- Why You Should Take Up The Hobby
- A History of RC
- Where Can You Use An RC Car?
- Choosing An RC Model
- Popular Racing Classes
- The Vintage Scene
- Scaling and Crawling
- Electric Motors
- Nitro Engines
- Gas Engines
- Ready-To Run Models
- Building A Kit
- Tools and Accessories
- Club Racing
- The National Association
- Useful Links for the UK
Radio control or RC, as it is commonly known, is the smallest form of motorsport you can find and is essentially a scaled-down replica of a racing vehicle taking full-size machinery as their inspiration. Touring cars, Baja buggies, monster trucks, and Le Mans are just a few racing classes that have inspired manufacturers to make highly technical and competent scale RC models.
Modern-day RC vehicles are affordable, fast, fun, highly capable, packed with technology, and are a fantastic way to learn engineering skills and develop hand-eye coordination. You can choose to be a recreational user with a monster truck, or if you’re ultra-competitive, there are events that take place locally, regionally, and nationally. And if you are successful at the hobby, every year, there are World Championships for different RC racing classes where you get to represent your country. If you are still reading this, I hope you are hooked, just like thousands of people around the world who embrace the RC hobby.
Why You Should Take Up The Hobby
The radio control car hobby has hundreds of thousands of hobbyists across the globe who each find a unique appeal somewhere within its vast gamut of interest. More often than not, that appeal deepens, and what might start as a casual passing interest during youth can become a lifelong passion that evolves and grows over time.
For some, the interest is a shared one to be enjoyed with friends, while for others, it can become consuming and ultra-competitive. It is, in some guises, a true form of motorsport that requires the same level of dedication, commitment, and skill as any other form of sport and culminates in World Championship titles and professional racers.
It can be ‘geeky’, and it most certainly is often portrayed by the media as such, but scratch beneath the surface a little bit, and you’ll soon find that some of our most well-known household names have had an association with the hobby at some point. Multiple and current Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton cut his competitive teeth not only in karting as is widely known but also in radio control car racing. While the late, great Ayrton Senna was also an RC aficionado, who was regularly seen either at the controls of his RC airplanes and helicopters or behind the sticks of an RC car. Many F1 team designers are active RC car racers. Even Adrian Newey has gone on record in the past to comment on how he first learned some of the basic fundamental dynamic concepts of suspension articulation from his childhood passion for models and RC cars. In which he would strip apart and learn how the different elements of a (miniature) motor vehicle all work together
The physics and dynamic forces that act on a radio control car are the same forces that act on our real cars, such as when we brake sharply and transfer too much weight onto the outside front tire, causing our cars to lose grip and stability. Thus RC can be a great engineering teacher and an interactive educational tool.
All Ages, All Abilities
You don’t need to be strong to drive an RC vehicle as all the controls are at your fingertips and require just a light action for smooth and controlled driving. Female drivers are just as competitive as their male counterparts, with several young women racing at the highest level around the world. There also isn’t an ideal age. As long as you can hold a transmitter, you are old enough to learn. And there is no upper limit either, and so you will see people who are of retirement age enjoying their time at the track.
And whilst money can buy you a fast car, it won’t lead to success. The old adage of, “To finish first, first you have to finish” is never more true with RC racing. Not crashing will save you more time than being the quickest car down the straight. As a result, there is a hugely diverse demographic of racers from many sections of society that all come together with a shared bond and communal spirit for RC and racing.
A History of RC
The first RC vehicles hark back to the 70s and came in the form of 1:8-scale on-road machines that were powered by an internal combustion engine. Until that point, the only type of model car racing was either “round the pole” racing or slot cars (like modern-day Scalextric).
The pole racers used an internal combustion engine, with the car tethered to a central pole. Slot racing, too, had its limitations, relying on a groove to direct the car around a track.
The first RC cars were handmade and used engines found in RC planes of the same era. As the designs and hobby developed, manufacturers got involved, and the unreliable scratch-built cars replaced by better quality chassis and components. Construction rules and national associations emerged, and the level of competition rose quickly and would develop into the vast industry that RC is today.
Electric Power & Off-Road Capability
The 80s saw the next step of the hobby’s development with the introduction of electric power and off-road capability. With new models now emerging, and the ability to run cars almost anywhere without the noise of the engine and with the reliability that electric power now offered, no longer were the impromptu race meets and social gatherings restricted to outdoor car-parks or large smooth surfaces.
Electric power enabled racing to be taken indoors, into halls, and sports centers. At the same time, the off-road ‘buggies’ that were scale derivatives of the full-size Baja desert racers of the time suddenly broadened everyone’s horizons in terms of versatility and excitement.
Iconic RC Models
1970’s – Associated RC-1 (1972)
1980’s – Tamiya Hornet (1984)
1990’S – Associated RC10GT – 1993
RC Tech Breakthroughs of the Digital Age
Thanks to the extra punch from Lipo batteries, RTR cars are now able to achieve speeds of 60mph+ straight out the box! While NiMH can still be found in cheaper RTR models, Lipo barriers have transformed the industry. Learn more about Lipo batteries here.
