It looks so cool: a remote-control car competition in which dozens of tiny little cars go zooming around a track. This is a hobby that you want to jump right into, so you get into your real-size car and head over to the mall to get the RC version that will bring you glory on the track. But, can you get started right away, or do you have to plug it in to charge first?
Do RC batteries come charged? RC batteries will most often come partially charged. While the charge level will be affected by factors such as the chemistry of the battery pack and length of time on the shelf, it is best to store RC batteries at less than maximum capacity, meaning it will likely be partially charged when you purchase a new RC vehicle.
Therefore, it would not be advisable for the RC owner to expect maximum performance from his or her new RC vehicle’s battery when using it for the first time. To reach maximum battery capacity, it is best to charge the new battery and then cycle it through an entire power cycle a couple of times.
Why RC Batteries Don’t Come Fully Charged
Your RC battery will not be completely charged upon purchase for a couple of reasons.
It Is Inadvisable to Store RC Batteries Fully Charged
It is not good for the long-term health of your RC car battery to be kept at full charge when not in use. Most RC batteries, specifically LiPo versions, will ideally be stored at 50% of capacity. The battery is generally thought of as “in storage” when it sits between uses for anything more than 10 days, which is sure to be the case between its manufacture and sale.
Leaving an RC battery stored at full charge for more than 10 days puts you at risk of permanently degrading the pack’s capacity and voltage. It is less risky to store a completely drained battery, but there is a chance, after about three weeks without a charge, that the battery could get in the habit of quickly reverting to this over-discharged state on its next use.
For this reason, a completely drained battery at purchase should be cause for concern, with a pack arriving at zero volts, possibly indicating a defective battery.
RC Batteries Will Slowly Lose Power While Not in Use
Regardless of the state of charge of the RC battery at storage, it will slowly lose some power while sitting on the shelf. This is normal and should not be cause for concern.
While partially charged batteries in good condition will maintain the same general charge level for months at a time, those that have been sitting for a very long time may have lower-than-expected charge levels. Therefore, be sure to check the manufacture date on the packaging, if available.
Extreme temperatures can also affect the RC battery’s ability to hold a charge. It is recommended that the batteries be stored at temperatures between 65° and 75° F. While temperatures outside of this range are unlikely to do significant damage to the battery’s life, extreme heat can negatively impact charge levels.
Most department stores and online retail warehouses will employ best practices when storing RC vehicles that have batteries. However, if a battery has been known to be sitting for an extremely long time or has had extended exposure to direct sunlight or freezing temperatures, the customer should make sure the battery gives as long of a run time as the manufacturer recommends.
What Are the Types of RC Batteries?
The charge level of your RC battery at purchase may vary depending on the type of battery your vehicle model uses. Let’s look at the chemistry and prevalence of some common RC batteries.
Alkaline batteries are the type of battery you see hanging next to the cash register when checking out at the grocery or department store. Think AA and AAA, these batteries are normally made by Duracell, Energizer, and a variety of other smaller brands.
These batteries are not rechargeable and are rarely used in RC battery packs. It would be more common to see alkaline batteries used in the remote control than in the car itself. However, there may be a handful of low-end RC vehicles that would require the insertion of alkaline batteries (usually six or eight AA) into the battery pack itself.
Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd)
Ni-Cd batteries are generally not found in RC battery packs.
These batteries are rechargeable, but they are highly inefficient and suffer from memory effect, meaning that their capacity will change, usually shortening prematurely when they are left at a certain charge level for any significant period of time.
Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH)
NiMH batteries are some of the most common rechargeable battery packs found in RC vehicles.
In the event that you purchased an RC vehicle off the shelf that is labeled as ready-to-run, it more than likely uses a NiMH pack. This is a rugged, durable battery pack and will lose comparatively less capacity and voltage while in storage than alternative battery types. NiMH batteries are easy to charge and allow the user to “top off” partially charged batteries from any charge level without fear of damage.
The downside to NiMH packs is that they are heavier than LiPo versions of the same capacity and voltage specifications. They also steadily lose voltage while the battery is in use, meaning your car will go slightly slower with each passing minute.
As such, RC vehicles with NiMH battery packs may not be ideal for the advanced RC enthusiast.
Lithium-ion Polymer (LiPo)
LiPo battery packs are also highly common to RC vehicles. These are often viewed as a specialty item and are sold as accessories to the RC vehicle, rather than being included with the purchase. Therefore, there is a chance that a LiPo powered vehicle will come with no battery pack at all, allowing the user to choose the pack that he or she prefers.
LiPo batteries offer a couple of advantages over their NiMH competitors:
- Lighter weight – LiPo battery packs with similar voltage and capacity specifications as a NiMH pack will be noticeably lighter. This will make the vehicle faster and seem more powerful, as the same energy output will be pulling less weight
- Consistent voltage – while a NiMH battery will steadily lose voltage as the battery runs, the voltage of a LiPo will remain consistent throughout the pack’s capacity. So, while a NiMH-powered car will gradually get slower and slower until it dies, a LiPo-powered car will maintain a consistent speed before dying abruptly once the battery is depleted
While the LiPo battery offers some clear advantages over NiMH for the advanced RC enthusiast, it does come with a couple of drawbacks:
- Higher cost – LiPo batteries will be the most expensive packs on the market. However, the cost is getting more competitive as LiPo manufacturing technology improves.
- More difficult to store – while all battery types should be properly cared for during storage, LiPo batteries are less durable than NiMH models and are more likely to be negatively affected if not stored at the recommended settings (50% charge in a cool, dry environment). This can lead to the need for LiPo batteries to be replaced more often if you don’t store them properly.
Check out the video below to learn the correct way to properly charge your LiPo battery to ensure that you stay safe and it lasts as long as possible.
Final Verdict: Do RC Batteries Come Charged?
RC batteries are most likely to come with a partial charge upon purchase. Given the high likelihood that your car is powered by either a NiMH or LiPo pack, it is important to know that while NiMH versions may not be ideal in the long-run, they will probably be better able to run directly off the shelf. Conversely, LiPo packs will give superior performance once fully charged but will need more preparation to get to an acceptable charge level for the initial run.
For most beginner RC vehicles, your purchase will come with a partially charged battery that can be used for around half the time that it will work when fully charged. For more advanced vehicles, the battery packs will be sold separately.