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RC Car Components – What different types are there?

When shopping for a remote control car, it can be difficult to know what kind you should purchase. There are a lot of options out there, and for a first time shopper, the terminology can be confusing. Knowing which components are best suited for you can save you a lot of time now and some headaches later.

What are the main RC car components? There are several options for different kinds of RC cars, but usually you can choose either an electric or nitro engine, and a brushless or a brushed motor.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of advantages and disadvantages for each type of major component that will aid you as you decide on the perfect RC for you.

Electric Engine

Electric engines have several advantages. The main one is the lack of sound. Electric engines run quietly and very seldom cause conflict with neighbours. They are also simple to operate and maintain, making them an excellent choice for beginners.

Electric engines can be run on any track, outside or inside, and are capable of reversing. When coupled with brushless motors, they are also capable of incredible speeds.

Electric engines can be purchased at relatively low costs with varying mileage, depending on which company created the vehicle. You can get pretty good bang for your buck.

Unfortunately, the electric variety also has its failings. One of the largest drawbacks to the electric engine is the fact that it only lives as long as its batteries.

Once your batteries die, playtime is done, whether you wanted to be finished or not. Depending on the type of battery pack, you might get anywhere from 12-45 minutes. If coupled with a brushed motor, the electric is also the slowest of all the types of RC vehicles.

Nitro Engine

The nitro engine can be a driver’s best friend or worst nightmare. A system with a much higher learning curve, nitros can give realistic mechanical experience as the purchaser learns to keep the engine well-tuned.

Some drivers love the way that the small engine roars and spews smoke while it races forward at high speeds. While a tank of nitro fuel will only last around 10 to 15 minutes, you can refill immediately and keep going.

Nitro gas can now be purchased through many online retailers, so it is no longer difficult to keep a supply of gas on hand. The engine also tends to be more water resistant and can travel faster than anything except a brushless electric vehicle.

However, the nitro engine also has its shortcomings. It can be very noisy, which can occasionally cause problems.

Not everyone likes the sound of this little car Doppler-effecting past their window, and in most cases, you won’t be able to use this vehicle indoors because of the fumes that it generates. For a casual hobbyist, the nitro system can also be a lot of work, especially if you’re not already familiar with its maintenance.

You may end up watching a lot of YouTube instructional videos at first. It also tends to be a more expensive vehicle, especially long-term, as you will have to continually purchase nitro fuel in order to keep your vehicle running. Many nitro cars do not have a reverse function, either.

Brushed Motor

To keep it simple, we’re not going to delve into the mechanics of what exactly a brushed or a brushless motor is in this article. Instead, we’re simply going to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The brushed motor is a fairly simple system. It is reliable and especially useful when manoeuvring through rough terrains. It has very few external components and the ones that it does have are very basic in nature.

These motors react more quickly and can be hardier. The brushed motor is very affordable and easy to control for beginning drivers. These motors are also easily configurable if you’re interested in modifying your vehicle.

Some of the same things that give this motor its advantages can also be disadvantageous. The efficiency level of the brushed motor is much lower than its counterpart. The brushed motor, as the name implies, contains brushes, which slow it down and increase the amount of heat loss.

This means that the car has to use more electricity in order to keep the motor running. It can also be noisy. The brushes also wear down eventually and need to be replaced periodically, which will cost more over time.

Brushless Motor

Brushless motors obviously don’t have brushes. Due to their design, brushless motors last for a long time and very seldom need maintenance. Though they generally are more expensive initially, the lack of repairs can make up for those costs in the long term.

Some people and manuals recommend oiling your motor frequently (some say every day, while others advise every few months), while others claim that this simply provides a place for debris and dirt to collect.

To the naysayers, they claim that this actually will destroy your engine and it lasts much longer without oiling, especially on sealed motors. The brushless motor is also a lighter motor, which in and of itself will help your vehicle run at faster speeds.

