Everyone needs a hobby, and racing (or just driving) RC cars can be a very fulfilling one. Sometimes, however, the pre-made cars just don’t have the right specs, and you wish you could custom-build your own vehicle. In spite of what you might think, this is an option for everyone. You can purchase an RC car kit from hobby stores or online and then, with a few hours of work, you can be racing a car that you’ve built by yourself.
What are the advantages of building your own RC Car? By building your own RC car, you increase your ability to repair damages, you increase your knowledge of how the RC car works, and you can build the car to the specifications that you want.
Opening a pre-made RC car is easier, but if you want to enter this exciting and addictive world, the resources in this article will help you become a pro in no time. Ask yourself the following questions to decide if building your own RC car is the right choice for you:
What’s my price range?
The cost of RC car kits can be a bit pricey. If you simply want the experience of building a car, some kits allow you to do so with building bricks (like Legos). These can run as little as $25.
They’re obviously not very hardy and won’t be winning any serious races anytime soon, but they can be fun for a casual hobbyist. However, if you are looking to build a car that you can drive a little more seriously, RC car kits can cost from $130 for a basic vehicle to over $1000 for a customized masterpiece.
However, they’re most commonly between $600-700. More powerful upgrades and even battery packs are purchased separately, so that can add to the cost, as well.
If that sounds too pricey, there are cheaper options. You can build your own car from scratch and buy all the materials, yourself. You probably will need to purchase some instructions, but you can easily find books on the subject, such as “The R/C Car Bible.”
There are also online resources available, such as hobbyist forums. Building the car from scratch will take more time as you find all the materials individually, but it will definitely save you money and allow you to take your customization to the next level.
What kind of engine do I want?
The first step in building an RC car is deciding what type of RC car you are going to build. There are two main types of car engines: electric engines and nitro engines.
Electric engines are quiet. They are simpler to build, operate, and maintain. There are fewer internal parts, so they can be put together more quickly than nitro engines.
Electric engines can be run on outdoor or indoor tracks, and are able to go into reverse. Electric engines are often powered with brushless motors and LiPo batteries. When this combination occurs, the really high-powered cars have been known to reach over 100 mph!
However, the electricity in electric engines limits the vehicles’ maximum run time. Depending on the quality of battery, you’ll be able to drive from 12-45 minutes on a Ni-MH battery, while a Li-Po will run a bit longer.
Once the battery dies, though, you have to wait an hour or so for them to recharge. One way to get around this is to have an extra battery pack charging while you play, so it can be ready to go when you run down your primary pack. Also, if you have a brushed motor in your vehicle, an electric car can also be very slow.
Nitro engines run on gas and are noisy. Some people love the sound, while it can drive others crazy. Nitro engines are powerful and don’t require time to recharge. When you want to drive your nitro RC car, you simply have to fill up the gas tank, and you’re ready to drive.
They are complex machines and can offer realistic mechanical experience which can transfer to larger automobiles. A nitro tank generally only lasts 10-15 minutes, but refuelling happens in a few seconds and then you’re good to go, again.
Nitros can also cause noise complaints with the neighbours, and it can be a difficult car for beginner drivers.
Where can I drive my car (what surfaces are available for driving)?
Once you’ve decided what kind of car you’re interested in driving, it’s important to make sure that you can drive that type of car in your area. If you are interested in racing your custom vehicle, make sure you check the local hobby store or race track.
Some race tracks won’t allow nitro cars because they only have indoor tracks. Others have different rules that can limit which parts are allowed in your RC car. In order to qualify for the track you can only use the regulated parts.
For example, some of the older racetracks don’t allow brushless engines to race. Tracks with these rules are getting fewer and farther between, but they do still exist. You don’t want to spend a lot of time and money on your car, only to find out that you can’t legally drive it at your local racetrack.
It’s also important to know the different models of RC cars and their strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a quick list of the available versions:
- On-road cars are RC cars that excel at driving on pavement and other flat surfaces. These can be either nitro or electric. They nearly always have four-wheel-drive (4WD).
They come as street cars or drift cars. Street cars are the standard version, while drift cars have smooth wheels that enable them to slide through turns. Drift cars are a little more difficult to drive. On-road cars do not perform well off-road.
These cars are ideal for racers on a flat track. The electric on-road cars are able to drive either indoor or outdoor. Nitro street cars are limited to racing outside because of exhaust fumes.
- Off-road cars have large, spiked tires. These cars are specialized to perform on any terrain, though their extra-long suspension makes them slower on flat surfaces.
These cars can easily perform tricks but are not as responsive as on-road cars on pavement. Another reason for this is that the bulkier tires that allow them to grip and drive over obstacles keep them from being as aerodynamic as their counterparts.
Off-road cars can be built with either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
- Rally cars are hybrid models. They usually have the aerodynamic build of the on-road, but have better suspension and bigger tires. They are slower than the on-road cars on flat surfaces, but they can be driven over any kind of terrain.
For a casual hobbyist, you can’t do better than rally cars. They come in two different types. Buggies sit low to the ground and are very fast on pavement. They are capable of driving off-road, but only very slowly.
Truggies have much larger tires that hold the car further from the ground. This extra lift increases the off-road speed, but decreases its on-road speed.
This might surprise some people, but not every RC hobbyist wants their RC car to go over 100 mph. Some people just want to have a car that responds quickly and can travel off road. Others just want a trick car.
Whatever your desires, you can cut a lot of costs to your custom vehicle if you don’t buy the newest and more complicated parts. Get what you need for your vehicle. The nice thing about building your own RC is that if you want to upgrade later, you can.
