This article pertains to hobby-level RCs only. If you’re in the market for a toy-class RC, electric power is your only choice; fuel-driven setups are not offered for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being the flammability and even potential explosiveness of the fuel itself. We’ll also focus on land vehicles, as the debate between nitro & electric power is very hard-fought and longstanding in this space. With air and water craft, it’s basically a given that when you’re starting out, you go electric. As you gain experience, you can start to investigate nitro-powered alternatives based on interest and personal preferences, and you’ll pretty much always be among friends with other hobbyists. Meanwhile, back on land, the car & truck world stands bitterly divided.
Noted for effect: When talking about normal internal combustion (flammable fuel) powered RCs, avoid using the word “gas.” These vehicles are not powered by gasoline (petrol), the stuff used in real cars. Instead, their fuel is comprised of a percentage highly explosive nitro methane dissolved in methanol (methyl alcohol) and a generous quantity of lubricating oil. Only certain very large-scale RCs use actual gasoline.
We’re going right ahead and starting with the most controversial subject. It is true, ready-to-run (RTR) nitro-powered cars & trucks are almost always faster out of the box than their electric counterparts, and frequently by a significant amount. It’s easy to find a ready-to-run nitro vehicle that will go over 40mph, and some even push 60+. Prebuilt hobby-level electrics usually hit 20-30mph out of the box. Simply put, the up-front cost to start out with a lot of speed in nitro RC is much lower than with electrics. However, don’t think for a second that as soon as you get a nitro vehicle, you can automatically beat anything electric; more on this later.
Continuous nitro running is generally a “fuel & go” proposition. As you get low on fuel, you just pull in for a pit stop, add more fuel in a matter of seconds, and drive off. A single gallon of fuel will last for many hours of continuous running, which is especially desirable if you want to travel somewhere to run your RC and not have to lug along a lot of support equipment. It’s also easy to share a bottle of fuel between friends. In racing, main events for nitro-powered classes are frequently 15-30 minutes with pit stops, compared to the 5- to 6-minute sprint races of most electric classes.
With the sound of a real engine, nitro vehicles have a special appeal to many people and tend to draw a lot of attention. They rev up and get louder the faster they go, and this adds a level of excitement to either running or watching them that’s hard to put to words. A nitro vehicle can actually feel more fast than a faster electric. On the flip side, the significant amount of noise can limit when and/or where you can drive a nitro RC. They can only be run outdoors (or in heavily ventilated special facilities) due to the toxic, nauseous exhaust gas they produce. Neighbors or patrons of quiet parks may not appreciate a nitro-powered vehicle being driven around them, particularly in the mornings & evenings.
Nitro cars are generally better built for strength than electrics. You can look at their parts and immediately see the “beef.” Driving at a given speed in a given situation, they’ll break less frequently. However, more available speed out of the box can offset some of this advantage. The force of an impact equals the weight of a vehicle times its speed squared. Double your speed and crashes become four times as potent!
Tuning & Maintenance
One of the most commonly-cited downsides to nitro RC’ing is engine tuning. Like old cars, they use carburetors that require fine adjustments to needle valves to keep them running optimally. Some engines “hold” their tune well, meaning they don’t need to be fiddled with much once they’re set up right, while others need frequent adjustments. Changes in atmospheric conditions such as barometric pressure and humidity can require changes in engine tuning from one day to the next. If you enjoy tuning up real cars or just generally fixing things yourself, you’ll find this challenge to be welcome and fun. If you live in an area where the weather changes a lot or if you get stuck with a finicky engine, tuning can sometimes be aggravating, especially when an engine either won’t start or just dies whenever you apply the throttle. If you are short on patience, this can be a major turnoff. Also, nitro engines need to be kept in a certain temperature range when running; go above this range you risk permanent damage.
Neat freaks beware. Nitro RCs can get dirty — very dirty. There’s liquid fuel onboard and when it burns, the exhaust is laden with inert oils in aerosol form. Invariably this oil permeates everything. Even when you have a muffler exit pipe that extends outside of the body, some of the oil-laden exhaust doubles back in the turbulence when you’re running at speed. Especially if you’re running off-road, the oil settles in and attracts dust & dirt, which then turns into a pasty crust. The good news is that there are no tenacious chemicals involved — most of the stuff can be blown away with compressed air, and it can be completely washed away with various readily available aerosol solvents.
Ready for a shocker? As of this writing, both the drag racing and all-out top land speed records in RC were held by electric vehicles. The fastest boat was also electric. As mentioned before, RTR electric vehicles are generally significantly slower than nitros, but once you bring upgrades into the picture or if you start with a kit and use high-grade power components, things change dramatically. People have had even 1/18th scale micro-sized electric RCs over 60 mph. You do have to pay a pretty penny to get to the high-end of performance, though. It’s not hard to catch the “gotta go faster” bug and invest $250-300 US into a brushless motor & controller, $100 each into a couple of lithium-polymer batteries, and $150-200 into a good charger. The good news is that on top of making your vehicle incredibly fast, every one of these investments should last for quite a long time. Brushless motors don’t really wear out over time, lithium polymer batteries can be charged and used back to back (with 15 to 30 minute running times) without losing strength, and a high-end charger will remain usable for many years. The bad news is that you’ve just invested a boatload of money into a vehicle on top of its original cost.
Electrics do have a couple of undeniable advantages in handling. Electric motors, by design, have a lot of low-end torque, thus giving them an edge over 2-stroke nitros in acceleration. These motors have a linear, “choose your speed” feel through their entire RPM range. Electric vehicles also tend to have a lower center of gravity than nitros due to their small motors and flat, low-mounted batteries, which contributes to good handling.
