Who doesn’t find cars intriguing? 😄
Driving fast and cool cars are fun, and there are many types to choose from. But there’s one collection that’s way more exciting to drive and race than the rest.
Yep! These vehicles are called radio-controlled (RC) cars.
If you want to find out everything about RC cars, in easy words for beginners, then you've come to the right place.
We also have a little surprise🤐 on a particular driving skill you'll love to try out.
When you're done reading this article, you'll know a lot about RC cars, and we'll be confident enough to strip you of your 'beginner' title.
Let's get right into it!
What's an RC car? Putting one apart
RC cars are small four-wheeled drives you control with a transmitter. Picture them as models of your favorite full-size sports car or truck, because that's precisely what they are!
Most RCs can fit in your backyard, but we've seen some models you wouldn't consider as miniature.
For any machine to be considered an RC toy, it should have:
- A power source
- A transmitter
- A receiver
- An engine
The engine is the brain of the car. On the other hand, the transmitter has your steering wheel, and it sends information to the receiver.
The primary classification of RC cars
There are many RC cars out there that manufacturers had to put on their thinking caps and group them. Here's the basic way of classifying RC cars:
- On-Road RCs: Well, yeah. These vehicles are made for smooth and paved surfaces. You'll find the most realistic-looking starter RC car in this category, and you can take them for a spin on your driveway, tennis court, or in your garage.
What's unique about on-road RCs: These cars are blazing fast. If you need to go from 0 to 70 mph in no time, then you'll love on-road RC cars.
- Off-road RCs: Off-roads are built for almost any type of terrain. You aren't limited to running them on smooth or flat surfaces because they move effortlessly on grass, gravel, and concrete. If you are looking for something like that - you should search for RC Crawlers. This type of RC car is the best in it!
What's unique about off-road RCs: Off-road RCs have robust suspension systems and are versatile.
Types of RC cars
Next, we have types of hobby RC cars. Don't mix them up with the categories:
- Street RCs: These are the perfect examples of on-road RCs for beginners. They are the fastest RC cars you can get, and you'll need to learn a lot about them before even thinking of getting one.
- Drifts: The name of this type of RC tells you everything you need to know.
Drift RC cars have sleek tires that make it a lot easier to turn the car. Some hobbyists say these RC cars aren't for beginners, but we don't think so. We'll show you how to drift later on.
- Buggies: These cars are at the crossroad between on-road and off-road RCs. They have massive low wheels that help them balance.
- Truggies: Tilting more to off-roads, Truggies look a lot like Buggies. They aren't the fastest type of RCs but can climb any hill you want to get on.
The easy way to tell a Truggy from a Buggy is to look at their wheels. Truggies have monster-like tires.
- Trucks: The last type of RCs are monster trucks. They are the other end of the spectrum and are the perfect off-road example. They could flip over if you try to move too quickly.
|Street||High||Smooth surfaces like driveways|
|Drift||Moderately high||Smooth surfaces|
|Buggy||Average||Averagely smooth and tough surfaces|
|Truggy||Moderately Low||Tough terrains|
|Trucks||Low||Tough terrains like grass|
How RC cars work: The basic mode of operation
You don't need to be an expert or a tech guru to understand how RC cars work. So, here's the step-by-step guide that explains what you need to know.
Let's start with the transmitter. It's a handheld device with joysticks or pistol grips for throttling and turning. You can't use an RC car without a transmitter. So, try not to misplace it.
The receiver, on the other hand, is in the car. Most receivers work on a 2.4 GHz frequency and are either connected to electronic speed controls (ESCs) or servos.
ESCs and servos (which is just a fancy motion director) then make the car to move and control steering, braking, and sometimes, reversing. That's it!
Isn't that all so easy?
How's an RC car powered?
Now, let's move on to where these small machines get their power from. Two things make hobby RC cars to move:
Electric-powered RC Cars and Trucks
Electric-powered RC cars are the most common type you'll find in hobby stores (No, you don't have to plug them to a power outlet). An electric RC gets its power from batteries, and there two common types:
- Lithium Polymer (LiPo): These are batteries for the future. They don't lose their charges quickly.
- Nickel metal hydride (Ni-Mh): These rechargeable batteries are a safer and cheaper option. They are not as durable as LiPo batteries.
Here is a great article with a comparison of these two types.
Batteries are rated in milli-Ampere hours (mAh), and a good one should deliver up to 500 to 8000 mAh for your RC car.
Pros of electric-powered RC cars:
- They are affordable.
- They require less maintenance.
- They are lightning-fast.
- They are environmentally friendly.
Cons of electric-powered RC cars:
- You need to recharge the batteries for a long time.
- These cars have limited run times.
Nitro/Gas powered RC Cars and Trucks
The second option is to power an RC car with nitro or gas. While nitro RCs require methanol-based fuels, gas-powered cars use (guess?) gasoline! 🤗
Unlike electric RCs, nitro-powered vehicles don't rely on batteries to work. The engines have carburetors, air filters, flywheels, clutches, and much other technical stuff.
Nitro-powered engines can be grouped into two:
- Two-stroke engines: These engines fire every time their pistons reach the cylinder top.
- Four-stroke engines: These engines fire at the third stroke after taking in fuel.
Pros of nitro/gas-powered RC cars:
- They deliver a lot of power at once.
- They can run for a long time.
- These cars vroom, which is always a great sound to hear.
Cons of nitro/gas powered RC cars:
- You need to refill the fuel tank often.
- They are a little expensive, more expensive than electric RCs.
- They are more difficult to clean.
Common components of an RC car
Regardless of whether you get an on-road or off-road RC, they'll always have the following components:
- Tires and wheels: As you'll expect, RC cars have four tires, and the front ones could be bigger than the rear tires. The measurements that matter are the wheel radius and offset.
Most RC cars are front-driven, which means you can only control the direction of the front tires.
- Servos: These are small motor-driven systems with in-built feedback elements. The servos in RC cars are placed in the cars.
- Motors: Motors control the parts of an RC car. There are two types of RC motors:
(i) Brushed motors: This type is commonly found in RC cars for beginners. They are either fixed or adjustable.
- They are affordable.
- They have simple wirings.
- They can be rebuilt to extend their shelf-life.
- They require periodic maintenance.
- These motors can be noisy.
(ii) Brushless motors: These top-performing motors don't touch the engine's brushes.
- They require less maintenance time.
- They operate at high speeds while generating low electric noise.
- They are smaller with superior thermal characteristics.
- Their controls are a bit complex.
- They cost a few bucks more than brushed motors.
- Chassis: This is the platform where every other component, like the motors, receiver and the engines are placed on. The chassis in an RC car can be made from plastic or metal.
- Plastic chassis: Carbon-fiber is generally used to make plastic chassis. They are durable and don't add much weight to the vehicle. Most electric RC cars have plastic chassis.
- Metal chassis: This type is common in nitro and gas engines. Most chasses are made from aluminum.
Now that's not all the parts you'll find in an RC car. For example, nitro-powered cars require glow plug igniters to start the engine, and some electric RCs have motherboards.
Understanding RC Car scales
Like we mentioned earlier, most RC cars are small, but there are some huge ones in the market. You'll hear hobbyists talk about scales, but what does that even mean?
A scale is the size of an RC when compared to its full-size counterpart. So, if someone tells you that their RC desert truck is 1/8 scale, then that means that model is eight times smaller than a full-size desert truck. Amazing right?
The thing is most, RC cars don't have full-scale models. So, scales are just a way to group RC cars. 1/10 cars are the most common types of RCs.
Another way hobbyists use the word 'scale' is to describe the style of an RC. Picture an RC car with bumpers, tinted screens, a windscreen, and passenger seats.
That's perhaps as real as it gets. RC cars that look precisely like full-scale models are also known as scaled cars.
How to drive and race an RC car: Learning the controls
It's time for our surprise! (drum roll😀). We'll teach you the basics of how to drive an RC car. Aren't you excited?
- Learn how to use the steering and throttle: The first thing to learn is how to turn and move your RC car. So, you have to master how to use the steering and throttle. It sounds pretty easy, right? Well, it is. The only tough nut to crack might be deciding on what to do when your RC car is coming towards you.