You know where all the parts are located, so it’s easy to switch something out for a newer version if you find yourself dissatisfied over time. It’s also a good idea to start cheaper as you’re learning your way around your vehicle and build your way up over time.
What kind of battery pack will I need?
If you decide to build an electric motor, batteries make a lot of difference in the amount of speed and power that your car is capable of reaching. There are currently two types of batteries that most racers use: there is the Nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery and the Lithium Ion Polymer (LiPo).
There is a newer version of the LiPo, known as the LHV. These are a newer, more stable and powerful version of the LiPo, but they are still novel enough that all of the advantages and disadvantages are not fully understood.
I’ll keep things simple. The Ni-MH battery is a safe and reliable battery that performs well. It loses its ability to recharge after around 300 recharges, but the Ni-MH is relatively inexpensive to purchase.
They come as single batteries or as packs. I would recommend buying a battery pack, as I have found that they allow the car to perform for a longer period of time. This battery can be paired well with either brushed or brushless motors.
The LiPo battery is a much more volatile battery than the Ni-MH battery. It delivers more power, which allows the car to run faster for longer. It is best paired with a brushless motor and an on-road model.
If damaged, these batteries can explode or set fire to flammable items around them, but these situations happen rarely and can be prevented by following the directions that come with the battery. It is recommended that you carry a fire-extinguisher with you just in case if you choose to use a LiPo to power your vehicle.
How do I build my vehicle?
You’ve picked out your car. You know whether you want to build a nitro or an electric motor and if you want to build it from scratch or from a kit. You know what kind of energy is going to be powering your car and you know what you want your car to do.
You have all the parts and a diagram to follow. You will also need a few tools. Most kits will tell you what is not included, but necessary. The tools you need will depend on how much cutting and customizing you plan to do. Try to collect them before you get started. Now it’s time to begin.
Keep in mind that, as you build your car, there are an endless amount of alterations that you can make. If you have a kit, follow the directions in the box. If you are following someone else’s blueprints, follow their specifications. The instructions I’m supplying here are for a very basic nitro system.
Whether you drew your diagram or are using one that someone else made, start with a flat metal plate. This will be your chassis (body of the car). Everything will be attached to this. Cut your metal plate to match your diagram.
Next, you’re going to set up your axles and wheels. Pick up your axles. You are going to attach one to the front of your chassis and the second one to the back. Attach both of your axles with screws. Then, you are going to place your motor near your front axle. Before you secure anything, double-check to make sure you’re putting the motor in the right place.
Run your main steering wire from the motor to the front axel’s gear assembly. This will allow your vehicle to turn. Secure the steering wire to the copper ring and twist it tight. Connect the secondary steering wire to the back axle’s front knob if you want 4WD. Attach your antenna to the top of the motor.
Take your servomechanism and align it until it is level with the motor. You don’t want your servo leads to be loose, so you can try to coil them or secure them using zip-ties.
Next, you’ll want to attach your tires to the axles by screwing the washers onto the ends. Spin the tires to make sure they move.
Then you need to set up the transmitter to control your car. Take the plastic housing for your remote and use rubber cement to glue two resistors inside the frame. Then you’ll want to install two more pairs of resistors into the base housing for the remote. Set them about an inch apart. Put a hole in the center of the two resistors and add your steel rod. Once the rod is in place, attach the electrode and steel head to the end and then cap it with a knob on the outside of the remote housing.
Attach the trigger wire to one of the pairs of resistors. This regulates the front axle and allows you to control the speed of the car.
Combine the two halves of the remote and attach the remote’s antenna. Then test your remote to make sure that the car responds to your directions.
Once the car is starting and responding to your controls, attach the shell of the car. This can be purchased separately. It can also come with the kit. Again, customize as much as you would like.
For a nitro, you can now fill up the tank and see if it will start. For an electric, the directions should be similar and you should just need to install the batteries. Enjoy your new RC car!
Can I use an old RC car to build a new one? Of course. Even if an older RC car no longer works, it can still have some very solid parts that can be taken off and used for a new vehicle. Keep the parts that are in good shape.
Even if you don’t use them to build a new vehicle, you can always use them for replacement parts if something breaks.
What are some ways I can get the parts for really cheap? There are several ways to do this. One way is to buy older cars from other people and scavenge usable parts. Of course, you’ll probably need to buy a few new things, but by utilizing other people’s used vehicles, you can save a lot of money.
Another way is to look online and buy the parts from individuals instead of name-brand companies. A lot of hobbyists make and sell their own parts, and these parts are generally well-made and durable.
Also, be sure to check out your local RC hobby dealership. They often have sales or know where to get the best parts.
They can also advise you on the nearby racetrack and RC community. Some people really enjoy their hobbies in a social setting, and the people who work at the hobby stores should be familiar with your area’s events.
Is installing a LiPo battery worth it?
It depends. If you really want a powerful, fast vehicle, then I would argue that it is worth it. LiPo batteries are used in tons of electronics.
Even though the batteries have gotten a bad rep because they have occasionally malfunctioned and caused flammable things around them to catch fire, we actually use LiPos in a lot of our technology now and we very seldom see any problems.
The main way to keep you LiPo from exploding is simply to use it the way it is intended. Only use the charging chord that comes with your battery. Treat the battery gently and keep it out of hot temperatures. LiPos can last for years and save you a lot of money, in the long run.
However, if you are concerned about the minimal risk and you don’t really care if your car can race really fast, a Ni-MH battery will probably be sufficient. Professional RC racers usually use LiPo batteries with a brushless motor, but for casual hobbyists, the extra power isn’t really necessary.