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When choosing a Radio Controlled model you need to consider what type of set-up best suits your needs. An experienced hobbyist will have very different requirements to a family looking to get started in the R/C world. To ensure you buy a suitable car you need to consider Scale, Off or On Road, 4 or 2 Wheel Drive and Electric or Nitro powered.
Firstly you need to decide whether to go for a toy-grade or hobby-grade purchase. Toy-grade cars are pre-build. come with everything you need and can't be repaired or upgraded. They are available from places like Argos, Comet and chain stores. Although they are cheaper their performance and maintainability is greatly reduced. Hobby-grade cars range from entry levels kits costing less than a hundred pounds to professional racing setup for many hundreds. They can be self-built, upgraded, repaired and maintained at home and offer greater performance. Most crucially they introduce the driver to the R/C hobby that can grow with them for many years.
As with other hobbies such as model railways, a series of standard scales has developed for Remote Control Cars and Trucks. This scale is expressed as a ratio against the full size vehicle. A common scale is 1/10th for example, this is a tenth of full size.
The scale of an R/C model impacts on the different types of components it can accommodate as well as the power to weight ratio. Because of this the Nitro powered cars are often found to be a larger scale which is offset by the greater power developed by their engines. Electric models can be made smaller and benefit from the reduced weight with improved performance.
1/10th and 1/8th scale cars can be found in both Nitro and Electric formats. This size provides enough space for all the components whilst keeping the models small enough to be assembled on a kitchen table. 1/16th scale models are considerably smaller. Whilst this scale doesn't lend itself to self-build projects these can offer a great introduction to newcomers, as well as impressive performance from their reduced weight.
There are some clubs that have a low cost formula of on road racing, with the Tamiya TT-01/M-03 chassis. This allows you to enter the thrills of racing, but at a lower cost than some other classes of racing.
Along with scale, the other consideration for which type of vehicle to go for is either Off Road or On Road. Whilst this can be something of a personal preference, you should bear in mind which surface you want to drive on, whether it is rough terrain or a tarmac surface. Newcomers are often surprised how similar to their real life counterparts R/C cars are. This means that you need enough skill to slow down for corners, and line up jumps accurately to avoid spinning into a tumble. Off Road Radio Controlled cars are usually designed around the sand dune buggy design, whilst on road vehincles mimic real life touring and ralley cars.
If you have access to flat, even car-park type surfaces then an On Road car will be fine. However, if you intend to race on rough ground or muddy fields then you need to go for an Off Road car. On road and off road also require different driving styles, negotiating jumps at the right speed is just as important as negotiating corners at the right speed.
This offers a choice between traction and performance. A 2WD R/C car has fewer moving parts and none of the complications of translating power from the back to the front of the car. Because of this they are simpler to built and faster in a straight line.
A 4WD R/C car performs better across rough terrain. The extra traction achieved by delivering power to all four wheels maximises grip and enhances cornering on loose surfaces. 4WD radio controlled cars are more complex to build and maintain as they have more moving parts. Power is applied to the front wheels through a second set of differential gears at the front of the model. These can be connected to the rear via an drive shaft or belt.
This offers a choice between cars powered by a charged battery or nitro fuel. Electric R/C cars are the simpler option for newcomers. They are perceived as less messy and less complex to get working. Electric is preferable to Nitro as it is quieter and easier to maintain and now with brushless powered models, some are faster than the Nitro powered equivalents. Electric cars can be used anywhere, whereas Nitro cars would need to be taken to a track to be used.
At the very low end, entry level kits are generally cheaper for Electric powered R/C cars. When comparing prices you need to consider the price of the radio, battery and charger and any tools and paint you require. Fast Chargers can typically take around 45 minutes to charge a battery up and you can use one battery while the other one is on charge for continuous usage. Nitro cars always need starting up by either a pull starter or a glow starter. Electric cars are easier because you can switch the car on and get going quickly, it can take a little while to get a Nitro Car started, however the buzz of the noise and the speed is well worth the wait! The noise is similar to that of a high pitched lawn mower, not deafening but the neighbours will certainly notice it!
Beginners should choose a R/C car that is durable and can take a few knocks. Ensure the chassis is robust and can be repaired with spare parts should it break. Off Road cars are often stronger and a little easier to drive. 2WD kits will also keep the build simple. Start small, with a kit that doesn't break the bank, then invest in upgrades as you gain experience.
Intermediates, who have owned a R\C car before will have an idea of what has and hasn't worked for them. 4WD kit builds shouldn't offer too much complexity, whereas the Nitro powered cars are more complex to run. Good quality materials and parts that fit well together are important factors, as well as being able to adjust the car to suit different race tracks. Also a good spares backup is essential to keep your car in well maintained condition. Some manufacturers offer upgrade parts to improve the durabilityor performance of your model, these are well worth checking out if your model is used in competitions.
Professionals look carefully at their car setup and the parts within the car to get the most out of it. Engines, Electronic Speed Controllers, Servos, Motors and Receivers all vary considerably in cost and features, so it is important to do some research in your potential purchase to make sure it is suitable for your needs. In a racing environment, the distance between winning and losing a race can be within hundredths of a second, which highlights how important it is to buy good quality items that are reliable and easy to maintain and set up.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: