How to Pick an RC Car: The Complete Buyer’s Guide


How to Pick an RC Car

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Building, racing, and designing RC cars are popular hobbies for car enthusiasts. RC cars are a way to experience life in the fast lane without the dangers of racing a real car. When you decide to purchase an RC car, the first obstacle you will face is how to pick your first one.

How do you pick the best RC car? When picking your RC car, some of the main things you will want to look at are:

  • Size
  • Assembly
  • Brand
  • Fuel
  • Motor
  • Battery

Additionally, there are other things to consider, like the price, wheel drive, general speeds and acceleration speeds, durability, weight, and design of the car.

This article presents a complete guide for beginners (and even experts) in the RC car world that will help you learn how to choose the best RC car for you.

How to Choose Your RC Car

When choosing your RC vehicle, the first thing you want to do is decide if you want a car, truck, buggy, or another vehicle. RC cars are vehicles made for flat surfaces as opposed to the off-road riding for which other RC vehicles are made.

You want to look for the specifications of certain aspects of an RC car, such as:

  • Size
  • Pre-assembled vs. DIY
  • Price range
  • Brand
  • Fuel
  • Motor
  • Battery
  • Wheel drive
  • General speed
  • Acceleration speed
  • Durability
  • Weight
  • Design

This list does not cover every single thing you should look for in your RC car. Other considerations include how easy it is to use, how customizable you want your car, and if you even want a car in the first place.

Some advantages of the three basic types of RC land vehicles – cars, trucks, and buggies – are outlined in the chart below:

RC Cars RC Trucks RC Buggies
Can reach impressive speedsCan be monster or stadium trucksA great choice if you aren’t sure which RC vehicle you prefer
Can be drift, rally, or on road carsMonster trucks are good for off-roadingHave on-road and off-road capabilities
Good for racing on hard and flat surfacesStadium trucks are good for indoor 2WD racingMost popular RC vehicle that is great for beginners

When you first start using RC cars, some things are more important than others, such as ease of use and price. However, all of the above are important factors to consider when choosing your car as a beginner.

What Size RC Car Should You Buy?

You will notice that RC cars come in sizes of 1/16th, 1/10th, 1/8th, and 1/5th. There are also mini vehicles in 1/28th and 1/64th sizes. The size of your RC car does have meaning – it is the size of the car relative to a real car of the same model.

Since the size of an RC car is relative to its corresponding car and not general car measurements, if you took one truck model of 1/16th scale and compared it side-by-side to another truck model of the same scale, one could be bigger than the other.

You would be best suited with a car in the 1/10th scale for your first RC car because this is a very common size. There is more customization that is offered for this size because so many people have them. You can change out your engine, motor, steering wheel, tires, and more.

If you purchase a 1/5th scale car, you could get a car up to three feet in length, which is pretty monstrous for a first-time car. When you buy one in the 1/10th scale, it doesn’t take up too much space, which allows for better storage and it also allows you to learn the ropes with a smaller car. 

Should You Purchase Pre-Built Models or Build Your RC Car Yourself?

When you decide to buy your first RC vehicle, there are two categories you can look at: models that are pre-built and models that allow you to build the car yourself.

Pre-Built Models

Pre-built RC car models can be purchased at RC vehicle stores and other stores like Target and Walmart. These cars are pre-assembled and ready to use. They don’t need anything more than batteries or a quick charge before their first use. Pre-built models rarely require any assembly, and if there is any assembly required, it’s very minimal.

Pre-built models are good for beginners because you can learn the basics of driving them and how they work without the stress of building them. They are also good for people who don’t care about building their car and are in a rush to drive their RC car.

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You might not find many customized items for something you buy that is pre-built, especially if it did not come from a remote-controlled vehicle shop.

One label you may see on RC cars is ARR. This label stands for “almost ready to run.” This label means that most of the product is assembled but it will require small finishing touches before running.

Models that You Build Yourself

RC car models that you build yourself are popular among the more experienced RC car enthusiasts. DIY RC cars come with everything you need to build them – from the parts that make up the body of the car itself to the screws that will hold it together. This kind of RC car is commonly referred to as an RC Car Kit.

