Radio controlled cars (or RC cars) are self powered model cars or trucks that can be controlled from a distance using a specialized transmitter. The term RC has been used to mean both remote controlled and radio controlled, where remote controlled includes vehicles that are connected to their controller by a wire, but common use of RC today usually refers to vehicles controlled by a radio frequency link. This article focuses on radio controlled vehicles only.
Cars are powered by various sources. Electric models are powered by small but powerful electric motors and rechargeable nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride, or lithium polymer cells. There are also brushed or brushless electric motors. Most fuel powered models use glow plug engines, small internal combustion engines fueled by a special mixture of nitromethane, methanol, and oil (in most cases a blend of castor oil and synthetic oil). These are referred to as nitro cars. Recently, exceptionally large models have been introduced that are powered by small gasoline engines, similar to string trimmer motors, which use a mix of oil and gasoline. Electric cars are generally considered easier for the novice to work with compared to fuel driven models, but can be equally as complex at the higher budget and skill levels.
In both of these categories, both on road and off road vehicles are available. Off road models, which are built with fully functional off road suspensions, and a wide tire selection, can be used on various types of terrain. On road cars, with a much less robust suspension, are strictly limited to smooth, paved surfaces. In the past decade, advances in on road vehicles have made their supension as adjustable as many full scale race cars, today. Radio controlled cars come in toy grade models and hobby grade models. The term toy or toy grade in regards to radio control cars is used to describe vehicles of the preassembled type generally found in discount stores and consumer stores. Sometimes they are colloquially referred to as Radio Shack cars. Some toy grade RC models may also be found in hobby shops in an attempt to gain some market share from discount stores and appeal to younger users.
One of the main advantages of toy RC vehicles is the cost. The average medium-scale toy RC car is around $50-$100 cheaper than an entry level electric hobby class vehicle. Toy class vehicles are easy to operate, have a relatively low danger level (top speeds are typically under 20 mph (32 km/h) (with most capable of only about 10 mph (16 km/h) ), and are even easier to set up than the simplest hobby class ready to run vehicles (RTR’s). Toy class vehicles are usually modeled after real cars, and often feature details that hobby class vehicles lack, like working lights, sounds, windows, opening doors and hoods, and realistic interiors at the expense of weight and durability. Some vehicles also feature working sound systems with radios or MP3 player inputs. There is also an almost endless array of toy RC vehicle designs, ranging from common cars and trucks, to tanks, bulldozers, and motor cycles, to increasingly odd vehicles with unorthodox designs.
Disadvantages of toy grade RC cars are typically manufactured with a focus on design coupled with reducing production costs. Whereas a hobby grade car has a standardized motor and separate electronic components that are individually replaceable if they fail, toy grade cars are typically made with a non standard motor, non replaceable chassis components and a single electronic circuit board integrated into the design of the vehicle. This makes them difficult, if not impossible to repair, with exceptions being Nikko models and some Radio Shack models. Usually when one component on the vehicle fails, the entire vehicle must be thrown away. Performance is poor as well. Most are equipped with small, weak motors and are powered by cheap alkaline or NiCad batteries which means their top speed is usually only 5-15 mph, and they have short run times before new batteries are required. Most lack any form of a suspension and the ones that do feature a suspension have very primitive or rudimentary designs. Steering is typically not proportional (with only three positions, straight, full left, and full right) and there is typically no proportional throttle either, with stopped and full power usually being the only options. The alignment on many of the smaller cars is off and they are susceptible to great damage on crashing.
In recent years, hobby grade ready to run (or RTR) models have become available from every major manufacturer of radio controlled cars, attracting many hobbyists who would otherwise have purchased a preassembled car (ARTR or Race Roller). Vehicles of this type need little or no final assembly and in most cases, the bodies are shipped painted and trimmed, requiring little or no work from the owner before they can be used (other than purchasing and installing batteries). A number of cars and trucks are presently available only in ready to run form. The growing popularity of the RTR vehicle has prompted many manufacturers to discontinue production of kit vehicles. High spec racing vehicles are generally still available or sold only as kits, and companies like Thunder Tiger, Losi, HPI and Tamiya sell kit and RTR versions with the benefits of a kit version being in upgraded parts or lower costs, respectively. Hobby grade RC cars can cost from $80-$1500.
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