Learn about RC

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Radio-controlled vehicles have been around since the early 1970s and for some time, their construction, operation, running and maintenance required experience in mechanics, electronics and sometimes even engineering. It is actually how it all got started with smart people trying to build their own RC car such as the founders of Serpent or Team Associated.

Nowadays, many RC cars on the market are Ready-To-Run cars, easy to start with, easy to get going, easy to run and easy to maintain. Some even have gyroscopes to help the driver as well as technologies similar to a normal car's ABS. The advances in battery technologies also allow RC car enthusiasts to run faster, longer and further than ever before.

Hobao Hyper VSE

Why people get into RC?

Compared to other hobbies, the RC World is quite a small one, but it is also a thriving and passionnate one. Most people first get into RC seeing hobbyist run their cars and talking to an RC enthusiast. Once people buy their first car they discover the beauties of the RC Hobby.

RC is a fun hobby to share with friends and family

To start having fun with an RC car, all one needs is a backyard or a piece of road (asphalt or dirt). In RC, the fun sometimes starts even before driving by building the car. It is one of the main reasons why RC Hobby is stil going strong: fathers building cars and teaching their sons and daughters how its done. And with careful gear selection and proper supervision, RC cars are fun for any age group. Once acquainted to building, driving and maintaining an RC car, there is a lot of joy to be found in sharing and teaching others how to drive, learn to build and how to paint cars. If one is serious about driving, it is also possible to race other people in local Clubs, on local tracks or even by entering competitions even at an international level. But RC tracks are not only meant for racing and there are plenty of Clubs with crawler courses, buggy tracks or just for bashing. Some RC fans even take their off-road cars to beaches or with them on hiking trails.

RC is a learning experience

The RC hobby offers a daily opportunity for education and growth. Building and maintaining an RC car will help children and adults alike develop and enhance their focus, hand precision even painting skills and will provide knowledge in mechanics, electronics, electrical systems and engineering, which are helpful in many careers.

RC is a good way to destress and unwind

Studies link leisure-time hobbies with improved wellbeing and health. It helps us practice self-care and set aside time for oneself.

RC hobby is a community

Whether you’re at an in-person race club or on an online forum, most RC enthusiasts will be more than happy to share their knowledge and experience as proven by this very website. And at times when the hobby will seem overwhelming there will always be someone to share and help.

The fundamentals of RC

For the past 20 years, the RC hobby has transformed to become accessible to all and most local RC Clubs count amongst their members children and adults, men and women, abled and disabled people, young and less young. There is an RC car for everyone and the learning curve is nowhere near as steep as it used to be. Now, RC can be simple and fun for some, demanding and technical for others. The RC path allows anyone to get from one to the other if they so choose.

What does RC stand for?

Sanwa MX-6 RC radio transmitter and receiver
Radio transmitter with receiver

Radio control (often abbreviated to RC) is the use of control signals transmitted by radio to remotely control a device which in the case of the RC hobby can be any model vehicle be it a car, a truck, a boat, a plane, a tank, a drone or a helicopter.

Radio control uses a radio transmitter to send radio waves to control a vehicle at a distance with precision. Modern radio transmitters use the specific wavelength of 2.4Ghz which allows for minimal input lag even at long range and for several drivers to drive alongside without any risk of interference. The transmitter is configured to connect to one specific receiver placed on the vehicle during an operation called binding which only takes place once. Even if the radio or car runs out of battery, both devices will retain their configuration and their bound.

RC is the first of many acronyms used in the RC hobby. A list of all RC related acronyms and terms is available in the RC Dictionary.

What are the different categories of RC cars?

RC cars are divided into 7 different categories. Understanding the differences between said category is paramount to choosing the right car for the right usage:

  • On-road cars
  • Off-road cars
  • Ready-To-Run (RTR) cars
  • Rollers
  • Kit cars
  • Electric cars
  • Combustion engine cars

On-road VS Off-road cars

On-road cars
On-road car from Losi
On-road car from Losi

On-road RC cars are best suited for hard surfaces with little or no bumps and jumps. Some may require a perfectly flat surface such as Drift Cars and Pancars while others may be used on parking lots or even dirt roads such as Road Trucks.

  • Best suited for smooth surfaces
  • Ressemble full-size cars
  • Offer fast acceleration and high speeds
  • Offer minimal suspensions
  • Offer sleek and sophisticated looks
Off-road cars
Off-road car from Tamiya
Off-road car from Tamiya

Off-road RC cars can run on any surface. They stand higher off the ground than on-road cars and can clear bumps and dips with ease. Off-road cars come in a variety of shapes and sizes from the standar buggy all the way to giant Monster Trucks that can jump 30 feet (9 meters) in the air.

  • Suited for all surfaces
  • Stronger and more durable schocks
  • Larger and stronger bumpers
  • Perfect starting car for beginners
  • More durable than on-road cars

Ready-To-Run (RTR) VS Rollers VS Kit cars

As their names suggest, Ready-To-Run, rollers and kit cars refer to the extent to which cars are pre-built (or not) in the factory.

In general when it comes to buying a new car, most manufacturers will present either on the box or online, the additional parts that may be required to run the car. Some rollers or kit cars may require a motor and speed controler, other come without a radio and receiver. The potential buyer should always check to see what is needed extra (even Ready-To-Run cars often come without a battery).

Ready-To-Run
Ready-to-Run RC buggy Bandit VXL from Traxxas
Ready-to-Run RC buggy from Traxxas

Usually called by their acronym 'RTR', Ready-To-Run cars have been pre-built entirely at the factory. After unboxing, they will still require the user to insert and connect a battery but other than that, the radio and receiver are bound and the car is indeed ready to run.

  • Ready to drive out of the box
  • Includes electronics and radio
  • May not be sold with batteries and charger
  • Most include documentation for disassembly and maintenance of the car
Rollers
Race Roller RC car Losi 22 5.0
Roller RC car from Losi

Rollers are similar to Ready-To-Run cars in that they have been almost entirely pre-built at the factory. The major difference is that they come without any electronics and will require the user to buy a motor, a speed controler, a servo (for steering), a radio and receiver, a battery and charger. Some may require the buyer to install the wheels and tires, some are even sold without the wheels and tires or without the body. In the case of rollers, bodies are rarely painted and will have to be painted. If present, stickers will also eventually have to be applied.

The idea behind a roller is to allow the user to select their preferred electronics or re-use electronics from a previous car.

  • Users must provide all or some electronics including motor, radio and receiver
  • Best suited for experienced RC enthusiasts
  • Allows the user to select or re-use their preferred electronics
Kit cars
Kit car Tamiya Agrios
Kit car from Tamiya

As their name suggests, Kit cars are RC cars that come entirely disassembled and delivered as a collection of parts. The user will have to build the car by following the instructions in the manual putting all parts together including all the electronics and often building and filling the schocks and differentials with oil. The built will require tools some of which may be provided with the kit but never all the tools required for the build. When it comes to children, building a Kit car will require adult supervision and help since they will require the use of cutters and other tools. In the case of Kit cars as with rollers, bodies are rarely painted and will have to be painted. If present, stickers will also eventually have to be applied.

Although building an RC car may sound complex at first, Kit cars have been the preferred method of getting into RC since they provide a training ground for future maintenance and repairs as well as the age old satisfaction of having built one's own car.

  • User must build each component from transmission to suspension
  • Build provides training for future maintenance and repair

Electric VS Engine cars

Electric VS combustion engine side by side comparison
Electric VS combustion engine comparison

An RC car can run on 2 very different types of energy: electricity or fuel. For a RC newcomer, a car with an electric motor will be cheaper to buy and repair while being easier to build, run and maintain. A combustion engine car will be more challenging in those areas and may cost much more but it will also provide for a deeper on-hand experience while driving, maintaining and repairing the car by having to deal with more complex mechanical parts such as carburetors or disk brakes.

Another point worth mentioning: electric cars address a wider market and for that reason, they retain a better dollar value on the secondary market than combustion engine cars.

In the end, the choice will come down to personal preference.

Electric RC cars

Cheaper, faster, easier... Electric RC cars represent the vast majority of RC cars sales for a reason.

  • Powered by rechargeable battery pack(s)
  • Lower maintenance effort and costs than combustion engine cars
  • Much less noisy and can run indoor
  • Cleaner than engine cars
  • Do not need require fine engine tuning
  • Typically cheaper to run
  • Can be much faster than engine cars
Engine RC cars

Heavier, slower, more expensive and yet combustion engine cars provide a much more poignant experience to the courageous nitro RC enthusiasts.