The most commonly cited downside of electrics is the need to keep charging batteries. If you only have one battery pack, you will find yourself having significantly more downtime than driving time. A typical battery will take 30-45 minutes to charge and give you 7-15 minutes of running time, depending upon your specific vehicle and its setup. For this reason, electric RCers generally have 3 or more batteries so that at a given time, one can be in use, one can be cooling from its last use, and the next can be charging.
Arguably the greatest thing about electric RCs is how clean and quiet they run. You can run them in your house or garage if you have the space and be none the worse for wear. You can take one to work to goof around with during breaks. You can race them at indoor tracks during the rainy season. Unless you have very picky neighbors, you can run them on your street at any time of day and probably even through some evening hours. Most of the sound they make is the high-pitched whine of the gears in the transmission. When you’re done driving, you just make sure your battery has the proper charge for maintenance, blow off any dust (unless you’ve driven through mud, which is generally not advised with electrics vehicles), and call it quits.
Tuning & Maintenance
It’s easy to get an electric vehicle up and running as you generally just charge up your battery, turn everything on, and go. It’s once you start taking things more seriously or when your equipment earns some age that the hidden intricacy of electric RC upkeep starts to reveal itself. Batteries, in particular, require specific treatment regimes. Nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries are best stored completely drained, while nickel-metal hydrides (NiMH) are best stored with a half to full charge. Leave either sitting for a couple of months and they will lose some potency and you will need to go through a few discharge/charge cycles to reinvigorate them. Newer lithium polymer (LiPo) batteries need to be electrically balanced with a special device on occasion and cannot be charged above or discharged below a very specific voltage range. On traditional (“brushed”) motors, you need to replace brushes regularly and clean the inside. To avoid losing power over time, you need to have your motor core put on a small lathe to be “trued” and renewed. The more expensive “brushless” motor systems promise basically no ongoing maintenance, but even with them, regular cleaning is recommended and their bearings can go bad over time.
Electric RCs can be difficult to gear properly. Especially with higher-end setups, you can find yourself battling between increased performance and overheating motors. You also absolutely need to know how to solder unless you’re going to stay with a fairly basic RTR setup with inexpensive batteries. The good news is that electric vehicles are very easy to work on once you get the hang of a specific vehicle. The number of moving parts is low and what parts are there are easy to identify.
There’s no clear winner in the debate between nitro & electric power for RCs. What’s best for you won’t be what’s best for the next hobbyist. If you’re not sure which you will like best in the long run, pick one to start with, get used to it, and then try the other for awhile. You might even discover that you like them both.
|Speed, RTR||Very Good||Fair|
|Ease of starting out||Medium||Easy|
|Maintenance||Can be difficult||Medium|
|Initial purchase cost||High||Low|
|Long-term cost||Medium||Low to Very High, depending upon how fast you want to go|
|Driving environments||Almost exclusively outdoors||Indoors or out, but nothing wet|
|Key strengths||Fast out of the box, realistic sound, long runtimes||Easy to get started with, clean, quiet|
|Key weaknesses||Loud, messy, tuning can be difficult||Batteries take time to charge, upgrading to go very fast can be very expensive|
Original article can be found here
So you’ve decided you’re ready to spend the cash for a nice hobby-level RC. Time to put on your thinking cap once again! There are two ways you can go — buy a kit and put all of the parts together yourself, or get a pre-assembled setup that’s ready-to-run (RTR) out of the box. Let’s take a quick inventory of the differences between the two.
Ready to Run
- (Almost) ready to run, right out of the box. You get fast satisfaction.
- You don’t need to worry about purchasing a ton of support equipment. Nitro RTRs at most require AA’s for the transmitter & receiver (and perhaps the glow plug igniter), and fuel. Some manufacturers, such as Duratrax, even give you AA’s. Electrics often require a battery & charger, but some even come with those.
- Unless you’re unusually thorough and tear your vehicle down before you ever run it, you don’t get a chance to learn its construction and what to look for or what to expect when something goes wrong.
- On occasion, there can be factory assembly errors that lead to premature breakages or a lost screw or part. There aren’t many let-downs as miserable as when the first full-speed drive of your exciting new RC comes to an end after just two minutes because a driveshaft falls out and you can’t even find it again!
- You put your hands on see every single part. You, yourself, are the one to lube the differential, set the gear mesh, align the wheels, and tighten every screw. Even if you don’t remember the assembly steps afterwards, the building process helps give you the confidence to disassemble the vehicle in the future to do thorough maintenance, make adjustments, or fix a warn or broken part.
- You get a chance to assemble the vehicle to better than factory specs. You may choose a different mounting point for a component, or immediately buy and install an upgrade to a part that you know will fail.
- There’s a great feeling of accomplishment and emotional attachment that comes with turning a table full of small parts into a complete, working marvel of engineering.
- Building takes time. Car & truck kits generally take 4 hours or more. Some advanced-level planes can take weeks of evening & weekend work.
- If you have particularly unsteady hands or low confidence in your mechanical aptitude, it may be best to start with something prebuilt and slowly get your hands wet with repairs & maintenance.
- Kits are not truly complete. They always require that you add your own radio system, but that’s if you’re lucky. A nitro-powered onroad car kit, for example, may require that you also separately purchase your own engine, tires, body, paint, glow plug, igniter & charger, bump-start box, and possibly more.
Original article can be found here.