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How To Start A Nitro Engine After Storage

If you’ve had an RC car in long-term storage for months or years, you may be wondering what the safest way to get the car going again is without causing any kind of damage to the car’s delicate engine. Making sure you do this right is especially important  if you have a nitro setup.

So what’s the best way to start a nitro engine after you’ve had it in storage? The process of starting a nitro engine after storage mainly involves removing any leftover fuel in the fuel system, cleaning out and inspecting the fuel lines, and testing the car’s electronic systems. If bad nitro fuel is left in the car’s system, this could cause it not to start.

Read on to find out all the details on starting up your Nitro engine after storage.

Why is My Nitro RC Car Not Starting?

If you’re getting an RC vehicle out of long-term storage and you can’t get it started, this can be related to several different issues that may or may not be related to the car’s engine being in storage. If a car wasn’t prepared correctly before being left in storage, it could have old nitro fuel in the system that prevents the engine from igniting.

Old fuel doesn’t act anything like fresh fuel in an ignition system, and if you’ve got a bunch of it left in your fuel system during storage, it can’t be used to start your RC car. If you were meticulous in cleaning out your nitro RC rig before putting it up into storage to begin with, you shouldn’t have any problems in getting it prime to go again.

However, if you didn’t clean up and inspect your car before putting it up, you may have to deal with some problems related to that lack of preparation. But you’re in luck—even if the car wasn’t stored properly, you should be able to get your nitro RC up and running again with just a little work.

Does Nitro RC Fuel Go Bad?

Like other kinds of fuel, nitro fuel does have a shelf life and does go bad. Because it’s a premixed type of fuel, if left sitting for long periods, the different elements of the fuel will eventually separate and be rendered inert. At this point, it’s no longer useful as a propellant and needs to be discarded.

The other problem with nitro fuel is that it is hygroscopic, or prone to absorbing moisture through its ambient environment. Since there is evaporated water in all of the Earth’s atmosphere, unless you keep your RC car vacuum-sealed in the off-season, it’s going to be exposed to some humidity.

You’ve probably heard of people getting “bad gas” or fuel contaminated by water, and naturally, this isn’t good for a mechanical engine regardless of whether it’s a full-sized vehicle or an RC car. So depending on how humid the environment where you were storing your RC car is, you’re probably going to have some condensation in the fuel lines along with bad gas.

Nitro fuel is formed from nitromethane. While this chemical is what gives a nitro engine its “get up and go,” it is the chemical composition of nitromethane that also leads to it going bad while in storage. So if you have nitro gas sitting around in storage along with your RC vehicle, you’ll probably want to properly dispose of it through chemical reclamation sites or (if you can be fairly certain it has been kept in an airtight container) re-use it in a less performance-dependent vehicle like your lawn mower.

How to Clean Out Old Nitro Fuel from the Fuel Tank

When pulling a nitro engine out of storage after it’s been stored dirty, the first thing you’ll want to do is clean out the fuel tank and see if there is any nitro fuel left in the tank. Hopefully, before the RC car was put into storage, the fuel tank was drained, but if not, the fuel tank, fuel lines, and carburetor likely all contain old nitro fuel.

If you inspect the fuel tank and it is full of liquid fuel, congratulations—all you will need to do is dump the old fuel in the fuel tank and replace it with fresh fuel. But if you check the fuel tank and the fuel has become solidified or appears to have a jelly-like texture, you’re going to have to remove the fuel tank to clean it out. Here is the process for doing so:

  • Consult the manual for your RC car to get the fuel tank off the car, being careful not to spill any of the old nitro fuel. Keep in mind that nitromethane is both poisonous and extremely combustible, so handle it carefully.

  • The fuel tank should be thoroughly flushed with hot water to remove any traces of old nitro fuel left. Note: Do NOT pour nitro fuel down the drain or dump it, as it is both very poisonous and detrimental to the local waterways. Getting caught by authorities dumping nitro fuel can result in an environmental fine.