  • Engine cars are fuel powered
  • Can run without stop for longer than electric cars
  • Do not require waiting to recharge. Cars can be filled up and run immediately
  • Much louder than electric
  • Can only be run outdoor
  • Require more experience and more maintenance
  • Require a bigger budget than electric

For a deeper look into the differences between electric and combustion engine cars, see Differences between electric and combustion engine cars.

What are the different types of RC cars?

Just like normal cars, RC cars exist in various shapes and forms, each one for a specific purpose. Some types of car will be wide for a better stance, some will be higher off the ground for better bump or rock clearance. The choice of a type of car will depend on the user's intented usage: on-road, off-road, bashing, racing, drifting or crawling...

Monster Truck

Monster Truck - Skully from Traxxas
Monster Truck (Traxxas Skully)

A monster truck (also abreviated MT) is a specialized off-road vehicle with a heavy duty suspension, four-wheel drive (some 2WD Monster Trucks exist) and oversized tires.

  • Highest ground clearance of all RC vehicles
  • Capable on all terrains
  • Off-road or bashing oriented
  • Thick parts make it more durable than other types of cars
  • Heavier than other RCs meaning shorter runtimes
  • Great for beginners: durable and easy to drive

Buggy

Buggy RC car from Hobbytech
Buggy (Hobbytech NXT)

Buggies refer to lightweight cars with off road capabilities and sparse bodywork. Buggies can be two-wheel or four-wheel drive.

  • Most popular and most common RC car
  • Beginners car of choice
  • Capable on all terrain (depending on model)
  • Capable on-road with proper tires
  • Light, easy to drive and fast
  • Appropriate for racing and competitions

Truggy

RC Truggy Arrma Talion
Truggy (Arrma Talion)

A truggy is a mix of a Monster Truck and a Buggy. It combines the dynamics of the buggy chassis with the tire fitting of the Monster Truck. The result is a bashing machine that can go round corners at high speeds while being able to drive through heavy terrain and handle serious jumps.

  • A hybrid Monster Truck and Buggy RC car
  • Handles corners better than a Monster Truck
  • Capable on all off-road terrain and dirt tracks
  • Ususally 4-wheel-drive

Touring car

RC Touring Car with Protoform body
Touring Car

Touring cars are designed for racing on flat, hard surfaces such as tarmac, asphalt or carpets (competitive track racing is done on carpets). Touring cars are the equivalents to a real racing or sports cars with slick tires, grip and and the ability to handle tight lines around corners.

  • Fast acceleration and high-speeds
  • Great and realistic handling
  • Real life sports car's look
  • Low ride-height forbids run off-road or on dirt roads

Drift car

RC Drift Car
Drift Car

Drift cars are Touring cars with tires designed for drifting which is the subtle art of going sideways through corners. Drift cars use slick tires and their hardness and shape will depend on the surface they are intended for. Some Drift RC cars even come with a 'hand-brake'. Touring cars with slick drift tires can be used for drifting.

  • Fast acceleration with low grip
  • Realistic drifting handling
  • Real life sports car's look
  • Can only be run on specific hard surfaces

Rock Crawler

Rock Crawler (Redcat GEN8 v2)
Rock Crawler (Redcat GEN8)

Rock Crawlers are RC cars meant to climb over rocks, inclines and rivers. They have a very high ride height, large tires and fully scaled differentials and transfer cases. Rock Crawlers often resemble their real life counterparts such as Land Rover Defender or Ford Bronco. They offer a unique RC experience of driving through rough terrain at slow speed trying to find the best path foward.

  • Off-road climbers
  • Navigate rough terrain and tricky obstacles with ease
  • Slow speed
  • Suitable for rough terrain, forest and country roads
  • Offer the most torque of any RC car

Rock Racer

Rock Racer (Axial RR10 Bomber)
Rock Racer (Axial RR10)

Rock racers originated from rock crawlers and are meant to race through rough rocky terrains at high speed. They share the high ride height of rock crawlers but focus on speed and less on the finesse needed to crawl.

  • Faster than Rock Crawlers
  • Suitable for rough or rocky terrain, forest and sand dunes
  • Great car for beginners


Further reading

The following articles provide for a deeper understanding of the inner workings of an RC car:

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