2.4GHz Radio Systems
2.4GHz Radio Systems were first seen in 2004 at the IFMAR 1:10 On-Road World Championships when Spektrum’s plug-in modules were being used in a major competition for the first time. That technology has trickled down from the most expensive units and is now employed in all aspects of the RC hobby, from cars (surface) through to boats, planes, helicopters, and drones. Learn more here.
Brushless is now the motor of choice when it comes to competition as they are powerful and virtually maintenance-free. Learn more about the differences between brushed & brushless here.
Electronic Speed Control
This little electronic gizmo varies the current being delivered to the motor from the battery source, thus providing the motive energy for your RC car to move either forwards or backward. These can be programmed in various ways to fine-tune the amount of power delivered according to the proportional input it gets from your throttle finger.
Where Can You Use An RC Car?
It’s important to understand that while an RC vehicle can be tremendous fun for the person behind the transmitter, you need to be responsible where you have your fun. Open areas like parks and car parks are ideal. Still, you have to be careful if there are others nearby or young children or animals around.
Also, anything that uses an internal combustion engine rather than an electric motor to provide power comes with the added consideration of noise. A high-revving engine allied to a performance exhaust can mean your RC model will attract more than just your attention. With tracks ideally located to avoid conflict by distancing themselves from housing, it’s harder to find a suitable public space.
We are fortunate in the UK that the governing body called the British Radio Car Association does offer third-party insurance for its members. Pay an annual membership fee to the BRCA, and as long as you are responsibly using your RC vehicle and are not breaking any laws or are at an affiliated club, then you have some protection.
Choosing An RC Model
There is a vast choice when it comes to RC cars & trucks. From micro-sized models that fit into the palm of your hand through to large-scale models that are approximately 3 feet in length and can weigh over 20 pounds, there is something out there for everyone. From electric-powered models through to two-stroke gas-powered cars and trucks, if you are after something fun or want the thrill of competition, you can find it at a specialist retailer.
Looking for your first RC Car? Check out our Reviews/ Buyers Guides.
Popular Racing Classes
Around the world, you will find that there are many different racing classes, and the rules may differ. Only when it comes to European or World Championships, do they all fall into line and everyone has to adhere to EFRA (European Federation of Radio Operated Automobiles) or IFMAR’s (International Federation of Model Auto Racing) rules.
As an example, 1:10 off-road stock racing is huge in the US while in the UK, we have the indoor electric GT12 class that is popular at the local level, and there is a BRCA National Championship for the category. Other nations have a bias to nitro racing over electric, and of course, this affects what’s available and variations on these.
1:12-Scale On-Road – designed primarily for indoor racing on carpeted surfaces. LMP12, as it referred to in the UK, is often considered as the purest form of RC racing. These small electric-powered cars generate massive amounts of grip due to their foam tires that are treated with an additive to soften them up, as well as a body shaped to create downforce for high cornering speeds. There are other forms of 1:12 racing, such as GT12 and oval racing designed to be cheaper, simpler versions of LMP12. Still, as with any competitive class, the controlled element gets forgotten as performance demands increase.
1:10-Scale Off-Road – in this electric sector of the RC hobby, there is a large variety of options ranging from 2WD or 4WD drivetrains, buggies, stadium, and short course trucks. There are notable differences between them all, but one thing they all have in common is that they are all powered by a 7.4v LiPo battery and a brushless 540-size motor. These are the most popular racing classes that see clubs run events indoors and out, all year round. From carpet racing during the week to outdoors at weekends, there are many clubs to choose from, with the cars easily tuned for different tracks.
1:10-Scale Touring Car – like 1:10 off-road, you can easily find a club to race a touring car, whether in the evenings or at weekends. Outdoor clubs naturally race on the tarmac, whereas during the week, you will find the indoor competition on carpet or maybe a polished wooden floor. The traditional 4WD chassis is a complex beast, but often clubs will cater to newcomers with a controlled class based around a Tamiya chassis or similar.
Also, look out for Mini TC racing that is essentially a 1:12-scale version of a 1:10 TC, and the newest of classes, FWD (front-wheel drive), both of which have seen several notable manufacturers getting involved.
1:10-Scale Nitro On-Road – a nitro-powered on-road racer with a 7.87″ saloon body, is slightly bigger than a 1:10 TC that uses a 7.48″ design. Power comes from a 2.11cc (.12ci) engine that is capable of a high rpm, and when allied to a two-speed gearbox and foam tires means incredibly fast lap times.
1:8-Scale Off-Road – in this sector, you have both buggies and truggies, both based around a 3.5cc (.21ci) nitro engine and racing on large tracks made up of grass, dirt, Astroturf, or a combination of them all. All 1:8 off-road machines feature alloy chassis, front, center and rear differentials, and long-travel suspension to handle big jumps and very bumpy courses. The Truggy is a slightly larger version of the buggy as the chassis is more extended, the wheels and tires are more prominent, with a truck-style body. While qualifying races generally last five minutes, the finals are much longer, and pit stops for fuel and more advanced strategies come into play.
1:8-Scale On-Road – these are the fastest of all the current RC classes. These nitro-powered racing cars, like 1:8 off-road, feature a 3.5cc (.21ci) nitro engine, but they benefit from a two-speed gearbox geared to have both stunning acceleration and very high top speeds – around 80mph on open tracks. As a result, they can burn through a tank of fuel in less than five minutes, so pit stops are an essential part of the racing. A 1:8 on-road chassis uses wide foam tires all around with a solid rear axle (no differential) and one-way front diff, so need to be driven aggressively to be fast around the track. There is a growing electric class for 1:8 on-road, and the BRCA is supporting this with a national category running alongside the traditional nitro-powered machines
Large-Scale On-Road – one of the standout features of this class is that they are one of the few that continue to use bodies that are accurate replicas of full-size vehicles. A two-stroke engine usually powers these models, racing on large, permanent circuits. However, with the advances in both motors and batteries, a few electric versions are coming to the market. There are several classes, including F1, trucks, saloons, and minis, that all have their own identities and attractions.
Large-Scale Off-Road – these are the largest of RC models, therefore require the most space to run and have the biggest engines. These two-stroke powered buggies use engines ranging from 23cc through to 30cc and can be 2WD or 4WD. As they are capable of achieving speeds around 50mph, they have brakes to match with mechanical, hydraulic, and air options available. There is also RTR machinery around, and these make getting into the hobby more attainable for beginners. Due to their design, these engines are super durable and easy to use, which is handy for the less experienced.
We have tried to cover all of the leading racing classes that you can participate in around the world, and you may think we have neglected to comment on – rock crawling and micros to name just a couple. Things change, and the hobby can be incredibly fluid. Classes come and go, and this also means that there is always something new that will appeal, which is another excellent reason to get into the RC hobby.
The Vintage Scene
Being old is now very cool when it comes to RC cars. There is a massive following for vintage machinery – loosely classed as models from 1977 through to 1998. Vintage RC vehicles, once perceived to be uncompetitive or unfashionable, now have a loyal following. Older buggies that came out in the late 70s might be hard to find, but enthusiasts love the challenge of tracking down the parts or finding solutions to get these vehicles back on the road. For many, it’s an opportunity to buy a model once out of reach as a child. The demand for such models has also had a positive impact on the industry, with manufacturers re-releasing discontinued models. As a result, broken cars can be repaired and made operational once again.
Scaling and Crawling
While the racing mentioned earlier is all about speed, scaling, and crawling is quite the opposite. But don’t be fooled into thinking that going slow is boring because it doesn’t have to be. There is an inherent aspect of problem-solving associated with these types of RC cars. Crawling requires the driver to use the precise throttle and steering input skills necessary to enable their off-road scale truck or crawler to scramble up gravity-defying climbs or to traverse gully-riddled and rocky terrains. Throw in a few gate markers and a couple of buddies, and you’ve got another form of competition – only this time, it isn’t all about speed but more about precision and balance. If you thought hitting a golf ball could be frustrating, wait until you see an experienced rock crawler climb a near-vertical step with consummate ease while you flip over backward and land on your roof like a stranded bug in the garden.
Scaling and rock crawling are diverging into separate genres these days, but they do share a common ancestry.
Scaling (or trailing as it is often referred to) is more recognizable as being based on true-life scale vehicles. Think Land Rovers, or Toyota Hiluxes or Jeeps. They feature a permanently driven all-wheel drive transmission with solid axles coupled to link arm suspension, just like the real thing. They tend to have less suspension articulation than their rock crawler cousins, but the scaler genre is all about detail and realism. Working LED headlights, tail-lights, and even brake lights and indicators can be fitted along with detailed interiors with driver figures, door cards, and dashboards.
Accessory products are often licensed by real off-road brands such as ARB, and even the tires are branded by Goodyear, Dirk Cepek, and other notable companies.
Rock crawling, on the other hand, is extreme off-roading; crawling is all about function over form and technical capability. They, too, feature a permanently driven all-wheel drive transmission with solid axles suspended from long trailing arm suspension links whose travel is unfettered by any bodyshell or chassis clearance issues. To some, they look almost unworldly alien type bugs or lunar craft with huge oversized wheels and tires that are often weighted to provide even more traction.
Because of their limited top speeds, scalers and crawlers also have the benefit of being easier to learn, which is especially helpful for younger children. They also tend to last a long time between charges – often far more than an hour’s run time, whereas faster models will exhaust their power supplies in ten to fifteen minutes. They’re less likely to break because they’re going slower, and used in smaller spaces – even indoors for some of the micro-sized ones where the coffee table can become a mountain or the kitchen sink a ravine.
They also lend themselves to fitting in with existing other leisure activities. A scaler can become the focal topic for a photography student or a budding videographer. At the same time, either type can quickly be taken out into a country park while on a family walk. Because of their limited top speed, they won’t tear up the ground with wild wheelspins or power slides, and they’re less likely to cause any form of social angst amongst other families or couples who are out enjoying the countryside.
While it’s not an excuse to be irresponsible, these types of RC cars are less intimidating to other people than larger or faster RC cars and more readily accepted by other groups looking to share the same outdoor social spaces.
Radio Control, Not Remote Control
Let’s start by correcting a common mistake made by many, especially the mainstream media, who think that the acronym RC stands for remote control. This is wrong; a remote control is what you change the channel on television with, using an infrared signal to transfer limited info between the two. You might find a toy-grade machine come with remote control, but the trouble is that this signal is very directional and limited.
In contrast, a radio control set-up uses high frequencies to send your inputs from a transmitter that covers 360-degrees and can operate over a considerable distance. At the other end of the signal is a receiver that will be installed inside a high-performance RC vehicle such as an electric-powered on-road racer capable of over 100mph, or a smoke exhaling, nitro-powered buggy.
At the heart of driving, any RC car is the transmitter, as this is your connection to the vehicle. A basic transmitter has just two channels – one for steering and one for forwards/backward – and this is sufficient for full control. More complex transmitters are available, and with the extra channels offered, they can be set-up to operate accessories like changing gear or a winch, for example.
There are two different types of transmitters available with both stick and steer wheel options. The latter has become the most common in recent years, and stick transmitters are now included in 99 percent of Ready-To-Run models.
A steer wheel transmitter features a wheel that controls the steering and a trigger for the throttle/brake. Twenty years ago, most transmitter sales would have been stick radios, and this is where the left-side moves forwards and backward to operate the throttle and brake while the right-hand stick controls the steering left and right.
Neither system has any real advantage, but you will find younger racers tend to prefer a wheel as it’s easier for smaller hands, and as RTRs come with this type of transmitter, newcomers tend to settle on this type. Older generations of racers in the UK can generally be seen racing with a stick transmitter, whereas the rest of the world has generally adopted the steer wheel design much sooner.
All transmitters come with some degree of adjustability built-in, so the specification and number of different adjustments available are what differentiates the cheaper sets from top of the range examples.
Minicomputers power high-end transmitters, and some of the latest models use mobile phone operating systems like Android and are incredibly complex. The functions and features available mean that they do so much more than control the direction and speed of the car.
While most basic transmitters come with servo reverse and adjustable trims, upgrading to even a mid-range model will see a whole host of useful features included. Features like multiple model memory so you can set up more than one RC vehicle on the same handset as well as dual rates that can reduce the amount of steering lock or limit the top speed.
End-point adjustment (EPA) is excellent to have when you have a nitro-powered vehicle as this allows changes of the servo throw limits, which prevents them from getting damaged.
Exponential Rate puts a curve on your input and can be used to smooth out the initial action on the vehicle. As an example, many racers will add a little negative exponential on the steering to reduce any initial twitchiness on high-bite surfaces.
At the other end of the signal from the transmitter is a receiver that interprets your inputs and feeds them into the speed controller or steering servo. A receiver has a flexible aerial wire that extends out of the case, and this is then inserted into a plastic tube to allow it to stand up and then pass through a hole made in the bodyshell so that the receiver can obtain a strong signal regardless of where the car happens to be on the racetrack. But bear in mind that the aerial might not always be exposed from the receiver as some high-end models incorporate this into the casing to prevent damage with affecting the range (the distance that the transmitter can safely send a signal to the receiver).
On an electric-powered model, it takes its power from the battery via the speed controller and will plug into Channel 2, often shown as (CH2) on the receiver case. In the Channel 1 (CH1) slot goes the plug for the servo that controls the steering. There will be other spare holes in the casing that can be used for a separate battery pack or a bind plug. If you have more than a two-channel set-up, then there is the potential to use telemetry or accessories like a winch that can be operated from the transmitter.
With a nitro-powered model, you have the two same channels with Channel 1 for the steering servo, while Channel 2 is for the servo that operates in one direction to open the carburetor (throttle), and goes the opposite way to pull the brakes on. Of course, a battery is required to power these components. Hence, there is usually a slot marked “BAT” where the switch goes and then at the other end of this is the battery, which is generally either four AA (1.5V) Alkaline cells or a dedicated receiver pack that can be a 6.6v LiFe, 7.2v NiMH or 7.4v LiPo. A receiver pack is much more performance-focussed, and you benefit from longer life, convenience, and the ability to recharge it when it goes flat. Luckily a decent receiver will be able to regulate the different voltages without the need for a regulator to be installed between the two components.
Nowadays, even entry-level machinery comes with transmitters and receivers that use the 2.4GHz frequency, first seen in 2004 at the IFMAR 1:10 On-Road World Championships when Spektrum’s plug-in modules were being used in a major competition for the first time. That technology has trickled down from the most expensive units and is now employed in all aspects of the RC hobby, from cars (surface) through to boats, planes, helicopters, and drones.
