at the venue you are planning to visit.
If you want to hear a nitro car and an electric car then check out this video showing both nitro and electric vehicles:
What makes an RC work
This section is a bit more complicated, so you may not want to read it right now – and it’s focused on electric powered cars. But it contains most of the basic information you will need to be aware of when getting into the RC hobby. In a nutshell, these are the components you need to make your RC work; below we give you some additional information about the main electronic parts and the important things to consider when choosing them.
The driver of an RC car holds a Radio or Transmitter (sometimes shortened to Tx). That device sends a signal to the car that depends upon the trigger, wheel, or stick position in your hand. The transmitter has a number of channels, which for a car is a minimum of 2. One channel for steering (left and right) and one channel for the throttle (forward, brake and reverse). You may need more channels for things like changing gears, or rear-wheel-steering on more complex vehicles. A transmitter is normally powered by some standard AA-size batteries. Most modern radios work on the 2.4Ghz frequency and are designed so they don’t interfere with one another. What does that mean? – it means you can have fun driving your vehicle with a group of enthusiasts without worrying about losing control of your vehicle. More cars together equals more fun!
The Receiver (sometimes shortened to Rx) is a little black box that receives the signals from the transmitter/radio. It has an antenna wire, a series of 3-pin connector ports (usually one for each channel), and often an additional battery (batt) port and bind port. The batt port is there for power to enter the receiver and supply energy to the servos. However, most modern electric vehicles do not need this additional power, and actually take it from the main battery (below). The bind port is used occasionally to ensure that the receiver and transmitter are talking on the same frequency.
Servos are what makes the steering move from left to right. A servo is a box that contains a motor, gearbox, and some feed-back circuitry that holds its output shaft in a steady position as demanded by the driver. It plugs directly into one of the ports on the receiver. A servo is normally defined by how much torque it has (how strong it is) in oz-in, or kg-cm, and how fast it moves from side to side (typically over a 60° arc). A strong and fast servo might have 10kgcm (140ozin) of torque and take only 0.06seconds to move. It’s also worth considering waterproof (WP) servos. Physically, servos come in a few different sizes but that vast majority are a standard size. They have a splined output shaft that has a specific number of ridges depending upon manufacturer – most have 25 ridges and are referred to as 25T, but some might be 23T or 24T. There is no one-size-fits all servo so the best servo really depends on the type of vehicle you choose.
The electric motor is the main component that produces movement. They come in two varieties – Brushed and Brushless. While you may want to go as fast as you possibly can, it’s important to learn how to control the vehicle at reasonable speeds before going really fast. Making an RC car go fast normally costs more for the electronics, gives shorter run-times and results in more breakages when you crash. Our advice to beginners is always to start with a moderately powerful vehicle that gives the right balance of fun and control.
Brushed motors were the norm in RC until about 5 years ago and are still used by many trail trucks due to their ability to better deal with submersion in water. Brushed motors have brushes that rub against the spinning commutator, causing the motor to spin. As such, the brushes and commutator wear over time, so brushed motors certainly have a finite life. However, a well-maintained brushed motor will be very reliable and will last a long time. The most important thing to note are the turns of the motor as this typically indicates the performance. Turns are the number of wraps of the internal wire around the armature (the spinning part of the motor). A low turn (T) motor (8T to 10T) will be very fast at the expense of torque. A high turn motor (>25T) will be relatively slow but will have superior torque, and will allow for a longer run-time of your vehicle. Trail trucks use motors up to 80T, which have incredible torque to drive them over obstacles.
Brushless motors are becoming more and more common. They are more efficient than brushed motors and have very few components that can wear out unless they are abused. They come in two varieties – sensored and sensorless. Sensored have better control of the motor via a matching speed controller (below) which knows the position of the spinning rotor at any time via a ribbon cable between the motor and speed controller. A sensorless motor is cheaper and runs open-loop similar to a brushed motor. They are specified in kV or as a number of wire turns (T) within the motor. The higher the kV, the faster the motor, but the lower the torque. So a 2000kV motor turns 2000 times for each volt applied to it. With a typical 7.4V supplied from a battery that gives around 14800rpm (revolutions per minute) maximum speed (at no load). The motor we chose as an example is also called a 17.5T by the manufacturer and that is a popular “stock” class motor roughly equivalent in performance to a 27T brushed motor.
Electronic Speed Controller
The Electronic Speed Control (ESC) is the component that converts the signal from the receiver into a demanded rotation of the motor. It’s a ‘black box’ that does some clever stuff with signals and the power coming from the battery. In fact the battery plugs directly to it and the ESC then distributes most of the power to the motor, and a small amount to the other electronics (receiver and servo). The ESC typically comes as a brushed (2 wire) or brushless (3 wire) version to match the motor your running, but there are speed controllers out there that are smart enough to run either motor type. They require calibration when you first turn them on, and have the ability to control Forward, Reverse and often a Brake between them. Brushed ESCs are pretty straightforward but may have some simple choices of whether you have forward and brakes only, or forward and reverse, or forward, brake and reverse. The brushless ESCs normally come with a simple way to fine tune some of the features like the strength of the drag-brake. Higher end brushless ESCs have a dedicated programming box or a way to connect it to a computer to adjust settings like boost, turbo, timing, brakes, blinky/stock mode (a ‘basic’ setting required for some race classes).
RC batteries typically come in two varieties. NiMH (Nickle-Metal Hydride) and LiPo (Lithium Polymer). The vast majority of hobbyists are using LiPo now, but NiMh are common in beginners vehicles.
For a given motor, ESC, and gear ratio, the main thing that determines how fast your car goes is the battery voltage. And the thing that determines how long the car drives before the battery runs down is the capacity.
NiMH are the older variety and are individual cylindrical cells (Sub-C size) each with a voltage of 1.2V. For a 1/10 scale car, they are typically combined in a battery pack of 6-cells equating to a voltage of 7.2V. NiMH are quite heavy, but are tolerant to misuse and mischarging and can be discharged to zero without much in the way of problems. They’re cheaper than LiPo batteries and the charging process is straightforward.
LiPo batteries are a more recent introduction to RC and have a higher energy density than NiMH. They come in battery packs built from multiple cells of 3.7V each. A pack of one cell is called a 1S pack so most 1/10 scale cars run a 2S pack (7.4V), and 1/8 vehicles run 4S pack (14.8v) or more. The battery packs are available most popularly in hardcase versions for RC cars, but are all really softcase cells inside (which is similar to the battery in you smartphone). Apart from the main + (red) and – (black) cables, a LiPo also has another connector called the balance port. It is used by the charger or low voltage alarm for measuring the voltage in each cell.
You might have noticed that LiPo batteries have a higher voltage than NiMH and that equates to more speed out of your car, which is one of the reasons they are considered an upgrade. The other is that they are quite a bit lighter in weight than a NiMH pack so your vehicle becomes more efficient. Also, the voltage of a LiPo battery does not drop under load as much as a NiMH battery does. So, if one compared a 2s 7.4V LiPo battery to a 7 cell NiMH (8.4V), the LiPo would feel “stronger”, or more powerful, under real world driving conditions, even though the nominal (no load) voltage is lower than the NiMH.
HOWEVER, LiPo batteries require extra care when being used and charged. LiPo battery fires are not unheard of, and ‘puffed‘ packs should be disposed of immediately in the proper fashion. The ESC you use should have a low voltage cutoff (LVC) as if any of the cells in your battery pack drop below 3.0V then you may damage that cell. An ESC may only be monitoring the whole pack and while the total voltage of 2s pack might still be 6v, one of the two cells in the pack could in theory be 2.8V while the other is 3.2V so we’d always advise using a LVC set a good bit higher than 3.0V/cell. Or you can use a low voltage alarm board plugged into the balance port that measures the voltage of each cell independently and notifies you with a loud beep if one cell drops below your set threshold.
When charging a LiPo battery, the balance port should be used to ensure that each cell remains balanced to one another. Most people charge their LiPo batteries such that each cell reaches 4,2V. During charging the LiPo should be placed in a battery-safe bag or other secure container. An ammo box is popular both for charging safely and for storage. ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU ARE USING A CHARGER SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED FOR LiPo BATTERIES!!!
The final detail about LiPo batteries is their C rating, which is really a measure of how much power the battery can deliver, i.e. how quickly can you suck the electricity out of the battery. The higher the C the harder you can run the pack.
For both battery varieties, the run-time of your car is mostly dependent upon the capacity of your battery. Capacity is measured in mAh (milli Amp hour) and ranges from somewhere around 3000mAh to 7000mAh. The bigger the number the longer your run time.
A NiMH charger charges the whole battery pack at some Amp (A) rating (maybe 3-8A) depending on how fast you want it to be charged). Even the most simple chargers normally measure the voltage of the pack and if they see a drop in voltage then they determine that the peak has been reached and they stop charging.
A LiPo charger is a little more complicated. It charges at a variable rate up to some maximum that you set which typically equals 1/1000 of the mAh capacity of the pack. So if you have a 5000mAh pack, you set your charger to a maximum charge rate of 5A. You can charge faster if you like but that may damage the pack. And although optional, most people recommend balance charging your batteries so that each cell in the pack stays matched to one another. This balance charging requires you to connect the main + and – cables and the balance leads. The charge will have a high voltage cutoff that is generally somewhere around 4.2V/cell. The charger may also have a storage charge setting that stops charging when each cell is at 3.85V which is a good medium value for when you’re not going to use it for a few days. ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU ARE USING A CHARGER SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED FOR LiPo BATTERIES!!!
Some chargers are AC/DC, while others are DC only (12v supply required – like the socket in a full-scale car). We recommend choosing an AC/DC charger so you can charge at home, and “in the field” or at the track.