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How To Tune A Nitro RC Car: The Ultimate Guide

Are you debating on whether or not you should buy a nitro RC car or an electric one? Are you wanting to know what the most significant long-term differences are in terms of maintenance and upkeep? Or, perhaps you have that Nitro RC car and are just getting ready to tune it up for the first time.

So, just how do you tune a nitro remote control car? Among the components of your RC car that you’ll need is to:

  1. Gather your Supplies
  2. Inspect the car, batteries and air filter
  3. Adjust the idle screw
  4. Check the servo
  5. Tune the needles
  6. Prime the engine
  7. Adjust the carburetor
  8. Inspect it one last time

You’ll need to do some extra maintenance with a nitro RC car than you would with an electric RC car. Making sure the fuel lines are clean and running correctly is the most important part of the tune up. It is also vital that you regularly perform an after-run maintenance to your RC car after using it and before storing it.

Read on to learn how to tune your nitro remote control car so that you can enjoy your Nitro RC car for years to come! 

Steps you will want to Take to Tune your Nitro RC Car 

Before you get started on tuning your RC car, you will need to make sure it has been run for a little bit. You will want to make sure that you are not tuning up a brand new remote control car, and that you have burned at least a couple tanks of fuel before tuning it for the first time.  

To tune it, there are a few steps to follow both before even turning the car on, and then after you start the car. 

Before Turning on the Car

Some steps you’ll want to do before you turn the car on. Let’s start with these:

Step 1: Gather your supplies. 

Here’s a list of the items you’ll need to tune your nitro remote control car, besides the car itself:

· Nitro fuel

· Glow plug

· Flat-head screwdriver

· WD-40

· Spare air filter (if you need it)

· Towels

· Block (optional) – you might want a block to place your car on while you are tuning it.

· Consider a couple of optional products, that might come in handy while you are tuning your nitro remote control car:

· Byron Originals, 20% Nitro, 12% Oil – This is the type of oil that might help you tune your car. Be sure to check your car’s specifications to see if the ratio of nitro to oil is best for your RC car.

· RC Exhaust Pipe, Car Upgrade Dual Exhaust System, Fittings for RC Nitro car – This is a package of equipment that could be useful to you if your nitro RC car needs any replacement parts.  

Step 2: Give your car a visual inspection. 

Sometimes just a simple eye test can alert you to problems. Keep an eye out for the following: 

· Look and make sure the fuel lines and air filter are all attached and in the right place.

· Check for cracks, chips, or dents in the chassis if you were in a situation where you did some off-roading with your RC car.

· Look at the tires and make sure there are no cracks or holes.

Step 3: Check the Batteries. 

Do you need to replace any? Even if they are working, now’s a good time to check them for shelf life and service life expiration dates. You do have batteries in your car that help with power, and you’ll want to check them for leaks and to make sure they’re still functioning correctly.

  • Even on a remote control car fueled by gas, you willl still need batteries. Among other things, they help to provide power to the servos, which controls the steering. Make sure your batteries work, or you could have steering or throttle problems.

  • Don’t forget to consider the shelf life and service life of batteries. Batteries are only designed to sit on a shelf for so long before they go bad and will not work in your car. They are also only able to provide service life for so long. Consider testing your batteries if they are nearing the end of their predicted service life, but don’t replace them with batteries that are nearing the end of their scheduled shelf life.

Step 4: Is the air filter clean? 

If the air filter isn’t clean, it won’t function properly. The engine won’t get enough air, and it won’t run efficiently. You can rinse it with fuel, which will get rid of any contaminants, and  then you will want to apply oil. The owner’s manual will tell you the right weight of oil to use. There are a few simple steps to follow when cleaning the air filter:

  • Remove the air filter from the engine of the car.
  • Take out the foam filter from the rubber base.
  • Rinse out the filter using gas, not water. By using fuel to rinse the filter, you’ll remove the dust, dirt, and grime, and keep the filter lubricated correctly.
  • Now, you can apply oil to the filter. 
  • Put the foam filter back in its rubber holder.
  • How to Clean Air Filter on Nitro RC Car – Here’s a YouTube video that goes into detail on how to clean the air filter on your RC car.  It shows what a clean filter looks like versus a dirty one. When in doubt, clean the filter!