With 2.4GHz, the transmitter is “bound” to the receiver in the same way that you “pair” Bluetooth components, meaning that the receiver is only ever looking for the signal from its paired transmitter and ignores all others. The other benefit is that “noise” caused by the other electronic components on your vehicle, such as the motor or speed controller, has less chance of causing interference where you could lose control for a split second.
You might see the words “frequency hopping” and “spread spectrum” used in the description of 2.4GHz technology. Instead of transmitting on a single channel at a time as 27 and 40MHz did with the crystal controlling the setting, the transmitter and receiver are constantly “hopping” from one available channel to another over the full spectrum of 2.4GHz channels.
Please bear in mind that this is a relatively simple description of the technology. Still, the introduction of 2.4GHz has been fantastic for the hobby and has been widely adopted throughout the RC industry.
An electric motor is a very simple piece of equipment, but the design and specification can differ and so the range of performance between two similar-looking motors can be huge. Electric motors come in two forms; brushed and brushless.
Brushed motors have been around for many years and are still found in entry-level (cheaper priced) models and for crawling/scale applications where they are smoother, pulling away from a standstill. They are usually rated by the wind or number of turns, for example, 27T or 55T. Like battery development, the advances that have been made in motor technology have been incredible. Brushless is now the motors of choice when it comes to competition as they are powerful and virtually maintenance-free. With a brushed motor, contact is maintained between the motor’s brushes and the commutator, whereas with a brushless example, there are no brushes to wear out and replace. Other than bearings in both ends, there’s little in a brushless motor to wear out.
Brushless motors require a brushless compatible speed controller, and these systems are either sensored or sensorless. Sensored systems require an additional sensor lead that goes between the two components, whereas a sensorless setup doesn’t need this. You will find that the brushless motors can be rated in either turns like brushed or kV, although the two cannot be directly compared. A 5T brushless motor is more like a 9T brushed motor. The fewer the turns on a motor’s rating, the faster it will be, and likewise, the higher the turns, the slower the motor. If you see a number such as 6800kV, the motor’s performance is measured in kV, and this refers to the RPM per volt. The higher the kV number, the faster it will accelerate. As a general rule of thumb, a 10.5T brushless motor will have a similar performance as a 3800 to 4300kV motor, but naturally, this may vary.
Speed Controller (ESC)
While proportional steering is handled by a servo, which takes the electrical signal that the receiver decodes, turning it into a rotational movement via mechanical linkages. The throttle in an electric-powered vehicle is performed by the speed controller – or electronic speed controller to give its full name.
In basic terms, this little electronic gizmo varies the current being delivered to the motor from the battery source, thus providing the motive energy for your RC car to move either forwards or backward. Through its intelligent electronics, the speed controller does a bit more than that, especially in high-end competition speed controllers. These can be programmed in various ways to fine-tune the amount of power delivered according to the proportional input it gets from your throttle finger.
In many cases, RC electronic speed controllers recuperate energy that would otherwise be lost during braking events via a feature called regenerative braking. Something that we now see on full-size hybrid and battery electric-powered vehicles like the Toyota Prius or Tesla models – talk about the real world mimicking RC!
Accessing and tuning all of these intelligent electronic features can be as simple as using a smartphone-based app via a WiFi/Bluetooth link or via bespoke programming set-up boxes that are plugged into the speed controller and then removed once the parameters have been programmed.
Most speed controllers are reasonably robust, and feature protection software to limit the risk of damage through overheating or from the battery voltage going too low (vital when using Lithium-based batteries). Some are even water-resistant to help enable them to be used even in damp conditions. However, it should be recognized that full submersion is something that should be avoided as, after all, it is a box full of sensitive electronic components.
Although they might look similar, battery packs can be very different – voltage, chemistry, connectors, physical size, capacity, and performance.
Nickel Metal Hydride and Lithium Polymer are the two most popular types currently with the latter being used for the majority of racing classes where performance is key.
Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries are a traditional and well-established cell chemistry type that is almost bullet-proof, easy to use, and cheap to buy, which makes them ideal for RTR packages and entry-level machinery.
Lithium-based technology is still relatively new but offers higher performance in terms of energy density, capacity, and power delivery. However, a Lithium Polymer (LiPo) pack can be more volatile and is more expensive.
You will find most entry-level machinery will accept a NiMH pack, and if a battery is included, usually, it will be one of these 7.2v packs. They will be supplied with a polarity-protected connector, so there is no fear of it being incorrectly plugged into a charger or the car.
LiPo has several benefits over NiMH as they are lighter, have a higher nominal voltage at 7.4v, come in different sizes, and can deliver the power more efficiently. The majority are rectangular shaped with square edges, although for use in older chassis, a few manufacturers offer a rounded style like NiMH to fit. They require a dedicated LiPo charger, and you should always use a specialist safety bag for charging and storing. They are more volatile, though, and care during the charging process is paramount. Safety comes first and always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. As Lithium technology continues to develop and improve, the performance has increased. So the nominal voltage of high-end race packs called HV (High Voltage) has gone up from 7.4v to 7.6v, which may not seem like a lot, but for racing, the benefits are enormous.
