One of the best things about RC is the incredible variety of vehicles there is to choose from. But how do you pick the one car or truck for you out of so many great choices? All you have to do is ask yourself …
The big three questions
When selecting that first car or truck, you have to ask yourself three basic questions: nitro (engine) power or electric? Kit or ready-to-run? On-road or off-road? Let’s tackle them one by one.
Nitro (engine) power or electric?
We recommend starting with an electric car or truck. They’re more affordable, quieter, easier to maintain and require less maintenance than nitro-powered models. But if you just won’t settle for anything less than real engine power, by all means, go nitro. It’s the most popular choice, and there are lots of cars and trucks that are aimed at first-time drivers. That said, choosing nitro power should definitely influence your decision between a kit and a ready-to-run (RTR).
Kit or RTR?
There’s no better or worse here, it’s all about your personal preference. If you like building things, you’ll love building an RC car. It’s easy yet rewarding, and you’ll know your car inside and out when it’s done. But if you just can’t stand screwdrivers and instruction manuals, an RTR is the way to go. If you’re getting started with a nitro car or truck, and you’re not Mr. Mechanical, RTR is probably the best way to go. The car will be expertly assembled and properly set up, so you can concentrate on properly tuning the engine.
On-road or off-road?
It’s simple: any off-road car or truck can also be used on the pavement, but an on-road car can only be used on the pavement. If you’re all about genuine on-road performance, by all means, get an on-road car. But be honest with yourself: are you sure you won’t be tempted to take it into the dirt, or jump it? Will it kill you to know you can’t? Then go off-road.
Narrowing down your choices
OK, so you’ve made up your mind about kits and RTRs, nitro power and electric, and on-road versus off-road. You know which category of vehicle to get, but how do you pick one? Consider the following:
- Keep your budget in mind. There’s more to buying an RC car than the car itself; you’ll need support gear as well. Make sure you consider the total cost of everything you need to complete and run your car. For some RTRs, you might only need fuel and a few AA batteries for the transmitter. If you’re buying a kit, you’ll need a complete radio system, paint, a battery or fuel, a charger and other items, depending on the kit. See the “What You Need” check list for more info.
- What does the local shop sell? Even if you decide to by your new car or truck via mail order, you should still consider what the local shop sells and supports, unless you want to wait by the mailbox every time you need a part. In addition to carrying the parts you need to keep your car running, you’ll also be able to tap the shop’s experience with your particular machine.
- What do your friends have? If all your friends run monster trucks and you’re the only guy running touring car, you might find yourself wishing you had bought a monster truck. You might even consider buying exactly the same model car or truck as most of the guys have. That way, you’ll all have similar performance. It’s no fun when everyone else has a faster vehicle than you.
Which type of car is for you?
4WD touring car. Touring cars, also known as “sedans” even when wearing coupe bodies, are a blast for parking-lot play and can be had with electric or nitro power. If you crave speed, a nitro-powered touring car might be your best bet. But, remember, sedans are for on-road use only.
1/10-scale 2WD buggy
Tenth-scale buggies are almost exclusively electric and usually reserved for their own racing class, but they can be fun off-road play machines, too, and aren’t bad on pavement—just be prepared for the knobby tires to wear out quickly.
1/10-scale 2WD stadium truck
Think of these as the buggy’s big brother. Wider and more stable than buggies, they’re fun on- and off-road. Unlike buggies, nitro power is a very popular option for stadium trucks.
1/8-scale 4WD buggy
These big buggies are exclusively nitro-powered, and ultra-capable in the dirt. They fly pretty good, too, if you’re into jumping (who isn’t?). They can be pricey, but you get a lot of vehicle for your money.
4WD monster truck
Monster trucks are available in all shapes and sizes, from electric rock crawlers to dual-engine nitro burners. RTR 1⁄8-scale nitro power is the most popular option. They can roll over anything and are truly impressive in action, but they can be expensive.
Most minis are 1⁄18 scale, but some are 1⁄24 or 1⁄28 scale. On- and off-road flavors are offered, and nitro power is becoming very popular, although electric power dominates. Racing minis can cost as mush as larger RC cars, but most drivers choose inexpensive RTRs. Minis can be used indoors and outdoors, thanks to their small size.
Yes, they really ride on two wheels! Bikes aren’t ideal beginner machines (especially if you choose nitro power!), but they are a lot of fun—and a challenge. On-road only.
RC drag cars can be electric- or engine-powered, and they’re all about competition—they don’t make good play cars. Just like the real thing, RC draggers are built for pure acceleration, not durability or convenience. But if you want the fastest car on the block …
Tanks & haulers
Tamiya is the king here and makes some of the most incredibly detailed tanks and 18-wheelers on the planet—right down to working lights and sound effects. They’re expensive and sold only as highly complex kits, but they are the ultimate shelf gems. Fun to play with, too, if you’re careful.