- Master how to reverse and make ovals: Once you know how to use your throttle and steering, then the next thing is to learn how to reverse and trace out ovals.
- Learn how to trace out shapes with your cars: Next, try out other shapes. The easiest at the stage is a triangle or rectangle, but don’t limit yourself. Think of creative shapes to trace out with your nitro or electric-powered RC car.
- Master the jump: You’d find that jumping with your RC is one of the easiest driving skills to learn. All you have to do is to move at the correct speed on a ramp.
- Learn how to drift: The final step and perhaps the most important one is to learn how to drift. This is our surprise for you. You’ll need to master other driving skills before you try this one out. So, when you’re confident that you’ve gotten a hold of the other skills, then here’s what to do when drifting:
- Move at a constant speed for a while and then start increasing your speed.
- Take your hands off the throttle. Then, time your turn at the bend and make sure the rear tires start sliding.
- Start applying the throttle again.
It might take you some time to get. But within a few practice hours, you should be a pro in drifting.
How to start an electric RC car?
Hang in there, we're almost done with the technical stuff.
First, let's look at how to start an electric RC engine.
- Electric drill: Most electric cars are started using an electric drill. All you have to do is push a button or flick the switch to start the engine.
How to start a nitro/gas-powered RC car?
- Pull starter: Remember how you start your lawnmower? Well, that's pretty much the same for RC cars with pull starters. Engines with recoil starters, as they are often called, have a higher center of gravity than others.
- Bump starter: In this method, you'll need to hit the car's flywheel against the starter box. Engines that work on bump starters are lighter than those with pull starters. However, you'll have to carry the starter box around.
In any method we've highlighted above, the proper way to start the RC car is to turn on the transmitter then the receiver.
When you want to turn off your RC car, first switch off the receiver then the transmitter. Don't muddle it up!
Rookie mistakes to avoid when driving an RC car
You could have beginner's luck and get a hold of how to drive an RC car from the get-go. However, if you're like most people, you'll make a couple of mistakes in your first couple of trials.
We'll point them out now, so you'll avoid them:
- Getting the wrong RC car
This is pretty obvious, but a lot of people still make the mistake of getting the wrong RC car. Wrong RC car? Yeah. Some cars aren't meant for beginners. Forget how flashy they look and all the cool features you're told they have for a minute. Start off with something you can manage.
- Pulling the starter when the engine is flooded
Don't let the thrill of trying out your first RC car ruin the experience for you. So, make sure you don't pull the starter when the engine is flooded. But how can you tell when the engine is flooded? Well, you'll know becomes the cord will be difficult to pull.
- Pulling the starter completely
Just like in your lawnmower, you shouldn't pull the starter of your RC car out completely. Anything more than 20 inches will likely make it snap.
- Restraining the wheels
Your RC is not a real-life truck. So, don't put a wedge on its tires. In fact, don't restrict them at all. We know it can be tempting to hold down the throttle and brakes at the same time but resist the urge to do that.
- Throttling while the car is in the air
You'll get to see how fast the tires move by doing this. However, throttling when your RC car is elevated can damage it.
- Not charging your battery, glow igniter or forgetting to fill up the tank
If your car only works for a few minutes, then you most likely didn't charge it or top up the tank before you went out for a run with it. Save yourself the stress and have them charged before you do any other thing.
- Over-oiling your RC car
Your RC car doesn't need a lot of oil like a real car. You only need a light coat of grease on the transmission during maintenance, and you'll be good to go.
- Not reading the manual
Yes, the boring sheets that no one cares to look at. You could follow everything on this list and still have problems driving your RC car.
So, our advice is that you take your time to read the manual that comes with the car.
We know it can be a kill-joy, and you just want to put your new car on the road and go for a spin. But trust us. You'll have less to worry about if you read the manual.
How to maintain a nitro/gas-powered RC car
Just like a regular car, you need to take good care of your nitro-powered RC vehicle. If you take it for a spin frequently, then these steps will become even more relevant to you.