Some kits are sold without certain parts included that are great for expert RC car lovers that are planning to customize their car. The kits typically serve as the base models of the cars for those who would rather scavenge for their car parts themselves than to buy a complete kit. Many experienced RC hobbyists will have a variety of parts in their garage or shop so they don’t need a complete kit. 

Building an RC car yourself is not easy. If you are a complete beginner, it’s not recommended to do so unless you have help. However, it can be very rewarding to see your finished product, and there are things you can learn about your car by seeing the assembly of it.

A couple of benefits of building your RC car yourself include:

  • You can learn about the inside of your RC car, which can help you in the future if anything goes wrong and you need to diagnose the problem or replace a piece. 
  • You get creative control over your RC car. The customization of the car relies solely on what you want. You can even give it a paint job that reflects your tastes!
  • You can add upgrades to the model immediately rather than having to remove parts from an already built model.

What are the Prices of RC Cars?

The prices of different RC vehicles are something you want to consider when you pick out your first car. Of course, cheap cars are available anywhere you go, but you need to remember that they are cheap for a reason, and the price will often reflect the product’s quality. There is usually a reason that RC cars are priced cheaply – they are not very high quality.

However, it is not necessary to buy a high-priced RC car when you are just starting out. A cheaper car can give you a feel for what kind of features you will enjoy. RC cars can reach prices of $200 or more, but there are many cars that are much more reasonably priced for those just starting.

Some examples of cars at different price ranges and common features seen at those price ranges are outlined in the following chart:

Price Range Common Features Example
Under $50Shockproof
4.8V
700mAH
Blexy RC Racing Car
$50 to $1001/20th scale
Average 40-minute runtime
500mAH
Triton RC
$100 to $1501/10th scale
Waterproof
7.2V
2000mAH
Redcat Racing
$150 to $2001/10th scale
2.4GHz radio
2000mAH
Redcat Thunder Drift
$200 and UpRTR
2.4GHz radio
Speed controls
Traxxas

Pricing of your RC car can depend on:

  • Battery life
  • Speed
  • If it’s pre-built or not
  • Brand
  • Additional features

Which Brand of RC Car is Best for You?

Some RC cars are modeled after cars in movies and video games, but some of the best RC cars you will find are the ones that are made by reputable brands.

Four great RC car brands to try out include:

  • Traxxas
  • Team Associated
  • HPI Racing
  • Team Losi

Traxxas

The Traxxas brand is known for being a high-quality brand that is taking over the RC car market. They offer both cars and trucks that have a wide selection of designs from which to choose. Traxxas brand RC cars are good for both adults in the hobby and kids who want to have fun.

They were founded in the 1980s and were one of the first companies to make pre-built RC cars and trucks. Their cars came ready in their boxes but without batteries installed. Their “ready to run” or RTR cars were very simple, making them rise in popularity.

Over the years, the brand has put more customizable designs on the market, allowing for mods to be placed on their cars. You can now switch out their cars’ parts and change what kind of body kit they have as well. 

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Team Associated

Team Associated is known for its high-quality car parts. They are also recognized for their durability, speed, mods, and accessory selection. Team Associated’s RC cars are used in competitions like world championships.

They offer many car options, including a wide variety of sizes, on- and off-roading kits, and RTR cars. Compared to Traxxas, Team Associated’s prices are generally lower. Customer support for this brand is one of the best, so getting new parts or repairs is much easier than with some manufacturers. The brand also offers technical support, helping it stand out among its competitors.

HPI Racing

HPI Racing has unique car designs and reliable vehicles. They are a well-known brand that deserves to be considered when you are looking to purchase an RC car.

Like Traxxas, they were also founded in the 1980s and featured good ingenuity and designs. The cars that HPI Racing make are beautiful recreations of cars available for purchase today. Their high-quality replicas are strong enough to drive on rougher grounds or real roads.

One type of car that is unique to the brand is the nitro car. This car has given them much credibility in the RC hobby world – even pro racers use their cars.

HPI racing also excels in taking feedback from buyers and using it to better their products in the future. 

Team Losi

Team Losi compares to the other great brands listed, but they stand apart because of the customization options they offer. You can find Team Losi parts in almost any RC car store. When you combine their quality parts with their strong engines, you have a good vehicle.

It is a brand that has much traction among racers who need new parts constantly. Their 1/8th scale cars are super popular with the racing crowd as well.

