Budget RC—Ways to Save Money

Jul 22, 2011 9 Comments by

RC is expensive, and that is a fact. If you are into RC, chances are that you even have more disposable income than the average person. But just because you have a little extra money to burn, it doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t benefit from being able to save a few bucks as well. Stretching your budget will allow you save money in the long run, so that you can spend it elsewhere, and perhaps stay out of trouble with Citibank or the Missus. Here are some money-saving tips:

Buy One-run Tires
Professional racers only use a new set of tires for one-run on the track. It may seem wasteful, but keep in mind that they get everything for free! For most club racers and bashers, these one-run tires are more than sufficient. If you go eBay, it is easy to find gently used wheels and tires and a bargain price.

Don’t Splurge on Tools
Although it is good to buy RC-specific tools, it isn’t exactly necessary. Instead of spending $12 each on a Hudy hex wrench, you can get away with spending a fraction of the cost on a nice Craftsman wrench at Sears. If you have the money to burn, expensive tools are always nice, but for most people a stop at Home Depot or Sears is a better alternative.

Carpool to the Track
It is almost a rule that RC tracks are only located in the middle of nowhere, and when you add in $4.00/gallon gas prices, you may spend $30.00 just driving back and forth from the track itself. Everyone values their independence, but carpooling with a buddy to the track can help you save a bunch in the long run.

Help-out at the Track
RC tracks generally don’t have a lot of money to pay employees, so many of them rely on volunteers to help maintain the track itself and facilities. If you become a regular volunteer, chances are that the track owner/director will take notice and eventually let you practice or even race for free!

Read Pit Tips
The Pit Tips column of Car Action has always been a reader-favorite, because it usually offers quick, cheap, homebrew fixes and suggestions for RC maintenance. Some are more useful that others, but most of them are do-it-yourself “MacGyver” tips that can help to save money.

Go Brushless
Sometimes spending more initially can help you to save in the money in the end. If you run electric RC, investing in a brushless motor system will save you hundreds of dollars in brushes, springs and motor maintenance over time. You will also get better runtime and have a more efficient drivetrain—another money-saver.

Care for Your Bearings
Bearings are expensive to replace—especially ones that are really large or exceptionally small. If you properly care for your bearings, however, they will last a lot longer. Clean and re-oil your bearings
frequently, and learn how to take your bearings apart to clean them internally. A little bearing maintanance will go a long way in extending their life.

Body Wraps
Although professional paint jobs are amazing, they can cost upwards of $100, even if you do them yourself. To get a nicely finished look at a fraction of the cost, purchase vinyl body wraps instead of going crazy on paint. For under $20.00 you can usually find great-looking wraps for almost every RC body on the market.

Have a Beater Body
If you do have an expensively-painted body, save it for race time or photo-ops like Readers’ Rides. For practice or bashing sessions, keep around a beater or practice body. There is nothing worse than messing-up and expensive body when you are just messing around, so reserve your shelf-queen body for special occasions only.

Use a Bumper
Although it violates RC Cool 101, using a bumper is a great way to avoid damage to your vehicle and save tons of money in broken parts. Thankfully some cars and trucks look better with bumpers than others. You may even be able to find a small, discrete bumper that will be hard for anyone to notice on your car.

Use After-run Oil in Engines
Nitro RC engines can have a very limited life if they aren’t cared-for properly. A good way to ensure that your engine will last longer than one season is to store it properly between runs—especially in the off-season. Using after-run oil in the carburetor and piston sleeve will lubricate the internals and prevent parts from binding and grinding when the engine is restarted. This will greatly increase the life of your engine.

Buy Last Year’s Car
The Internet is a beautiful for RC. Although it is fun to buy the newest and latest chassis every year, you can save hundreds of dollars by buying used vehicles and equipment online or from someone at the track. Unless you are an A-Main driver, you don’t need to spend $700.00 every season on the latest truck or buggy. You will save money, and probably even be faster, by buying an older car and spending a little more money on practice.

Stay Organized
Between your car itself and all of the tools in your pit bag, there are literally thousands of parts to keep track-of on a day-to-day basis. Everyone has lost numerous tools and parts at the track and around the house, which seem to disappear forever. But if you keep your car and tools organized, and do consistent inventory throughout the day, you are much less likely to lose things for good—saving tons of money.

Subscribe to Magazines
Back in the day, RC magazines were only $2.99 at the newsstand. But with things like inflation, rising printing costs, and economic downturn, most of the industry magazines are now around $6.00! You can save yourself almost $50.00/year by subscribing to magazines rather than purchasing them individually. In fact, you could subscribe to two different magazines for less cost than buying one at the cover price every month.

Rechargeable Transmitter Batteries
RC transmitters have always used a ton of AA batteries—which really add up in cost over the course of a season—especially if you are the kind of person who accidentally leaves the transmitter on between runs. Investing in rechargeable batteries is a great example of how spending a little more initially can save a lot of money in the grand scheme of things.

Run a Little Rich
Most people, especially novices, make the mistake of tuning their engines to maximum power. While running lean is great for speed, it is can wreck havoc on engine life. Running a little richer, however, can extend engine life indefinitely. When tuning your engine, find the point where you achieve maximum power, and then richen the high-end needle by an hour. This will give you a good balance of speed and longevity.

Keep your Car Clean
Accumulated dirt and road grime can cause parts to wear excessively and break prematurely. Keeping your car clean between runs, however, is great way to avoid spending unwanted money on replacing broken parts. After every run, clean and inspect every area of the chassis. You will discover things like small rocks caught in outdrives, which would eventually get caught in the wrong place an jack-up the drivetrain—leaving a huge price tag as a result.

Conclusion
Even though RC is one of the most expensive hobbies known to man, there are still tons of ways to save money. Over time you will figure out which purchases are useful investments, and which ones are simply a waste of money over time. So to keep your debit card and loved ones happy with you and your RC obsession, find ways to cutout unnecessary costs.

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About the author

I have been an RC hobbyist since the mid 90’s, and I have been working on the editorial side of the industry for nearly ten years now. There have been times when I have stepped away from RC for a bit, but I have always come back. In fact, RC is the only thing in my life that never completely goes away. I love watching for new trends and looking out for new takes on old favorites. I am perfectly satisfied that RC isn’t main stream. In fact, I prefer it that way. Not everyone can do what we do, and I would rather be a part of something exclusive than something “popular.”

9 Responses to “Budget RC—Ways to Save Money”

  1. Chris M says:

    MIchael your article has great timing! As I am finally making the switch to LiPo and brushless.
    1. Honestly is there a serious quality difference from a $30 LiPo to a “brand name” one at $60.00?
    2. There are a ton of brushless set ups in a way more confusing than a hot brush motor and a decent ESC. Where is a happy medium in this area?
    Your input is appreciated as I get ready to upgrade a RC10T2 and 5 Tamiya sedans.
    Thanks!

    • Michael Wortel says:

      1) The biggest difference between name brand LiPo’s vs. more obscure ones is reliability. Name brand cells are put through a more thorough inspection process and usually have a better warranty.

      2) Brushless motor systems sound more confusing–with the saturation of features and selling-points–but most of them are 95% similar. When purchasing your system, stick with name brands like Novak, Tekin and Castle Creations, and decide how fast you eventually want to go. If you think you are going to try and become a high-speed king, make sure you buy an ESC that can accept 11.1V+ batteries and 5000+ kV motors.

  2. Christopher Oswald says:

    that’s alot of good advise. Lots of good stuff there. Saving money is always good, the more a hobbiest saves, the better. Michael, your right…. Even with brushless systems and batteries being the next most expensive thing to get, it does pay off in the long run.

    -Christopher Oswald (RC Car Action)

    • Michael Wortel says:

      Thanks for the feedback. I also think that more expensive servos are worth the investment, because you usually get what you pay for.

  3. bill mossor says:

    Great article , Thank you .

  4. Ted says:

    I really liked the article.
    One small thing I feel should be added to the body portion, (especially for onroad), while I agree in using a beater body for practice, if you are going to mount up a nice one for the race, you should make sure they are the same body or are very similar in handling characteristics. Just changing bodies on my touring cars greatly changes how the car handles, so I always use similar race and practice bodies.

  5. sono says:

    these r thing you learn the hard way…great article..

  6. Eddie says:

    Using glass tape or duct tape and shoe Goo on your bodies. This will help bodies last longer

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