- Clean the air filter: It's easy to forget, but the air filter needs a good clean frequently. Remove and dip it in a water-soap mixture. Then, use your hands to work around it until the dirt and debris go away. Finally, rinse the filter with clean water and air dry it before you put it back into the car.
- Check your glow plug: Next, inspect the glow plug in the car. You'll need a wrench to remove it. Make sure the washer doesn't come off while you are turning the wrench.
Once the glow plug is out, test it with a plug igniter. Most indicators show white or orange when tested with a working glow plug. However, if it doesn't show either of these colors, then it's time to get a new one.
Once you are sure the glow plug is working correctly, you can fix it back in your car.
- Clean and rotate the tires: As you know, these are the only parts of the car that touches the ground. So, you should give them a good wipe with clean water and soap after each run.
Also, check to see how they rotate. Do they move in the same direction? If not, remove and adjust them. You could also take them to your hobby shop if you aren't sure what to do.
- Use dust cleaner: Another thing you should do is to clean the surface of your RC car after each run. Hold it up in one hand, and make sure you get the cleaning fluid over its external parts.
This is an after-run maintenance step you should never forget.
- Ensure your bolts and nuts are tight: The bolts and nuts on your RC could get loose sometime while you drive it around. You've got to be sure that they are always tight, so you don't have parts flying around the next time you take it for a run.
How to maintain an electric RC car?
Next, let's look at steps to maintaining electric RC cars for beginners. Like before, most tips we'll talk about the need to be carried out after you take it out for a spin.
- Charge your battery: Picture this. You're racing with your friend, and your battery dies exactly when you want to drift. Terrible, right?
If you use Li-Po batteries, then you won't need to charge it for a long time before it starts working again.
So, make sure your car is well-charged before each run.
- Clean your motors and differentials: Brushless motors don't have as many parts as brushed motors. Therefore, they'll require fewer maintenance steps. Take out the case and springs, unscrew the parts, and then use compressed air to clean the inside of the motor.
Be careful, so you don't lose any part after disassembling it. You should also put a drop of oil in the bearing or bushing of the car.
Rookie maintenance mistakes to avoid
As you can see, maintaining your first RC car doesn't only involve spraying a fluid over its frame. You could make mistakes, and here are the common ones:
- Submerging your car in water: We know it's tempting and an easy way to clean the car at once. But putting your RC car in water is a terrible idea. Some components could rust, and others like the motors, servos, or brakes might just stop working altogether.
Make sure you only use a light mist of water if it's necessary.
- Forgetting to check for broken parts: Parts break all the time. Don't kick yourself about it. The tough stick is when you don't know you have a defective part, and you still take your car out for a run.
Therefore, neglecting these broken parts is a complete recipe for disaster, and you'll be the cook brewing it all together!
Picking out your RC car
Finally! We can stop being techies and start thinking like business people. Buying RC cars is pretty easy. But what should influence your decision?
Here are a couple of things to consider:
- Purpose: This answers the question, 'what do you want to use your RC car for?' Do you need an RC car for your kid, you want to drive one as your new hobby or you want to have an RC truck with an fpv camera? Perhaps you want to improve your reflexes or hand-eye coordination.
In any hobby store, you'll find flashy and cool cars. But there's always going to be a better model out there. Therefore, before getting your starter RC car, ask yourself where you want to use it and how you intend to drive the car. These will guide you on which one to get.
- Type of RC car: The next thing is to decide the type of RC car your need. That means choosing between off-road and on-road RCs (or something in-between), and then picking one of the five types of RC we've listed earlier. You should have no trouble deciding the perfect RC type for you if you know what you what to use it for.
- Ready-to-run (RTR) vs. Build-it Yourself Kit
Next, you need to consider how the RC car is delivered. RTRs are easy to run. With these RCs, you really don't have much to do. The electronics are in place, the body is painted, and it is already tuned.
RTRs are perfect for complete beginners who don't want to get into the nitty-gritty of fixing parts together.