In spite of the high price of their cars, Team Losi does sell beginner RC cars that are less pricey, so you are sure to find a car for your needs.

Should You Choose a RTR RC Car or an RC Car Kit?

When deciding on the best RC car for you, you will need to choose if you want to buy an RC car that is already assembled or an RC car kit that allows you to build and even customize your car. Most of the time, this decision is based on the level of skill the driver of the car has.

For instance, beginners will generally do better with an RTR (Ready To Race) RC car because they do not have the knowledge base to assemble their car while more experienced RC car enthusiasts love to purchase RC car kits because part of the joy of playing with their RC car comes from putting it together and customizing it.

One detail to consider when deciding if you want an RTR car or a car kit is if you have all the tools needed to put a car kit together. All RC car owners should own tools to repair their cars.

Some tools that are necessary for assembling and repairing RC cars include:

  • Hex drivers – a set in the sizes 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, and 3.0mm should cover your needs
  • Nut drivers – convenient when dealing with nuts on axles and shocks
  • Slip-joint and needle-nose pliers – make dealing with small parts much easier, especially the construction of small parts
  • Curved Lexan scissors – great for trimming out bodies and cutting stickers
  • Hobby knife – also commonly known as an X-Acto knife; a sharp hobby knife that is great for many different RC car needs
  • Body reamer – great for making holes when you need them
  • Sprue cutter – also referred to as a flush cutter; snips plastic parts off their sprues without leaving nubs on the parts

Which RC Car Fuel Type is Best for You?

What gives your RC car its power is something you want to decide before you choose your car. There are two main power sources for RC cars: electricity and fuel.

Electricity

For beginners, electric RC cars are recommended because they are cheaper, quieter, and easier to use. You don’t need to prep an electric car as you have to prep a car that uses fuel. The appeal of a quieter car is better for those who live with others who might not appreciate the loud noise of an RC vehicle. RC cars that use fuel can be loud, and excessive noise is never appreciated.

Most electric RC cars come ready to run. Some models that need to be charged have a cable that you plug into the car. RC cars that charge are the easiest to maintain because you don’t need to replace the battery on most models. If you do need to change the batteries, investing in rechargeable batteries is recommended.

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Batteries usually come in a 7.2-volt style with 1800 maH or above for RC cars. This voltage means that most of them last for about 5-10 minutes. If you upgrade the battery you can get longer run times. Of course if you run the car at full throttle the entire time the battery will die faster than if you are using it intermittently. 

RCgeeks, a blog dedicated to RC cars, provides a list of the different types of batteries commonly found in RC vehicles:

  • Alkaline: Not rechargeable. Commonly found AA and AAA batteries and used in transmitters, TV remotes, etc.
  • Ni-Cd: Nickel Cadmium. Rechargeable. More eco-friendly but suffers from a memory effect.
  • NiMH: Nickel Metal Hydride. Rechargeable and easy to maintain.
  • LiPo: Lithium-ion polymer. Higher energy density, lighter weights, consistent and powerful discharge, shorter lifespan than NiMH, and more volatile than other solutions and require intelligent chargers.

Electric RC cars can power up faster than gas cars, so the acceleration speed ends up being faster as well. The type of battery your car takes is usually written on the car’s battery pack or in the instructions. Cheap RC cars use alkaline batteries because those are the most inexpensive kind you can get. You can usually find batteries around your house for cars that take these.

Fuel Powered RC Cars

Fuel RC cars are usually powered by nitro fuel. This fuel is readily available and relatively cheap. Fuel-powered RC cars are fast and strong, but they are extremely noisy. They aren’t for those who live close to neighbors or don’t want to wake up people in their homes.

Though nitro fuel is not expensive, fuel-powered cars are not cheap. They are heavier RC vehicles that can need more maintenance to keep them running. The fuel also needs to be completely replaced each time they are used, making the cost of running the car more expensive. Additionally, since gas is a liquid, leaks and spills can happen. A nitro fueled RC car will normally be much faster than its electric counterpart so if you wreck a nitro car it will normally be more damaged as well. 

Fuel-powered RC cars have a “breaking in” process that must be done before you can fully enjoy them. All you have to do is slowly run your car around your yard while using up a few tanks of gas. Once this is done, your car should be able to be run normally.

