Picture if you will, a desire to enter the world of RC Cars. Perhaps there is a latent desire to drive, or you see someone driving, and it looks cool. Or that you work (or have worked) with an enthusiast, and want to give it a try.
Regardless, we all start at square one. This post will explore a few use cases and some common advice that can be taken or discarded.
First, assess who and what is being sought. If you are an adult purchasing for yourself, you will have different needs than if you are an adult purchasing for a child (your children, or a relative like a grandchild).
Questions to ask:
- How old is the primary user?
- How mature is the primary user? (i.e. can they follow directions? Are they conscientious?)
- Will this be a passing fad, or will it inspire a lifetime hobby?
- What are you interested in: Bashing? Racing? Crawling?
- What is your budget?
Be honest with your assessment responses.
What are your interests?
While it is lower in the list, this is a crucial question. Let’s start by defining what these terms mean:
Bashing – This is an unfortunate name for just general driving around. Of course, there are the bashers that send their cars to the moon (c.f. Kevin Talbot’s Youtube page). But whether you go out to the local parking lot, or a skate park, or a large field, this is “bashing”. It can be off road or on road. It can be drifting a road oriented car (a lot of fun) or jumping at the Skate park. Alone or with friends. It doesn’t matter, this is the most common activity, and don’t be ashamed to admit it.
Racing – Organized events at tracks, this is typically dominated by a few types of vehicles. If this interests you, your selection of a first vehicle will be different. Be sure to investigate where there are tracks (30 years ago, there were many more than remain today, but it is still a popular sport.) Many of the “Basher” type cars will not work here.
Crawling – This is like the serious Jeep drivers, who do things like the Five Miles of Hell trail, and Moab, but instead use very special RC cars. Designed to go slow, they have high ground clearance, and well articulated front/rear axles, lock up differentials, and multispeed transmissions.
Most people would do well with Bashing for an entry point. But if you are considering racing as well, the selection of a Short Course truck would be a good all around package to get started.
I will go out on a limb and say that for a rank beginner, it is best to buy a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Yes, there will be more parts, and more maintenance. But it is a lot easier to learn to control an all wheel drive car. Trust me on this.
If you don’t think you will do much off road, or much rough off road, a Buggy is a good style. Easier to drive, better handling, and you can jump onto a race course with it to get your toes wet.
A note about racing: To get started, you can go with a pretty boring Short Course truck, or a Buggy. But soon you will want more car. A lot more car, but you don’t want to start there, as the adjustability, and the set up options will confuse and mystify a beginner. And the better cars can be expensive. Like $600 for a kit, but then you will need to buy electronics, radios, tires, and the like to run. Expect to spend $1200 to get started, before you buy batteries. After you get some experience, then you can dive into this world. Stick to a Traxxas Slash, or their 4WD buggy.
New or Used
It is normal to want to save a few $$’s and one way to do that is to buy used. But for your first vehicle, I would argue that this is a mistake. First, unless you can get your hands on it (local sale, craiglist or the like) you can’t tell the condition. And a lot of the used rigs I saw that were filthy, broken, abused, and in poor shape made me want to avoid them. Once you have some experience, it is OK to buy used, and to fix them up, but new to the sport, you want to charge up a battery, plug it in and drive.
So, buy new, even if your budget forces you into a lesser car than you want. You can always upgrade it later, or add to your collection.
There are many brands, but only one seems to run the gamut of all options. From small/slow, good for young-uns to insane speed demons, and that is Traxxas. You will find two camps on the internet, those who loathe the Traxxas brand, and those who love it. Well, three camps, because there are also the ambivalent cohort, who will drive whatever (I am in the third).
Traxxas has a lot of benefits beyond the complete range from inexpensive, to top of the line. They also have this handy rating system from 1 – 10 where larger numbers are for more skilled/responsible drivers. For instance, their Nitro powered vehicles all start at level 4. That is for experienced drivers, as there is a small nitromethane motor, and all the attendant goodies that go with it, make it not a good choice for a beginner. Fun fact, back in the late 70’s and early 80’s Nitro ruled the game, and it was part of the learning curve.
Another benefit is that Traxxas has an ecosystem. That is they have matched batteries, and chargers. That means if you are buying a first vehicle, it reduces the likelihood that you will buy the wrong things to go with it (as in batteries). They have “Completer” kits that are matched with the vehicles, and you can’t go wrong. Nothing like buying battery packs with the wrong connectors, or the wrong charger.
But other makers have good entry level cars too, so if you want to avoid Traxxas, you can look to Arrma, or Losi, or Redcat Racing. All make good hobby grade vehicles, at reasonable prices. Best if you check out the local hobby shops and see what brands they carry. As you will need spare parts, be sure you have a good source locally (although the Local Hobby Shop seems to be a dying breed)
If you are really brave, head over to Banggood.com and look for JL, or Haobao. Budget hobby grade cars, great value, and parts are available (if they take a long time to arrive when you order).
Passing fad or …
Impossible to answer for you. But if you are going to do more than dip a toe in, and might become an avid practitioner, then it might be worth spending a few additional dollars up front. Buy the better rig, allocate more money for Batteries, and accessories. Be sure that you have tools to work on it. The cost of the initial kit is a small fraction of the overall cost – long term. So, if you are looking at say a Traxxas Latrax Teton (about $130) but you really want the 4S Arrma Notorious (about $399), I would recommend spending the extra money. You will outgrow the entry level pretty quick.
The exception: If you are buying for your child (or grandchild). A lower cost entry level rig is a great investment, knowing that they will grow out of it. But the ease of use, the less complicated batteries (the Latrax Teton uses NiMH batteries that are cheaper, and less risk to charge than the more powerful LiPO’s) make for a better experience for a younger enthusiast.
I learnt long ago that it is better to overspend up front if you think it is going to stick, than to have to buy new after a few months.
One thing to NOT look at…
Virtually all the Ready to Run cars today will have a number on the box that is meant to titillate, and that is the max speed. 40+ MPH, 50+MPH, even 100MPH (Traxxas XO-1). Those are terrible reasons to buy a car. Sure, it is a measure, and a bullet point. But really, buy something that is in your budget, and commensurate with your skill. While there is a cohort who work to extract the last ounce of performance from a rig, that isn’t that much fun in general.
So, don’t go for the biggest number. Look at the whole package.
RC cars is fun. It is a sooting hobby. You need to be fairly handy, as you will break things, and they will need maintenance. The latest generations of brushless electronics and LiPO batteries make for a great deal of power, speed and fun.
Do your research. If you are on Facebook, there are plenty of communities for manufacturers, for styles of use, and for general questions. Look around and see what perks your interest.
Don’t forget to budget for batteries and a charger. Don’t go too cheap on those either.
A world of fun, camaraderie, and enjoyment awaits. Just don’t look too close at the price tags.