However, those aren’t the only reasons that the brushless motor leaves its competitor in the dust. A brushed motor’s capability is limited by the speed at which the brushes can rotate.

The brushless motor doesn’t have this handicap, and can move at much greater speeds, delivering a much higher torque to your vehicle. The heat loss is also much less, so less electricity is needed to power it and the sound is much quieter.

One of the few disadvantages of a brushless motor is the cost. The initial cost is much more than that of its counterpart and may be daunting to someone who doesn’t want to invest a lot of money into their new RC car. They also are harder to control at low speeds and do not respond as well on rugged ground.

Related Questions

What are the different kinds of batteries I can purchase for my RC? There are two different kinds of batteries you can purchase if a battery pack doesn’t come with the car: LiPo or Ni-Mh.

LiPo batteries are more expensive, but they are worth the investment. They give longer run times, more power, and they don’t lose their ability to recharge over time.

Unfortunately, they can also explode if charged improperly. This usually happens when someone leaves their battery plugged into their car and just turning the car off. You need to actually removed the battery from the car, because even off, the battery will continue to drain until it is below safe discharge voltage.

Once that happens your battery is ruined. If the damage is intense enough to expose the lithium ions inside the battery to the air, the battery will combust. You won’t usually have an epic explosion unless you’ve overcharged your battery. Instead, you’ll have a battery that smokes and generates enough heat to catch fire to anything flammable nearby.

Here’s a couple of tips to prevent you from destroying your LiPo battery (and possibly the surrounding area):

  • Don’t overcharge. In order to overcharge your battery, you would have to charge it with a higher voltage than it was designed for. This can happen if you use a more powerful charger than the one that comes with the battery.

    Overcharging will occur if you apply more than 4.2 volts to your battery. Either of these scenarios will cause a chemical reaction which will cause the battery to swell and begin to produce gas and heat.

    The damage is irreparable and, in nearly all cases, will build up to an explosion. Unlike most situations, overcharging can lead to large, fiery explosions. Homes and cars have burned down in these types of situations.

  • Don’t play with it too roughly. If you do, you may end up puncturing the cells within your battery. Rough driving can sometimes cause this if you happen to crash battery-first into a large object.

    For this reason, it is advised that you bring a fire extinguisher with you when driving with a LiPo battery. It is worth mentioning that there are some battery manufacturers who make packs with protective layers of fiberglass on both sides of the batteries.

  • Check for electrical shorts before you plug in your new LiPo battery for the first time. If the positive and negative wires in your system touch each other inadvertently they can cause your battery to lose electricity far more quickly than it is supposed to do.

    This makes the battery heat up and distend. If this continues, eventually one or more cells will rupture, which will cause hot smoke or even a fireball. Check your wires before you drive to make sure that none are exposed or loose.

  • Keep your batteries at room temperature. Batteries that are left in the sun or hot cars can heat up and swell. In rare cases this will also result in an explosion, but usually it just ends up ruining your battery.

With those things in mind, LiPo battery explosions are rare. As long as you’re careful, you shouldn’t need to worry about it.

However, if the thought of your battery exploding worries you, you probably should stick with Ni-Mh batteries.

Ni-Mh batteries are cheaper and safer if you’re worried about your battery pack exploding. However, they lose their ability to recharge over time and don’t deliver nearly the same amount of power.

You’ll find yourself charging battery packs much more often and eventually having to buy new packs.  Hopefully, battery designers will eventually fix the LiPo’s glitches and render them as safe as the Ni-Mh packs.

Can I replace the motor of my existing car? If you already have a remote control car with a brushed motor and you want to upgrade, it is possible to buy a brushless motor for your car and replace the existing motor.

Many places sell a brushless motor for specific vehicle types. Try and find one that matches your vehicle. Not every RC car is the same and some motors won’t fit every car. Often the same distributors who made your car will sell brushless motors for it.

Are there other ways I can upgrade my car? There are many ways that you can upgrade you RC vehicle. You can upgrade your transmitter, your radio, your bearings, the body of your car, and your tires. Many of these require an basic knowledge of how things should be put together.