Which Type of RC Motor is Best for You?

RC cars have a range of parts – which includes their motors. There are two main types of motors that are found within RC cars: brushed and brushless.

Brushed Motors

Brushed motors are suitable for beginners. They use little “brushes” to transfer the electricity in your motor into energy to move your car. They are less powerful than a brushless motor but are powerful enough that beginners will still be able to enjoy their cars.

They are cheaper than brushless motors and are available in two kinds: brushed stock motors and brushed modified motors.

Brushed Stock Motors Brushed Modified Motors
Similar to modified motors but not customizableMore flexible motor with customizable options
Requires little maintenanceOffer better performance for your RC vehicles
Can run right out of the boxAble to switch out the wires to get a different number of turns available
Usually comes with a battery packLess amount of wires you have, the fewer revolutions your rotor will make

Brushless Motors

If you are looking for efficiency, brushless motors are your best choice. With a brushless motor, your RC car will go faster with more boost in comparison to the brushed style of motor. Since they offer more speed and durability, they are more expensive than brushed motors.

A brushless motor is a harder motor for beginners to use because steering, response time, and suspension tend to be more complicated. However, these motors don’t need a commutator, so they are more popular in the community for their low breakage.

Which Type of Battery Does Your RC Car Use?

RTR cars will come with their battery, but with cars that you need to build yourself, the battery options vary. The four options for your car are alkaline batteries, Ni-Cd batteries, NiMH batteries, and LiPo batteries.

Alkaline BatteriesNormally have about 1.5 volts of power
Use zinc and manganese dioxide to get energy
Has more energy than regular zinc batteries
Make up about 80% of all U.S. batteries
Used in things like lights, cameras, and toys
Can come in as little as 700 mAH
The energy within the battery will slowly decrease with use

Ni-Cd BatteriesHave 1.2 volts of charging cells except for the 9-volt size
Are rechargeable
Come in sizes of AA, AAA, C, and D
Have tabs, flat tops, and eye-popping batteries with chargers that come with combinations
Best used on devices with a low drain function
Use 1/3 of the capacity that NiMH batteries use
Have a low self-discharge rate
Can be completely discharged before recharging – this prolongs the life of the batteries
Commonly used in solar panels, clocks, and phones

NiMH BatteriesSuitable for all-purpose needs and easy to use
Must be completely drained before being charged again
Must be completely charged before they are stored
Good beginner battery
Cheaper than LiPo batteries
Used in many household appliances
Have 1.2 volts of power per cell, usually
Not as heavy as LiPo batteries
Have a long lifespan – reaching 1,000 cycles
Less flammable than LiPos
Have easy to use chargers
Less efficient than LiPos because of their lower discharge rate

LiPo BatteriesExpensive, high-quality battery
Tend to last longer than other batteries
Tend to give RC cars more power than other batteries
Have an average of 3.7 volts of power per cell
Lightweight
Come in a variety of sizes and shapes
Made powerful because of their high discharge rate
Only have between 150 and 250 cycles in their lifetime
Become flammable when broken
Do not have to be fully charged to store

Still Can’t Decide?

if after reading all that you still can’t decide then the best thing to do is check out some videos of people actually using the cars. The videos below show some real tests of vehicles and which ones they think are the best.

Conclusion

When you pick an RC car, there are many different factors you should consider. For a beginner, a preassembled car is going to be your best bet.  If you have some experience with the RC world, then take your best shot at assembling your own!

For most beginners an electric RC car is also the best way to go to avoid the mess that often comes with nitro RC Cars. The decreased power is actually a plus for most first time owners as too much speed and power can result in damaging your car or even someone or something around you. 

For your first purchase I would recommend that you start with a cheaper model. You don’t need to spend $500+ on your first car to have some fun or to learn the ropes. For most people an RC car around the $100 price range will last a good amount of time while also allowing for some upgrades and modifications to be done. 

If you are wanting to build your own RC car then using a kit is a great way to go as well. You can read an article I wrote about the four best RC car kits here. 

Matt Robbs

I love to spend time with my wife and 3 kids. There is no better way to get them off the couch and outside than for us to grab the RC cars or boat and enjoy the sunshine!

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