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RC cars, planes, boats, and drones are a popular form of recreation. The batteries that you use to run your favorite RC vehicle can make a big difference in the amount of power it has, how long a charge lasts, and how long it takes to recharge. In addition to these performance factors, you also need to consider how long you can expect your batteries to last before they need to be replaced.
Do RC batteries go bad? The simple answer is yes. Every type of battery that is used to power RC vehicles will eventually go bad. But there are so many options on the market that it’s worth taking the time to look at each of them individually. Many users modify their vehicles to make using a more powerful battery possible. Factoring in a battery’s life expectancy will help you make good choices.
Sometimes it seems like you need a degree in physics – or at least a dual major in electrical engineering and chemistry – to figure out what the difference is between one type of battery for your RC vehicles and all of the others that may or may not be a better option. Read on to learn what the typical lifespan is for all of the different types of batteries that are currently used in the RC world.
When Do RC Batteries Go Bad?
The batteries that you choose for your RC vehicles will determine the amount of power and/or speed that they have, the amount of weight that they have to move, and how long you get to use them before you need to replace or recharge their power source. The batteries you choose will also impact how much you have to spend on your hobby, the environmental impact, and how often you need to purchase new batteries.
Even if you purchase an RC vehicle that runs on typical alkaline batteries, it probably won’t be long before your enjoyment of the hobby has you looking at upgrading to a more powerful and exciting set-up. Whether you upgrade by purchasing new models or making modifications, knowing what to expect from the different battery options that are available will help you get the best return on your hobby budget.
Different manufacturers use different proprietary blends of materials and constantly work to improve on their offerings. So, no two batteries are necessarily the same – even if they are of the same basic type. Keep that in mind as you look at batteries for your RC vehicles. The types of batteries that we’ll review in this article are:
- Nickel-Cadmium (NiCad)
- Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH)
- Lithium Polymer (LiPo)
- Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4)
Nickel-Cadmium batteries are one of the oldest technologies on the market for RC hobbyists. While they are a very sturdy and reliable power source, they are also pretty heavy, provide limited power, and are less environmentally friendly than more technologically advanced options.
NiCad batteries are still the preferred choice of some RC enthusiasts due to their low rate of self-discharge, their low cost, and their long lifespan. One of the biggest things that influence the life expectancy of NiCad batteries are the regularity of their use and the charging practices that you employ.
If NiCad batteries are left on the shelf for a long time, they can form dendrites that bridge the gaps between contacts and short out the cell. The best way to avoid this is to use your NiCad batteries regularly. If this happens, there isn’t much that you can do to fix it.
Nickel Metal Hydride batteries solved a number of battery problems that troubled RC hobbyists. The most important is the “memory effect” that some batteries have. This refers to the tendency for battery capacity to diminish when it is charged before being fully discharged. NiMH batteries don’t develop a memory effect, so hobbyists can recharge them any time they’re less than 100% ready to go.
One of the downsides of NiMH batteries is that they have a fairly short life expectancy. Typically, a NiMH battery can be recharged around 500 times in overnight mode before it needs to be replaced. Charging on quick-charge settings will reduce this lifespan even further. There are no NiMH batteries on the market that claim more than a 1,000-charge cycle capacity.
Lithium Polymer batteries are pretty popular with serious RC hobbyists. They’re more lightweight than other technologies but they still deliver an impressive power advantage. The downsides of LiPo batteries are that they’ll require you to buy special equipment for recharging and to make specific upgrades to your RC vehicles, and they cost quite a bit more than most battery technologies.
While LiPo batteries are a big investment, most enthusiasts who give them a try find that they’re worth it. Even so, it’s important to know that they have an even shorter life expectancy than NiMH batteries. If you get 250 charge cycles out of a LiPo battery, you’ve done well. As soon as you notice a LiPo battery start to swell, it should be taken out of service and replaced.
Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries have been around for about thirty years now. They have a great weight to energy density ratio, and they are safer and more stable than alternatives that compete with them on power and weight. In addition, LiFePO4 batteries are most prized for their constant discharge voltage.
On top of all of the other benefits, LiFePO4 batteries have an extremely long lifespan. You can expect well over 1,000 charge cycles from one of these batteries, and it won’t require the same investment or caution that you’ll have to put into charging LiPo batteries.
Safety and Environment
Each of the batteries that we’ve reviewed have unique requirements for their safe use and disposal. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for every thing that you do when using any of these batteries. Improper or careless use or recharging can lead to leaks or fires that can expose you and others to harm.
In addition to making sure that you use your batteries safely, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and your local guidelines for their proper disposal. Most batteries can be recycled. Don’t miss an opportunity to do the right thing for the earth. No matter what, never dispose of a battery by burning it or compacting it.
Because each battery uses a specific combination of chemicals and metals to store and supply the power that it takes to run your RC vehicles, there is no one-size-fits-all rule for the safe use, recharging, and disposal of RC batteries. Don’t let your fun hobby turn into a potential source of injury or environmental harm. Take the time to learn and follow the rules for any battery that you decide to use.
Recover A Battery
If you have a battery that has gone bad you might be able to recover it and save yourself some money. Check out this video below from Outdoor Native who was able to recover an expensive Traxxas LiPo battery.
In this article, we’ve looked at the most common and popular types of batteries currently in-use by RC hobbyists. Over time, we expect there to be even more good options as folks continue to look for ways to improve the performance of their RC vehicles. If you follow the guide that we’ve provided, you’ll be able to purchase or modify your RC vehicles to take advantage of the best that batteries can offer you right now.
If newer battery types become available, you can make sure that you don’t risk anything when you give them a try by following the same advice for safe use and disposal that we’ve given you for your current options. The more things change – the more they stay the same. Changing battery technology doesn’t change the fact that you need to be safe when you use it to make sure that you continue to enjoy using your RC vehicle for years to come.