  • Once you’ve removed all traces of the old nitro fuel from the fuel tank, you need to set it aside—for a day or so, if necessary—and let it dry completely before putting it back on the RC car, or you’ll just end up with water in your fuel system.

After cleaning and inspecting the fuel tank, you can put it back on your RC car and move on to inspecting the other aspects of the fuel system—the fuel lines and the carburetor.

How to Inspect Your Fuel Lines and Carburetor After Storage

Once you’ve established that the fuel tank on the nitro car is uncontaminated and reassembled, it’s time to inspect and clean other parts of the car’s fuel system that may have become contaminated with bad gas or engine oil:

  • Fuel lines: The fuel lines on an RC car are self-explanatory—in an RC car’s fuel system, these are the supply lines between the fuel tank and the engine that give the engine the juice it needs to ignite and run. These lines can become clogged with old solidified gas if an RC car has been put into storage without being properly cleaned first.

  • Carburetor: The carburetor is a mechanism used to mix air and nitro fuel together in internal combustion engines. Dirty carburetors are often a likely suspect when you’re dealing with a start-up problem on RC cars.

After a nitro RC car has been sitting in storage, these components of the car’s fuel system become just as clogged and dirty with old gas as the fuel tank does. As a result, if you didn’t do your due diligence cleaning the car prior to storage, you’re going to be forced to make up for it now.

This isn’t a major hardship since even if you didn’t have to clean your fuel lines and carburetor after storage, you’d still need to inspect them to see if any parts needed replacement before getting the car out to really test-drive it.

If you inspect the fuel lines and find any holes, frayed areas, or hardened sections, the easiest course of action is often just to replace all the fuel lines at once. This may not be necessary if the nitro car was cleaned prior to storage, but if it wasn’t, chances are you’ll have better luck if you just replace the lines annually when bringing the car out of storage since they are relatively cheap.

To prepare the carburetor of a nitro RC car after storage, use a carb-cleaning solvent to spray the carburetor down and remove any contaminants or debris left over from the previous season. Once the fuel lines and carburetor have been cleaned or replaced, the nitro engine should be ready for some testing to see if it is still roadworthy.

How to Test the Glow Igniter and Glow Plug

Glow plugs are another aspect of the RC system that may become defective during a period of long storage. The glow plug is essentially a device that aids your engine in the ignition by superheating an element called the glow igniter.

Once the combustion cylinder of your RC car’s engine has effectively mixed the nitro fuel and air together, the glow plug and igniter are what spark the initial combustion that causes the engine to run. Without a functioning glow plug, your RC car will fail to start up consistently.

Many hobbyists who race RC cars replace the glow plug annually when they replace the fuel lines as part of their procedures when bringing their RC car out of storage. If you stored your RC car with fuel in it, chances are you’re going to need to replace the glow plug since any fuel or oil left in the system oxidizes.

To test whether your glow plug is working properly, remove it from the car and hold it up against the glow igniter. If the glow plug is working correctly, the coil inside it will begin to glow a bright orange. If it doesn’t glow, you need to test a fresh glow plug against the igniter. If a fresh glow plug doesn’t glow either, your problem is with your glow igniter, and the igniter itself will need replacing.

How to Do Checks on a Nitro RC Car When Bringing It Out of Storage

Okay, so at this point, you should have the fuel and ignition systems squared away. Before you really get going with running your nitro engine, you need to test the following systems and ensure that they’re still working properly:

  • Brake system
  • Steering system
  • Carburetor

The last thing you want when you pull your expensive, customized nitro RC rig out of storage and start it down the street at full blast, is to realize that your brakes are out and you’re about to run it headlong into a hard curb. Nitro RC cars can rocket from zero to forty-five miles per hour in a matter of seconds, so post-acceleration is not the point when you want to find out that you have no brakes or steering.

These checks need to be done before you get the car rolling. Otherwise, you might find out that your car doesn’t respond correctly at a crucial moment. Just like in a full-sized vehicle, having full control over your steering and brakes is important not just for the safety of your vehicle but for the safety of everyone around you too.

How Do You Break in a Nitro RC Engine After Storage?

You’ve got the fuel system cleaned up, your igniter is working, and your safety systems like brakes and steering are good to go. So what is the next step in getting your nitro RC engine ready to go after you’ve been storing it?

The first thing you’ll want to do is fill the car up with some fresh nitro gas. It’s advisable not to fill the gas tank to the brim since if you run into any operational problems on your test run, you may end up having to just drain the tank back out again. Save yourself a little trouble and wait until you know the car is up and operating properly before filling the tank entirely.

If your RC car has a primer system, this system should be pumped until there are no visible air bubbles in the car’s fuel lines. If your nitro car does have a primer, the engine can still be primed manually by covering the exhaust while using the start-pull. You can cover the exhaust with either your fingers or a folded piece of cloth.

At this point, if you can’t get constant fuel flow to the engine, you have a blockage somewhere in the system, such as a clogged fuel line. If this happens to you, you’ll need to stop what you’re doing to reinspect the fuel tank, fuel lines, and the carburetor again. (See why we told you to do it earlier?)

Watch someone do it

Check out this video below to watch someone go through all the steps to start their nitro car after it has been in storage.

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How Long do Nitro Engines Last?

The answer to this question depends on a variety of different factors, such as how well the RC vehicle is maintained both during use and in the off-season, but most veteran RC users agree that a nitro engine will last on average to around 6-8 gallons of gas. Of course the amount of time that that equals to depends on how often you use your car. If you run it quite often the engine might need replaced every year or two. Your RC car might last a little longer depending on how the car is operated and how well it’s being maintained when it isn’t in use. 

The reason that nitro engines are so short-lived in comparison to other engines is that they are high-performance engines that are operated under very high speeds, and nitro is a highly combustible fuel. These engines have to undergo a lot more performance strain than your average full-sized commuter vehicle, and this is reflected in the durability (or lack thereof) in its engines.

To ensure you get the most use out of your nitro engine, it’s crucial to learn how to clean the car’s fuel system between uses to reduce oxidation, as well as general wear and tear on the car’s delicate systems. Because of how short-lived nitro engines can be, this means that nitro RC racing can be a bit of an expensive hobby. Fortunately in exchange, nitro RC racers get a thrill like no other.

Some ways you can increase the shelf life of your nitro engine include the following:

  • Make sure that engine is primed and operated correctly
  • Use an after-run oil whenever the RC engine is left sitting for more than a week at a time
  • Make sure that the fuel system is cleaned and drained completely before putting an RC vehicle away for any significant period of time. Many people recommend that you drain your fuel system if you don’t plan on using the vehicle in the next 3-4 weeks. 

The better care you take of your RC car’s engine, the more time you’ll have with it before you have to replace it, and the less time you’ll spend fiddling around trying to make it operate correctly instead of just driving it.

Nitro RC engines are notoriously finicky and difficult to start, so don’t make the process more difficult for yourself through laziness or neglect. The more meticulous you are, the more rewarding your RC experience will ultimately be.

Nitro RC engines do not run well in wet conditions like snow or rain, so chances are you’re going to end up keeping your nitro RC unit in storage for at least part of the year. By anticipating this storage period and cleaning the car up before storage rather than afterward, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble (and troubleshooting).

Prepare a Nitro RC Engine for Storage to Make Bringing It Back Out Easier

Sometimes we put away our nitro RC car for a while without really putting much thought into it. Life intervenes, and we become busy with other projects or hobbies, or sometimes we simply lose interest, and the car goes up on the shelf until something prompts us to pull it back out later.

But if you make a conscious choice to store your car each winter, learning how to properly clean and inspect the RC car before and after storage can go a long way towards helping you preserve and protect your nitro RC engine.