Step 5: Adjust the Idle Screw

  • Adjusting the idle screw will affect the carburetor. 

  • Turn on the controller, but do not turn on the engine.
  • Turn the servo horn to aim at the engine. It should be at a 90 degree angle to the servo.
  • With the air filter removed, look into the carburetor. 
  • There are stoppers on the throttle going from the servo to the engine – remove those.
  • While the carburetor is still open a little, you’ll want to turn the idle screw in an anti-clockwise motion, as this will allow you to close it further. 
  • The goal is to be able to close the carburetor until it is only open 1MM. When you accomplish this, tighten the screw clockwise, and it should start to open the carburetor. 
  • Make sure you now tighten the stoppers back into position. This will ensure everything stays in the right position. 
  • Put the air filter back into the engine in the car.

Step 6: Check on the servos. 

The servos are the pieces of your car responsible for managing the throttle and moving the tires when you are steering. Check to make sure your servos are working. If you need to, you can reset the servos.

  • Some tips when you are testing your servos – if the steering on your car feels out of alignment, the servo could be damaged. You have two servos in your car, one for the throttle, and one for the steering. Unplug them one at a time, and plug it into the opposite receiving port. That could help you identify if it’s the port or the servo itself that is not working. If it’s the servo, you’ll need to replace it with a new one, and if it’s the receiving end, then you’ll know that as well. 
  • If the servo is broken, it’s best just to replace it completely
  • If it’s not broken, and it’s just out of alignment, you can adjust it. Some of the adjustments you can make:
    • When you turn left, make sure the car turns left. If it turns in the wrong direction, you would need to make adjustments to the trim.
    • The trim in the center can be adjusted. The servo arm needs to be in the right position. If the wheels aren’t straight, adjust the arm.
    • You can adjust the Dual Rate. This is what controls the wheels turning in the same direction. If you have a problem where one wheel is trying to turn left and the other right, this is what to adjust.

Step 7: Fill the fuel tank and prime the engine 

You’ll want to fill the tank up at least 90% of the way before you can prime the engine. 

  • First, check your owner’s manual to make sure you’re adding the right type of nitro fuel. There are different ratios of fuel to oil, and each car can have different needs.
  • Nitro fuel is methanol-based fuel, but with oil added to it to add lubrication and help with cooling. The ratio of fuel to oil is different based on what car you have, and this is what your user’s manual will clarify. The amount of methane in the fuel can be anywhere from 10 – 40 % or even higher. 
  • Prime the engine.  By priming your engine, you’ll ensure the engine lasts longer over the life of the car.
  • Make sure the piston sleeve housing is full of fuel. 
  • Block the muffler at this point; you can use your finger or a cloth to block it. This is going to force the exhaust to flow into the fuel tank, which makes it flow into the carburetor. 
  • Start your engine now, using the pull cord. You should be able to see fuel flowing into the carburetor, and then you can turn off the engine.

Giving your Remote Control Car Power

Once your engine is primed, it’s time to start your car. There are a few steps to follow before you get your car started, and then you’ll want to take a couple of laps with your RC car to make sure it gets warmed up properly.

Step 1: You’re now ready to start the engine. 

Here’s a checklist for starting your engine:

· Make sure the batteries are installed and working. 

· Making sure the exhaust system is not blocked, insert the glow plug, and pull on the chord a few times until the engine gets started. The glow plug in a nitro remote control car are what provide the spark to get the engine started.

· Remove the glow plug.

· Drive around a bit, so the engine gets warmed up.

Step 2: Tune the needles.

Are your high and low needle settings in your carburetor set to factory default? You’ll want to make sure they are before you tune them. Tuning the needles is a critical step as it ensures that your car doesn’t stall out over overheat.

· After your car has been running and the engine is the right temperature (between 210 and 240 degrees Fahrenheit), tune the needles. 