Fortunately, learning how to do so is a fantastic first step into having legitimate mechanical experience. There are many tutorials all over the internet and, with a little research, any kind of upgrade is possible. RC hobby stores sell many parts for upgrading both the look of your vehicle and its components.

Which components are better for beginners? The best type of car for a beginner would be an electric RC car with a brushed motor. They are easy to handle, less expensive, and simple to maintain. They won’t last as long, but they’re enjoyable for a casual driver.

What are the different types of RC cars? We’ve already covered nitro vs. electric, but there are a few other types of cars out there. Style-wise, you have the options of on-road, off-road, and rally. As far as out-of-the-box choices go, you can purchase RC car kits or RTR cars. I’ll explain a little more about each type of car and/or kit.

  • On-road cars: look like touring cars. They don’t have much in the way of suspension, so they aren’t made for rough terrain. On-road cars nearly always have four-wheel drive.They don’t do well going off curbs or even driving through grass. However, if driven on a road or pavement, they are unrivaled in speed. There are a couple of specific types of on-road cars that you can purchase as well:
    • Street cars are your typical on-road cars, and they are also the fastest. Street cars are very responsive and easy to drive on the tarmac or concrete. They are very aerodynamic and, with the proper modifications, some street cars have hit up to 200 mph.
    • Drift cars look like regular street cars, but they have smooth tires. These tires enable them to slide through turns while maintaining nearly the same speed as a rougher-wheeled street car. They are not easy to drive, but good for speed demons who enjoy a challenge.
  • Off-road cars: have much larger, spiked tires that are usually held away from the car on an extra-long suspension. They also have much stronger shocks. These cars are capable of driving nearly everywhere. If you want a trick car, this is the car for you. However, because it is bulkier and less stream-lined, it is also slower on pavement and not as responsive. It won’t turn as quickly or drive as fast, but it will power over curbs, grass, and jumps. Off-road cars can also come in two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
  • Rally cars: are a combination of off-road and on-road. They have the build of an on-road car with better suspension and with tires that have excellent grip. There are two different types of rally cars.
    • Buggies are rally cars that sit very low to the ground and are very slow when not on pavement. They are capable of driving off-road, but again, only slowly. On pavement, however, they are second only to the street car.
    • Truggies are similar to buggies, but with monster truck tires that give them the necessary lift to increase their speed off track. The bulkier tires slow it down on flat surfaces but increase its speed significantly on unpaved terrain. If you want an adaptable vehicle with pretty good speed on any surface, the truggy might be the perfect car for you.
  • RC Car Kits: can be a fun challenge for people who love to build. Instead of getting a car, you get a bunch of car parts. If you really want to learn how an RC car works, getting one of these can be very informative. Detailed diagrams and texts teach you how to build your car from the ground up. Most of these have online or over-the-phone assistance if you get stuck. These kits can take up to six hours to create. However, there really isn’t any better feeling than knowing that you’re driving something that you built yourself.
  • RTR (Ready-To-Run) cars: come assembled and have everything you need (sans batteries usually) to start racing. These are great for beginners, children, and casual hobbyists who don’t want to spend the time it takes to build their vehicle.

Who sells the best quality RC cars? There are a lot of different brands of RC cars. However, they vary greatly in quality and price. You can buy pretty good cars for $30 or less, but if you want a car that’s going to last for a while and has a good reputation, here are a few options:

  • As quality RC vehicles go, Exceed cars are the cheapest, but also have a higher level of maintenance. You can easily replace broken parts, but the long-term costs increase every times something breaks. They start at about $90.
  • Tamiya cars have been around for more than 30 years. A solid, well-built set of vehicles, they run around $200. They are a bit slower than some of the more expensive brands, but long lasting.
  • Traxxa cars are known for being the best kind of RC car on the market. They also run around $300, but very rarely need replacement parts. You may have to purchase the battery pack and charger separately.