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Why Are RC Cars So Expensive?

Radio-controlled cars have been a favorite hobby for model car enthusiasts since as early as the 1960s. Known as RC cars, these mini replicas of real-life cars are driven through transmitters or remote controllers. While some enjoy driving these little vehicles around for fun, others take a more serious approach with RC car racing. However, RC cars can be pricey.

What makes RC cars so expensive? The price tag of an RC car depends on the components used to make the car. Some factors in RC price are:

  1. Whether it runs by a fuel engine or electric power
  2. If it’s ready-to-run or a kit
  3. The cost of parts
  4. How large the car is
  5. RC racing costs

If you’re interested in taking up RC car driving as a hobby, or you’d like to upgrade your current RC car, keep reading. I’ve got the answers to exactly why these little cars come with such a big price tag.

Factors in RC Car Price

A high end, close replica RC car will come at a higher cost than a plastic RC car from a big box store that carries toys. There are a few different factors that will affect how much you spend.

#1. Nitro or Electric

There are two different ways that RC cars get power: nitro, with an engine, or electric.

Beginners or recreational drivers prefer an electric RC vehicle because they’re more affordable and don’t require nearly as much maintenance. Electric RC cars have fewer moving parts, so there’s less money to invest in parts replacement.

But… a nitro motor is closer to a real car, so some serious RC car enthusiasts and racers prefer to go that route. A nitro motor is fueled by nitro (hence the name), so there’s that added expense as well. Despite the price, many hobbyists prefer a nitro RC car to an electric.

#2. Ready to Run or Kit

Most Ready to Run, or RTR, cars have a substantially lower price tag than kits. A lot of this is because of the extra tools needed for assembly. While the kit itself might cost under $100, you’ll still need to make sure you have the right tools on-hand for the job.

If you don’t already own the tools, you’ll need to acquire those. While you can often find them on resale websites or online marketplaces, you’ll still be adding to the overall price. Here are a few of the main things that you’ll need for putting together your RC car:

  • Electric screwdriver
  • Bits for electric screwdriver
  • Body reamer
  • Wire cutters
  • Hex wrench (with ball end)
  • Heat gun
  • Flush cutters
  • Bits and bobs
  • Pliers
  • X-Acto Knife
  • Soldering iron

#3. Costly Parts

Not only is it expensive to buy a high-end RC car that can be used competitively, but an RC car’s upkeep is also pricey. Not to mention, the price of all the tools, some of them we’ve already listed above. Here are some of the parts that racing RC parts have, that can and will need to be replaced at some point:

  • Speed controls
  • Batteries
  • Motor
  • Fuels
  • Exhaust pipes
  • Bodies
  • Pinions
  • Spur gears
  • Servos
  • Tires and wheels
  • Radio systems
  • Glow plugs

Some of these parts have to be changed out as part of routine maintenance, just like a regular car. But, also just like actual car racing, there’s always the risk of car damage during the race itself. This could prove to be costly to the driver, especially if he or she is responsible for fixing another drivers’ car.

#4. How Large The Car Is

The size of the RC car is a large factor in its price. A 1/16 scale car is going to be much cheaper than a ⅛ scale model. That is partly because of the extra costs for manufacturing the car but also is due to the extra cost for storing and shipping the larger models. 

Being able to only fit a few cars on a shelf means more storage costs for the stores and will normally mean they will want higher margins since it is taking up so much shelf space. 

Those higher costs are directly passed on to the consumer via an increased price. 

#5. Additional RC Car Racing Costs

Although there aren’t many outside costs in addition to the car, parts, and tools associated with RC car racing, there are a few. And these costs only apply to those RC car drivers that are willing and able to put in the extra time and money.

Entry Fees or Admission

Some RC car races come with entry fees, which can add up, depending on how many races are entered. Or, there are places that are racing “clubs” or establishments, where drivers can race their RC cars, but those often come with an admissions price.

Travel Expenses

There are even travel costs that might come with RC car racing, especially if the driver lives in an area where racing isn’t popular. Drivers might have to drive or even fly to a race location. Sometimes hotel accommodations can even factor into the cost.

Is RC Car Racing an Expensive Hobby?

Yes. Racing RC cars can be an expensive hobby but it doesn’t have to be. As we’ve discussed, the price of an RC car depends on the type of RC car you’re using, and RC cars used for racing vs. those that are used just for fun, are more expensive.

If you are just starting out there are tons of good RC cars that can be purchased for a decent price. 

Want some specific models? The video below gives you the top 10 RC cars that can be purchased for under $60!

If you enjoy the racing end of the hobby, you can expect the additional expenses associated with entering races. And, the more you race, the more you might expect to do maintenance on your RC car and replace parts associated with wear and tear but of course that is an option and isn’t required to be in the RC hobby. 

RC Cars on a Budget

So, yes, RC cars can be expensive if you choose a high end model. The costs can especially go up if you are buying a name brand or a larger scale model. 

But there are RC cars on the market that are great for beginners or those that want an RC car but don’t want to spend as much as they could for a real car. Yes, that’s right. Some RC cars cost as much as a used car, with the most expensive ones starting right around $5,000. But you don’t have to spend that much.

Shop Around

There are quite a few people out there that are loyal to the RC car world, but not everyone that buys an RC car is in love with it. Plenty of people are gifted RC cars and decide it’s just not for them, or they have an RC car but don’t want to keep up with the maintenance anymore.

Before committing to a new RC car purchase, shop second-hand hobby stores, and online marketplaces. Some people just don’t use their cars as much as they’d hoped, or they find that it’s a more time consuming and costly hobby than they’d planned. If you’re lucky, you might be able to catch a deal on someone trying to sell their RC car on one of these sites.

Try a Brushed Electric Motor

Electric motors in RC cars are traditionally less expensive. But, there’s the option of a brushed electric motor or a brushless motor. If you’re not professionally racing your RC car and speed isn’t your main focus, then a brushed motor is a great option for a more affordable cost.

Brushless motors are faster, but they’re more complex in their assembly and require more maintenance than a brushed motor. With a brushed motor, you may be compromising slightly in the speed department, but the lack of maintenance and upfront cost will make up for it.

Shop the Sales

This might sound obvious, but don’t settle on the first RC car you see. If you’re looking for a great car at a bargain price, try to hold out for a sale. Hobby stores and specialty shops don’t have sales too often, but they do on occasion, especially around the holidays.

If you can wait, the holiday season is also a fantastic time to purchase an RC car. Many big box stores have sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Also, toward the end of the year, RC cars are on sale when companies are looking to unload their previous models before revamping for the next year.

Best Bang for Your Buck

If you’re really wanting to get an RC car and waiting is not your thing, there are a few models on the market that fit the bill. Here are a few models that won’t break the bank: