The Ultimate Guide to Types of RC Cars

Hobbyists around the world have turned to RC cars looking for new ways of making the most of their collectibles. Collecting RC cars can turn out to be a highly rewarding pastime.  Mainly because it is not so much about having as many cars as you can, but about enjoying the different types and sometimes being able to make them yourselves.

Even when this explanation may sound simplistic, this is the way RC cars roll. One of the first decisions a beginner should make involves choosing one of the different types of RC cars available on the market. There are various kinds to choose from and all of them offer entertainment value. However, not all RC cars may be fit for all collectors, so gathering information is a good starting place. This guide has been planned to satisfy your curiosity and to brief your on the different models.

What does RC stand for?

First off, let’s begin by defining the term. These days RC means both Remote control or radio-controlled. Even if these terms are different, they can be used interchangeably as most remote control cars are really radio operated by radiofrequency. However and for the record, it should be said that although all radio-controlled cars are remote control, not all remote control cars are radio-operated.

First Choice: Power Source

The first and most important choice a beginner hobbyist should make involves the type of energy used to operate the car; there are several alternatives to choose from, each with its own pros and cons. Here are the most popular ones:

Electric RC Models: Small, yet powerful, the electric motors that operate these cars are electric and work in combination with nick-cad, hybrid or lithium polymer cells. Within this category both, brushed or brushless electric motors can be found. Pros:These models are easy to operate for the newbie. Also, the latest electric cars are generally attractive and high-performance; for example, turning and speeding is much more subtle with these types of cars.  Cons: They can run high budget-wise.

Fueled-Powered Models: This is abroad term used to refer to various other types of cars that involve non-electric models. Motors that operate fueled-powered RC cars can be:

  • Glow-plug: These are small engines that work by internal combustion of a fuel derived from the combination of methanol, nitro methane and a blend of castor oil and synthetic oil. This fuel can only be found in specialized stores for hobbyists and collectors. Otherwise known as nitro rc cars, these models have become really popular among most experienced collectors.
  • Gasoline: In recent years, larger models including trucks and miniature SUVs have appeared on the market, satisfying the needs of the most demanding hobbyists. These more “real- life” models operate on a smaller scale gasoline engine that works like the average string trimmer motor. These models demand a mix of real gasoline and oil –just as any garden weeder, motorcycle or small garden tractor would.

Pros: Hobbyists who have had the experience of operating both, fuel-powered and electric cars will relate to this fact: Whereas electric cars need a longer time to restart when the battery runs out, fuel-powered cars can be refueled almost automatically. After all, whenever the battery runs out, the shell of the electric RC car needs to be removed and the battery replaced. Performance speed-wise is much greater with nitro cars, as opposed to electric ones.

Cons: Because of the involvement of clutch and lack of torque, fuel-powered cars can become a little clumsy when it comes to maneuvering them. Maintenance: this is another issue a beginner hobbyist should take care of. Just as any other fuel-operated engine, these RC cars need extra cleaning, unlike electric cars that need very little maintenance. Another downside yet, is noise. Although some enthusiasts celebrate the humming sound of a well-tuned engine, it may not be welcome in certain public open spaces that have restrictions against the use of these models. Although performance is greater with these types of engines, wear is also greater. However, this can be prevented or slowed down by following maintenance instructions closely in order to avoid overheating, for instance.

To round off, any kind of RC car can provide hours of fun and entertainment. The trick lies in finding the right one for you.

The Controls of a RC Car

Few other pastimes offer the exact combination of thrill, excitement and exhilaration, together with the precision and dexterity of design. RC cars hobbyists are part of the few lucky people who can combine all these elements together. Similarly, few other hobbies offer so many different alternatives to pick from. People should choose the type of models, type of engines, types of energy source and so many more. Within these choices, there is the type of control. What types of controls of RC cars are there?


This choice will depend somewhat on the type of RC car you pick as some models work best with certain types of controls and the other way round: some models are not meant to be used with other types of controls. Let’s take a look at the most typical example.

Wired Cars:  Most of us have the recollection of a childhood memory that involved the operation of a car with a wire. This basic way of operating a RC car is typical of toy cars and can be found in toy stores and among children collectibles. The mechanics is fairly simple: the control sends a signal through a wire and the car responds.

Radio-controlled Cars: The most popular means of controlling cars at a distance. Radio-operated cars use radiofrequency in order to send signals from the control, to the car. Frequency refers to the specific radio signal which is sent from the transmitter to the receiver and which is used to control the vehicle.  This type of control became popular thanks to the development of RC airplanes. Radio controls are basically hand-held radio transmitters that are precisely that: transmitters. This device communicates with a receiver in the car and sends signals to servos that, in turn, move the control surfaces on the transmitter. The direction of the car is influenced or directly affected by the control surfaces.

Infrared RC Cars: These types of remote controls have been around on the market for long. This is the kind of technology that was used for TV remote controls for ages. Since the type of communication used for these types of controls is through beams of light, most cars operated this way are small toys. The control sends commands from a transmitter through this infrared beam. The IR receiver in the infrared toy picks up the signal and consequently performs the ordered task. These signals are sent via a LED on the transmitter coded in such a way that the transmitter can interpret and turn into a specific command, like turn left or right. Some of the drawbacks of this type of technology involve distance limitations and location restrictions. This is so because, in order to work, the transmitter requires line-of-sight, this means that you should point to the IR receiver almost directly and at a short distance. This means that this type of technology is not fit for outdoor racing, for example.

Before making a final choice about the type of control car you should get, make yourself a few simple questions about the use of the RC car and your expectations.

How to Choose a RC Car

Whether you are already familiar with the world of RC cars, or are just getting acquainted with this hobby, you will find this guide useful in your search for the optimal RC car.

Many factors should be taken into account when choosing the right RC car. Apart from the obvious information that includes age, size, level of expertise of the users; other factors are equally relevant, such as budget, car maintenance or place of residence.

Why should I read this Guide?

Even if you are a seasoned hobbyist, you will realize that keeping up with the latest developments in the world of RC cars can be really challenging. For one thing, year after year, and thanks to technological development, manufacturers come up with innovative models or newer alternatives of the already existing RC models. Besides, it is always wise to learn from other people’s experience, so let’s take a look at the facts.

What For?

The first question you should ask yourself concerns the use you are planning to give your RC car. Are you an amateur hobbyist who just wishes to bash in your yard? Or else, are you an experienced collector who wants to upgrade or wishes to take part in the many competitions taking place all over the nation?

Beginners’ Guide

Once you have determined the type of use you are planning to give your RC car, you are able to begin your search. You will be looking for any of these types of cars, so it is best to know what each model is about.

Electric Cars: These models are battery-operated and are ideal for beginners mainly because they are easier to manage and much easier to keep and clean than other types. Besides, they are more affordable in the long run.

Nitro Cars: These models are fuel-operated and the type of fuel they use is a combination of methanol, oil and other components. If you enjoy the feeling of a humming engine, this type of RC car is for you. However, you should know that even when performance is optimal, nitro cars are much more demanding to keep, both maintenance and budget-wise.

A question of Size

Another important detail you should consider is scale. This is, how big do you want to go? Since the principle of scaling is essential for you to make your pick, let us explain how this principle goes. Numbers range from 1/27 to 1/5: the smaller the number, the larger the car. For beginners, 1/8 and 1/10 cars are the most popular. 1/5 4-wheeled cars, for instance are for more professional hobbyists who can handle the extra weight and who have the expertise to manage this type of model. It must be noted that these cars do not run on nitro, but on real gas, which makes tuning more simple. Similarly, electric RC cars that are too small may also be difficult to maneuver and have less operational time.

On-road or Off-road?

This is a very important choice to make, since it will determine the success of your RC experiences. Generally speaking, on road RC cars can only run on paved roads, like parking lots, driveways and the like. Off-road RC cars, on the other hand, can run anywhere –gravel, dirt, sand and grass. However, Off-road models also work well on paved roads, provided the wheels are changed. Bottom line: if you are a beginner, go for Off-road RC cars, since they are more adaptable and mostly, because they will conceal your first attempts to manage the car.

Finally, picking the right RC car can be somewhat overwhelming when you are faced with so many choices. But, if you follow these simple guidelines, the choice will only be part of the fun.

Electric vs. Nitro RC Cars

If you have been around the world of RC cars for long, you probably know that this is perhaps the age-old question as far as power source is concerned.  Choosing the most appropriate model for you will eventually be your final decision. Even so, there is a lot we can do to help you with the choice. Here is a brief guide on these two types of RC cars and their pros and cons.

Electric Cars

Just as the name suggests, these RC cars are electricity-operated, usually be means of a battery. These batteries can be changed or recharged every time they run out. Since the re-charging or changing could take a while, let’s sit and read more facts.

What’s to Like? RC electric cars are easy to operate and can be fun, especially for young children or beginners. In addition, these models can be more affordable than other types in the long run. They are also cleaner, noiseless and require low maintenance. Bonus: they are extremely silent and can be operated anywhere.

The Downside: Since batteries need to be changed often and changing them involves taking off the shell and replacing the piece, these actions can cool down the fun of a competition, for example or generate unwanted anxiety.

Nitro-fueled Cars

All nitro RC cars are fuel-powered, but not all fuel-powered RCs run on nitro. For one thing, nitro is not a regular fuel you can purchase anyway. It is the name given to a special blend of methanol, a hybrid called nitro methane and oil (generally a combo of synthetic and castor oil. This fuel is highly inflammable and can only be purchased in specialized hobby stores.

What’s to Like?

RC cars that run on this fuel work well on different types of surfaces and can resist more weight and perform better. Even if they are more difficult to manage than other RC car models, their performance is optimal. Some hobbyists consider the noise of the running engine to be musical and they really enjoy the preparation. Another advantage yet, involves money. When something breaks down in a nitro car, the repair is usually much more affordable than with electric cars. In all, it’s a good choice for people who love tinkering.

The Downsides

The most relevant disadvantage has to do with maintenance. You should keep in mind that nitro cars work with a mechanical function that involves a glow plug, a fuel-controlled motor and more. This means that all parts should be kept in good running conditions, at all times. Sometimes the engine will need tuning or need fixing. Another further disadvantage is noise. Some countries have totally banned the use of nitro cars, or fuel-operated gadgets due to the noise they make when they work. In addition, nitro cars can be more difficult to operate than their electric counterparts. Finally, nitro fuel can be hard to get and may be costly.

To round up, both electric and nitro RC cars can make great collectibles, it just depends on what you are looking for.