Charging is by far the most critical step in owning LiPo cells – a good charger and understanding the charge state will give you an excellent cycle life and well balanced maintained cells. One of the biggest reasons for accidents has been down to charging LiPos using the wrong setting like NiMH. With a NiMH pack on, you mostly charge them with the ‘peak detect’ method, which in short means you feed them voltage and amps at the desired level until the voltage of the cells begins to drop from its highest point. This is because the cell will only take a certain amount of charge after this maximum point, and the drop in voltage highlights this. In simple terms, the pack overcharged a little when using the peak detection mode, and we note that the cells will become warm to the touch due to the process. There are more sophisticated ways of charging NiMH cells, but this is the basis of most chargers.
With LiPo technology, the charger dictates the peak voltage per cell, based on the technology of the cell – typically 4.2v per cell. LiPo cells should never go above 4.3v per cell as they will become unstable, and you are at risk of damaging them, not to mention blowing them up. When the LiPo cells hit 4.2v, a charger will typically back off the input amperage to keep the voltage below this point until such a time that cells are at 4.2V with little input. We now have a complete, fully charged cell.
You can see the two methods differ significantly and that if you put a LiPo cell on a NiMH charge setting, the charger would be waiting for that peak voltage drop that would never happen. The voltage will keep on rising until the inevitable happens, and you end up with an exponential increase in voltage and then fire! So, in short, please never put a LiPo on a NiMH charge setting and be aware if you have a charger that defaults back to a different battery type. With the above in mind, you can begin to understand the importance of a good charger. This is one more reason why LiPo and LiFe cells should always be charged within a safety bag or pouch. These are designed to contain the worst should an accident happen.
Taking a LiPo below 3v per cell can damage the individual cells and breakdown some of the core chemistry of the pack, thus creating crystallization in the cells. This then spreads and causes “puffing,” which is not a good sign. If you do find a LiPo cell has gone down below 3v unloaded or if there is significant puffing, then its recommended that you dispose of it safely. Some chargers have a recovery mode, but if the voltage drops to 0v, then definitely recycle it carefully following the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Suitable LiPo-friendly speed controllers should give you a notice if the voltage has dropped below the predefined point, generally in the form of decreased power to the motor. At this stage, you should stop your car immediately. All LiPo packs will quickly give you the full five minutes when racing, and will even last most lengthened finals (if you do run them at your club). There is no point risking running your car once the cells are anywhere near 3v.
Many chargers will now offer a storage setting for your LiPo packs; this is quite simply a recommended charge state for the LiPo packs. If you are leaving them for long periods without use, say more than a couple of weeks, then it is recommended to put in a “storage charge.” Usually, this is around 3.7v or about 50 percent charged.
These model engines get the nitro name from the specialist fuel that they use containing a percentage of Nitromethane. Nitro fuel contains many elements, and ironically Nitromethane is not the main component, but Methanol is instead. Methanol is alcohol, but a very poisonous variety and is inherently flammable.
The vaporized fuel is compressed in the cylinder by the piston moving upwards. The pressure builds until part of the fuel vapor ignites, at which time the resultant explosion ignites the rest of the fuel in the cylinder, and the rapid expansion of gases in the burn process forces the piston back down through its travel. The gases are drawn through the exhaust port and into the exhaust system while a fresh charge of air and fuel vapor is drawn into the cylinder ready for the next cycle.
Nitro engines are also often called ‘glow’ engines in reference to their ignition source being a glow plug that’s screwed into the top of the cylinder head.
Unlike gas or spark-ignition engines, the glow plug is essentially a catalytic heater element, much like those fitted to diesel engines, in which you pass a small electrical current through the glow plug to heat it while you start the engine. Once started, the electrical source is removed as it’s not needed due to the catalytic materials in the glow plug wire and the compressive cyclical nature of the combustion process that essentially keeps the element warm with every explosion.
Mixed into the fuel is an oil that not only lubricates both the crankshaft and the piston in the cylinder but also helps cool the engine. Nitromethane is added to the Methanol and oil as this makes the engine produce more power, and the percentage of nitro content is generally how the different fuels are rated.
With the correct fuel, tuning, and essential maintenance of a nitro engine, it will run very well with little wear on the internal components. Bear in mind though that with any fuel-based engine, you will still require an onboard battery supply to power the radio system and servos.
Check out the dedicated section “Nitro RC for Beginners” for detailed information on all things nitro.
On much larger models where size is less of an issue, you will find a two-stroke engine that has a conventional spark plug and ignition system. These use regular unleaded pump fuel mixed with a specialist two-stroke oil. As these engines don’t separate the oil from the fuel like in a full-size car, the oil is added to the fuel beforehand.
Because of the larger physical size, these 2-stroke motors are found in bigger RC models like 1:5-scale (often referred to as large-scale) and are usually around the 23cc through to 30cc size, similar to what can be found in a garden strimmer. They don’t rev as high as a nitro engine, so the noise is not so much of an issue, but there is still massive appeal with the sound and, of course, the trail of smoke that exits from the exhaust.
Ready-To Run Models
Over recent years, the hobby has evolved aided by the latest developments and improvements in technology. The result is the components are better, the vehicles are more robust, and the range of products on offer has increased. In the early 2000s, a new type of RC package was born in the form of the Ready-To-Run. The car didn’t come in a box of bits and require an additional outlay for the electrical components like radio equipment, motors, and batteries.
Now you got a built chassis, painted body, a battery to power it as well as a basic charger. Within a few minutes of purchase, you could be running the vehicle up and down the road instead of the countless hours involved with kit builds. It transformed the hobby and RTRs are now a massive sector of the industry and has no doubt attracted many more newcomers to it than would have if there had only been the kit option.
RTRs are available for both electric, nitro, and two-stroke gas-powered machines, but will not all be of the same specification. For example, often, an electric-powered RTR might need a battery and charger, and a nitro package won’t include the specialist fuel in the box. The retailer will be able to help with this, though, and usually, the additions will be only a small price to add on to the main purchase cost.
Building A Kit
If you have purchased an RC vehicle in kit form, your knowledge and understanding of how the model works will be much higher than compared to buying an RTR. With kits, you learn about how your vehicle works right from the start, gaining an understanding of its components, making it much easier to maintain and repair during your ownership.
Some models called Almost Ready-To-Runs (ARTR) will probably only need the body painting, some decals applying for a few other small jobs before it can be used. A kit, on the other hand, could take anything from four hours upwards just to get it built, then you have to allow time to paint the body and install the electrics. This knowledge will prove to be invaluable with the intimate understanding you’ve gained from the time already invested in the model, and it will make tuning and maintenance a whole lot easier.
One of the essential parts of any RC kit build is the instruction manual, and you should treat this with care and respect as it’ll pay dividends throughout the entire build. Spend time locating each of the separate parts required for each step, and familiarise yourself with all the molded components, metal parts, hardware, and bearings. Most manuals walk you through every step with complete clarity, using a combination of text descriptions and diagrams with a list of parts used in each level, or just using diagrams and parts lists.
Be sure to follow the construction steps sequentially and don’t be tempted to skip back and forth because certain stages appear to be more fun.
Many manufacturers will also tend to bag the parts in clear steps, meaning you only have to open one bag at a time and empty the components into a suitable tray or bowl. There might be some extra parts left over as spares, so don’t worry. Just to keep you on your toes, there might be some parts that are specifically for the left- or right-hand side of the car that can be marked accordingly; otherwise, you will need to refer to the diagrams. Items like suspension and steering components, hub carriers, and uprights are the ones to watch for being handed.
Tools and Accessories
It’s essential to make sure you have all the correct tools before you start building, as it’s unlikely all the ones needed will be included. Manufacturers tend to include a selection of essential tools with their kits like a box spanner and Allen (hex) keys. Still, thin-nose pliers, screwdrivers, scissors, side cutters, and a modeling knife will be required to help with the build process.
In the long-term, a proper set of Allen drivers is a must-have along with nut drivers as these are much better in so many ways than basic L-shaped Allen keys. They offer greater control, are much more comfortable, and the quality of the fit is usually much higher, so there is less chance of damaging the head of the bolt.
There might be some double-side tape included, but a roll of this from a specialist hobby shop is inexpensive and will be very useful. Other types of tape that are handy to have include insulation tape that can be used to tidy up wires and hold them down, as well as masking tape that can be used for painting the body. Fiberglass tape is also perfect for protecting the inside painted surface of the body to stop rubbing.
Other recommended tools and things to invest in as you get more into the hobby will be small cable ties and heat shrink that will make a neater job of holding the wires in position, as well as some suitable modeling grease and a light-bearing oil. If your shocks or differentials are oil-filled, then you will need to invest in some suitable silicon oils for maintenance or when tuning them, and the instruction manual or manufacturer’s website will be able to help with guidance around this area. Finally, a soldering iron package is essential when building competition-spec electric-powered machines as you will need to make soldered connections to the battery and motor wires.
Foam, slicks, ribs, pins, blocks, and treaded are all different types of tires that RC cars run on. If you race on-road classes on a carpet, you will either use foam or slick rubber tires, whereas the off-road courses nearly always use a tire with a pin or spike on the driven wheels. In some circumstances, you might see a 1:10 off-road buggy or truck fitted with slicks with the spike intentionally removed, but this is for dirt tracks, and the tires are treated with an additive that softens the rubber to generate grip. The surface will decide the tread pattern and compound.