The other option is to get a build-in kit. In this case, the car will come with most parts you need, but they'll not be assembled. If you have a background on how machines work and want to test your hand with putting an RC car together, then these kits might be perfect for you. Assembling the parts might also be a good way to learn more about the vehicles.
- Power type and speed
Moving on, the next thing to consider is what powers the RC car. You need to make a decision between nitro/gas-powered and electric-powered RC cars and trucks.
The speed of your RC is worth considering as well. Since you're just starting with RC cars, you shouldn't be looking for a real power machine that'll travel at the speed of light (you know that's not possible).
- Size and scale
We've talked about scales in RC cars before. So, now it's time to put what you've learned to practice. Some manufacturers group RC cars for beginners into two sizes: micro and standard. However, the generally acceptable system is to use scales.
Back up for a while and think about why you want to get an RC car. This should guide you on the scale to pick.
- Accessories and spare parts
Next, think about the availability of accessories and spare parts. If this is your first time getting an RC car, then we expect you to crash it often. Heck, some RC cars are built precisely for that! But if there aren't a lot of spares or accessories to use, you might just run into trouble.
RC cars don't cost a fortune. You could get a good one for $100 to $250.
By the way, we've reviewed the best RC cars and trucks for each budget:
- Best RC cars and trucks under $50 (cheap)
- Best RC cars and trucks under $100
- Best RC cars and trucks under $200
- Best RC cars and trucks under $300
- Best RC cars and trucks above $400
However, the price of an RC car depends largely on its type, features, and scale.
A nightmare for every RC driver is for their four-wheeled car to get run over or broken. It's a disheartening experience, especially if it cost you a lot.
But if the car has a warranty, you won't have anything to worry about.
Troubleshooting an RC car
Now, let’s move on to a fun aspect of how to be a problem-fixer.
Well, there’s no problem-fixer without a problem. And when you get your hobby RC car, you’d want to know how to resolve simple problems by yourself.
Here are some troubleshooting tips for you:
- Check the glow plug to see if it is fitted correctly and charged when your nitro-powered engine isn’t starting.
- Make sure your RC car has a reverse function before you try to find out why it isn’t reversing.
- Ensure the batteries in your electric RC car are charged. This could well be the reason the electric car isn’t starting. But not just the ones that power the car. The batteries in the transmitter could also be dead.
- The tires of your car could come off, especially if you built it all by yourself. You could also experience this problem if you’ve been driving your RC car on rough surfaces.
If the tires seem to be coming off, then use a couple of glue beads to hold them in place.
- If everything checks out fine and you still can’t move the car, then you might be using the wrong transmitter for the car.
FAQs about RC cars for beginners
Q1. Where can I buy an RC car?
RC cars are sold on B2B sites, in hobby shops, and some high-end supermarkets. Online stores offer quick deliveries, but you'll get all the tips you'll need from hobby-shops and supermarkets.
Q2. Where can I drive my RC car?
You can take your RC car for a spin in public places like the park or on your lawn. But stay off private properties and major roads. You don't need a license to drive an RC car.
Q3. What's the average playing time with an RC car?
On a full tank or fully charged battery, you can drive your RC car for 20 to 30 minutes.
Q4. Can I build an RC car by myself?
Yes. You can build an RC car yourself. However, you must be mechanically inclined to try this out. There are a lot of wires and components to put together. But, if you're feeling really confident, then give it a shot.
Q5. Should I get someone to teach me how to drive an RC car?
You could get a trainer. However, we think the controls of radio-controlled cars are intuitive. We've included everything you need to know in this article.
Q6. How far out can I drive an RC car?
The driving range depends on the frequency strength of the transmitter. If it is rated at 2.4GHz, then you should easily move between 150ft before you lose signal. But why would you want to drive so far out that you wouldn't be able to see your car?
That was exciting. Wasn't it?
RC cars are fun to drive, and they might be the perfect gift for your kid or any car-enthusiast you know. The great thing is that there are lots of options to choose from and it’s amazing to drive one.
We figure that you'll still find this article on RC cars for beginners useful even after you buy your first car. That’s because it contains tips on how to maintain, drive, and troubleshoot RC cars.
Good luck, dear intermediate RC driver!