Radio Controlled cars have been around for over 20 years. They come in many forms, from the toy store 'super-cool-really-fast-big-winged-monster-machines' to the potent track performers that companies like Hot Bodies, HPI, Team XRay, Team Associated or Tamiya offer (to name a few).
The biggest difference between the two is that the 'remote controlled toy' style cars are just that … toys. If you break a part, you basically throw the car away. Parts are not (normally) sold individually for those cars.
The 'radio controlled' cars are the ones offered by specialty companies such as Hot Bodies, HPI, Team Losi, Kyosho, Traxxas and OFNA. They come in kit form and RTR (Ready To Run). If you break any parts, most hobby shops carry a wide variety of original and aftermarket replacements, and most are inexpensive compared to buying another toy car. The body shells are (in most cases) interchangeable, and range from the Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Lamborghini to the Dodge Stratus, Mazda 6, Honda Accord and Ford Mustang. Each shell can be painted to match an original car or with some wild design of your choice! Tires are also available in different compounds for different applications. Motors and batteries (for electric RC cars) can be purchased to make your car extremely fast! Nitro powered RC cars can be tuned much like a real car – better exhaust, manifold, fuel, plugs, etc. The list of upgrades on most RC vehicles is endless!
There are a few things you should consider, however, as detailed below for each individual category …
Style: Onroad or Offroad
Most radio controlled onroad kits resemble full-size touring cars, similar to the ones you see on tv (BTCC, etc). Radio controlled onroad cars are typically four-wheel drive (4WD), have real working independent suspension systems, realistic slick or treaded tires (of different compounds), carbon fiber, aluminum and titanium components, and can be (or upgraded to be) extremely fast! On the down side, jumping off curbs, running over speed bumps or driving through grass and dirt are usually bad for onroad cars. The suspensions are just not set up to handle this. But, if you have a large street, a vacant (paved) lot or even a good-sized driveway, onroad cars can be the way to go.
Offroad kits come with larger, spiked tires, beefier shocks and longer suspension components. They also come in either 2WD or 4WD. Offroad cars can go just about anywhere, including grass, dirt, off curbs, over speed bumps, up driveways and over big jumps! They can also run in the street but, because of their overall bulkiness, just do not have the same appeal as the onroad kits, nor do they handle as well. The final choice might be something a little more for fun … RALLY! There are a few companies that make rally cars (or conversions) that are basically onroad kits with offroad suspensions, longer shocks and knobby tires. They are typically 4WD and can handle the abuse of offroad better than a dedicated onroad kit.
Power: Electric or Nitro
As this opinion may be disputed by quite a few people, the majority will tell you that while run times suffer slowly, Electric RC cars are by far easier to maintain. They are quiet and require a few simple plugs and switches to run. Electric RC cars can also be run indoors, while Nitro RC cars can not. As mentioned earlier, run times can be around 6-12 minutes depending on the motor / battery combo, and take about 25 minutes to charge (newer, LiPo powered cars have been known to run for as long as 40 minutes on ONE charge!) Speeds in excess of 30-40 mph are not uncommon for most Electric RC cars. Fastest recorded Electric car has hit over 140mph!
Nitro (or Gas powered) RC cars have the added benefit of being able to run ALL DAY. Tuned correctly, Nitro RC cars can hit speeds of over 60mph. Nitro RC cars also have realism … the smoke, the fumes, the sound of the exhaust … all added reasons why Nitro RC cars are so cool. Nitro RC cars must use a specific 'Nitro' fuel … normal pump gas will not work (except in 1/4, 1/5 and 1/6 scale kits).
Form: Kit or RTR
RC Car Kits are simply that … a box of bagged parts! Kits are for the person that enjoys building, wants the satisfaction of a completed kit after building, or the knowledge of how the vehicle REALLY works. Kits do not come with radio gear or motors. The instructions include very detailed diagrams along with some helpful text, and most companies have online (or phone) support should you become confused. Typical build time is around 4-6 hours depending on how much you are in the building process. Take your time and you'll be rewarded with an incredible racing machine!
As mentioned earlier, RTR stands for Ready-To-Run. All Ready-To-Run RC cars come completely assembled from the factory, including radio gear. For Electric RTR's, all you need to do is charge and install the battery and GO! For Nitro RTR's, install AA's into the transmitter and vehicle (for the onboard radio gear), fuel it up and GO! Nitro vehicles do require a short engine break-in period (instructions are usually included in the box). RTR's are good for the person who wants to jump into Radio Control without the downtime of building. They are also great for youngger kids that may not have the skills (yet) to build a vehicle.
What's Next: Buying Your First Vehicle
Simple … any hobby shop in your area should carry a pretty good selection of Radio Controlled vehicles. Or, stop by a newstand (or book store) and pick up a copy of any of the Radio Controlled Car magazines (visit the Links for a list of the magazines web sites). They will have all the manufacturers listed, as well as some of the local RC tracks in your area. A RC Track might be a good place to find a consignment vehicle, also (check out our Online Track Directory for a track near you). You can sometimes get a pretty good deal on a set up for a pretty reasonable price. Keep in mind, however, that this will be USED equipment! This could mean having to do a little cleanup / repair work before actually driving your new car.
Another avenue would be online. eBay is a great place to look for used equipment. There are also quite a few companies that sell new RC equipment online. Remember, though, that if you plan on racing, it might be a good idea to support your local track. The more business he gets, the longer he can keep his track open, and the longer you will have a place to race !!!
The Final Step: Racing!
If you just want to drive your vehicle around by yourself or with some friends, Onroad RC cars can be run anywhere that there is a reliably flat, paved surface. Offroad RC cars can be run anywhere, including a vacant lot, construction site or most parks (check with your local area to make sure it's OK to do so). Once you've honed your driving skills, most drivers start to feel the itch … the need for speed! They'll run in the front yard with some friends and start to get more and more competitive. Welcome to the REAL world of Radio Control … RACING! Once you've put your car on the track and felt the adrenaline rush of racing other people, you'll never be the same again! Racing can be one of the most fun and exciting aspects of the Radio Control hobby. There are hundreds of tracks all across the US (and other nations as well) that have weekly or monthly racing schedules.
Racing has other advantages, too. It promotes competitiveness, sociality, sportsmanship and (in come cases) teamwork. You will make a whole new group of friends and also learn some basic building and problem-solving skills!
VIsit our web site at http://www.CompetitionX.com for more information on RC Cars, Trucks, Monster Trucks, Rock Crawlers, Motorcycles and Mini-Scale!