· You’ll want to use a screwdriver to turn the higher speed needle clockwise. 

· Each time you turn a needle, the further you turn it, the more fuel you release. If your car is taking on too much fuel to air, you will need to adjust the needle. You will want to turn it slowly, one click at a time. You will also want to give it about 30 seconds after every click to see the full effect.

· After each turn, give the car a test ride to see if it’s running right. If needed, continue to turn the high speed needle until it is where you want it. You’ll want to follow the same steps with the low speed needle.

· For the low speed needle, make sure you’re getting the right response from the throttle. If it’s going to fast or too slow, that’s a good indicator that you need to make more adjustments.

Step 3: Adjusting the Carburetor 

The carburetor’s primary function is to moderate the speed of the car’s engine. It does this by controlling the mix of fuel to air. Depending on how fast your car is going, the carburetor will regulate the mix of fuel to air accordingly. If you find your engine either stalling out or going too fast, you might need to adjust the carburetor. 

· Using a long, flat-head screwdriver, you can adjust a screw on the carburetor, which will affect the idling speed. You can adjust the idling speed if you desire. If you have problems with your nitro remote control car stalling, this idle speed is something you will want to modify.

· This is when you would want to play with both the high speed and low speed needles mentioned above. You will want to tune them until they are at the setting you need.

Remember that when tuning your car, the temperature can be a factor. Both the outside air temperature and the temperature of your car can affect how much you need to tune your car. So, if you tuned your car on a winter day, you will likely experience different things than if you tune your car on a hot summer’s day. In fact, it’s recommended that you tune your nitro remote control car during different times of the year to optimize it for performance during varying temperatures. 

Step 4: You’re almost done. Give it one last inspection and put it back together.  

· Give your car one last final inspection. You should see blue smoke coming from the exhaust. This means the car is tuned and functioning correctly.

· Make sure everything is put together, and reinstall the body cover. Your nitro remote control car should be as good as new!

Regular tuning and maintenance of your nitro remote control car will extend the life of your car, and it ensures it will function at peak performance for years to come!

How is Tuning a Nitro Remote Control Car Different from Tuning other RC Cars?

Let’s get a general understanding of the piece of machinery you are working with and trying to tune. What extra maintenance do you have to do because it is a nitro RC? What is different from what you would do to just a regular electric remote control car?

The biggest difference is the nitro. It means your RC car is fueled with gasoline and not by electricity. You will need to tune and maintain certain parts of your nitro RC car just because it is run by gasoline and not electricity. So, what parts of the RC car are most affected and need to be maintained?

· The biggest difference between a nitro RC car and an electric RC car is the power source. The car either runs on electricity or on nitro. 

· In a nitro RC car, you’ll need to make sure you prime the engine. The step where you block the exhaust and cycle the fuel into the carburetor is probably the most important step of tuning your nitro RC car.

  • The carburetor is arguably the most important part of your car. When working correctly, it is regulating the mixture of fuel and air. It then sends this mixture onto the engine, so your car can run.

· The other most important step is the needle tuning. There are typically two types of needles on your car, a low speed needle and a high speed needle. 

  • The high speed needle serves to control the way the fuel is mixed in the carburetor, so it needs maintenance. If it is not tuned correctly, the engine on your nitro remote control car will not perform optimally, and it could stop working altogether.
  • Whereas the high speed needle is in charge of how the fuel is mixed, the low speed needle monitors the amount of fuel that goes into the carburetor. If it’s not maintained, you could have the wrong amounts of fuel entering the carburetor, which would also not be good news for the life of your nitro RC car.

Needle tuning and priming the engine are the most important parts of tuning your nitro RC car. Put some time into their care and maintenance, and your nitro remote control car should last you a long time.  