Foam tire compounds are traditionally categorized using the Shore rating, which is a measure of the hardness of a material. Rubber tires could be specified in the same way, but different manufacturers have their own compounds, and sometimes if the tire isn’t just rubber, they will use their system – some use color while others use letters and numbers. It might sound confusing, but it’s quite simple once you get into it. You will also see a vast range of tread patterns with different spike designs, heights, and arrangements, but at most tracks, there will be just one or two tires that work, and club members will only be too happy to help a newcomer.
Traditionally RC cars were constructed to be scale replicas of the full-size vehicles. Still, times have changed, and with competition being so focussed on outright performance, nowadays, it’s a case of function over form. But luckily for fun and recreational vehicles, there are a lot of RC brands who have tied up with manufacturers to create licensed versions of the real thing, and these are incredibly accurate and true to the full-size thing, from the front grille and headlights through the badges and indicators.
When it comes to off-road, naturally, the buggies and trucks look very unlike anything you will see on the road as they wrap themselves around the shape of the chassis. Aerodynamics are important; hence you will see the small front and large rear wings fitted. Still, it’s in the on-road classes like 1:12, 1:10 touring car, and 1:8 that the design is all about controlling the airflow, and bodies are changed depending on the need to increase or decrease aero grip at the front, rear or all over.
Like most hobbies, RC offers a club culture should you wish to race and enjoy the hobby alongside other like-minded individuals. Here you can not only race your machinery against similar machinery, testing your driving skills, car set-up, and its performance, but as a result, you will benefit from the social side when meeting new RC enthusiasts. Sharing your knowledge and learning from your peers. There are hundreds of clubs around the country that cater for all racing classes.
Whether you are looking to race indoors or out, tarmac, grass or dirt, nitro or electric, large- or small-scale models, there is a club that will offer what you need. A club will be a source of incredible knowledge and information, with members who have taken part for many years, and they will welcome newcomers to their club with open arms, offering support and help as required.
Once installed in a local club, you will become more aware of other venues and tracks in the area, as well as events taking place. As your ability, confidence, and yearning for more growth, the racing level can be raised a notch or two by moving on to regional level competition, and then, of course, national racing beckons.
Some classes do not necessarily have a traditional club scene with crawler and scaler groups increasingly forming and existing predominantly via social media platforms where meets are arranged at suitable local venues.
The National Association
The British Radio Car Association (BRCA) is the United Kingdom’s governing body for radio controlled model car racing. On their site, you can find all the latest club and National news as well as race reports, locate your nearest BRCA affiliated club, download entry forms and, most importantly, join the British Radio Car Association.
Useful Links for the UK
Answer-RC – www.answer-rc.com
Brands Represented: Bittydesign, HB Racing, Novarossi, Performa, Sworkz, Team Orion
CML Distribution – www.cmldistribution.co.uk
Brands Represented: Carisma, FTX, HoBao, Pro-Line, Protoform, Reedy, Savox, Team Associated, Team Corally
J Perkins Distribution Limited – www.jperkinsdistribution.co.uk
Brands Represented: Traxxas
Kyosho UK – www.kyoshoeurope.com
Brands Represented: AKA, Kyosho, Reds Racing
Logic RC – www.logicrc.com
Brands Represented: Arrma, Axial, ECX, Spektrum, TLR, Vaterra
MB Models – www.rccarshop.co.uk
Brands Represented: Yokomo (on-road)
Nemo Racing – www.nemoracing.com
Brands Represented: Agama, Beta, Bullitt, Yokomo (off-road only)
RC Bitz – www.rcbitz.com
Brands Represented: RC4WD
RC Disco – www.rcdisco.com
Brands Represented: FX, Hudy, Sunpadow, Tekin, Xray
Rennick’s Modeltune – www.modeltune.com
Brands Represented: JQ Products
Ripmax – www.ripmax.com
Brands Represented: DHK, Futaba
RPRC Distribution – www.rprcdistribution.com
Brands Represented: Tekno RC
Schumacher Racing – www.racing-cars.com
Brands Represented: Dash, Hobbywing, KO Propo, LRP, Sanwa, Schumacher
Serpent Off-Road UK – www.serpentuk.com
Brands Represented: Serpent (off-road only)
Serpent On-Road UK – www.serpent-uk.com
Brands Represented: Serpent (on-road only)
Spire Model Distribution – smddirect.co.uk
Brands Represented: Carisma, Surpass
The Hobby Company – www.hobbyco.net
Brands Represented: Carson, Tamiya
Torque RC – torque-rc.co.uk
Brands Represented: ARC, Team Zombie
X-Factory UK – www.xfactoryrc.co.uk
Brands Represented: Alpha, JConcepts, Hobbytech, LC Racing, Tekin, X Factory
Zen-Racing – www.zen-racing.co.uk
Brands Represented: Roche, Shepherd, Zen-Racing
6K Racing – 6kracing.com
Brands Represented: Awesomatix, Maclan, PR Racing
- AMRCA. “WMCR WORLD RESULTS/RECORDS.” (October 28, 2019) https://www.amrca.com/tracks.htm