Lean or Rich Mixture when Tuning your Nitro RC Car

When you’re fiddling with the carburetor, the needles, and the mixture of fuel to air, you could end up making your car too lean or too rich. You must end up somewhere in the middle of the two. If you are either too lean or rich, you will have problems with your car. Here’s the difference between being too lean and too rich:

· Lean – When your car is too lean, the air/fuel mixture ends up having more air going into the engine than there is fuel. The result is going to be some extra horsepower at the expense of some high engine temperatures. Having an engine that is too lean could cause engine failure. Your engine will be working to fast to create that extra horsepower.  

· Rich – When your car is too rich, it’s the opposite. You have more fuel than you do air in the engine. You might find you race a little better, and your car travels more quickly with this ratio, but it’s going to cool your engine down, which could lead to your engine stalling out. 

With some experience, you’ll find that sweet spot and that perfect balance between lean and rich. You need to find the right balance for your nitro remote control car, and the right mix of fuel to air. Adjusting the high and low speed needles are the way to go about correcting the mixture of fuel to air. Just be careful when you are first finding this balance, as you do not want to burn out or stall out your engine. If this happens you could cause significant damage to your car. 

How often should you Tune a Nitro Remote Control Car? 

You’ll need to tune your car in the beginning. After you run it a few times, get it tuned. After that, you won’t need to tune it all that often. Different weather will bring different needs based on temperature, so you should plan on getting it tuned based on the weather. If you live in a portion of the world where there are hot and cold seasons, plan on tuning it twice a year, once before each drastic change in temperature. 

Aside from tuning it for temperature, as long as you keep the air filter clean, your nitro remote control car shouldn’t require tuning too frequently.

How do you know your Nitro RC Car needs Tuning?

Maybe your car still doesn’t feel like it’s running right. How do you know if you need to tune it?

· Listen. Your car’s engine will tell you if it needs to be tuned. Is it lugging and sounds like it will stall? Or, does it sound like it’s revved up and running too fast? Both are indicators you should tune the engine.

· Look. Obviously, if something doesn’t look right, you should provide maintenance and tune your car. Do you see any cracks in the chassis? Do you see any smoke that shouldn’t be there (let’s hope not)?

· Temperature. With any major temperature change where you live, you should plan on tuning your nitro RC car. The cars will perform differently in extreme hot or cold conditions. 

· Routine. If none of the above apply, your car looks, sounds, and smells like new, and you don’t live in a region of the world where temperatures drastically change, you should still plan to tune your nitro remote control car at least once per year.

If you see smoke, if the car sounds funny, or if you’ve seen extreme changes in temperature, give your car a tuning just to be on the safe side. 

Videos Showing How to Tune your Nitro Remote Control Car 

YouTube is a wealth of resources for just about any topic. Nitro remote control cars are no different! If you’re the type to learn by watching, take a look at these videos on how to tune your nitro remote control car.

· This video introduces how to properly tune your nitro RC car. Watch this before you get started, and you’ll see first-hand how others have tuned their nitro remote control cars. 

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· Here is another step-by-step video guide on tuning your nitro RC car. This video takes you a step further than basic tuning, and helps you tune your car very thoroughly. This provides a lot of details into needle tuning, and the difference between what is rich and what is lean. 

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· This guide is on how to make your nitro RC car engine work at maximum performance.  If your car is working, but you want to take its performance to the next level, this video can give you tips on how to do that. 

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You can find almost anything on YouTube, including detailed instructions on how to tune your nitro remote control car. If you are interested in more videos like the ones above, go check out some more YouTube videos!


While you will need to do a little extra maintenance on your Nitro remote control car than if you have an electric RC car, if you take a few basic steps to care for your nitro RC car, it should last you a long time!

Some of the things you’ll be inspecting during the tune-up of your nitro RC are the servos, air filter, fuel tank, batteries, and needle settings. But, the biggest thing you’ll need to do is flush out the fuel lines, and ensure the nitro is flowing correctly. 

You’ll also need to perform routine after-run maintenance on your nitro RC car after each time you use it. This is probably the most important part of caring for your car. Doing this ensures that you maintain it properly and keep your nitro RC car running smooth for a long time.

Tuning your nitro RC car isn’t too difficult of a task, and there are a lot of books and videos online to help you in the process if you need the extra assistance.