If you walk up to any stranger on the street and ask them if they know what a radio controlled car is, the answer will most often be a BIG smile and an affirmative "yes!" In fact, most of us probably have had the thrill of owning a radio controlled car at some point in our lives when we were growing up. Maybe you received one for your birthday or maybe "Santa Claus" left one for you under the tree. Maybe you do not even remember how you got it; you just remember all the fun you had playing with it. Well some time has passed since then. You're a little older now and your radio controlled car is since long gone but by golly every time you see one in a toy store somewhere you get the urge to buy it, bring it home, and rekindle those fond memories. "But radio controlled cars are for kids!" you tell yourself. Not so fast my friend. The world of radio controlled cars has something for everyone and regardless of who you are four or forty-four, you are bound to find a radio controlled "vehicle" (yes, I said vehicle) that will bring back that BIG BIG. You see, radio controlled vehicles have come a long way since you were a kid. Now-a-days there are radio controlled cars, trucks, planes, boats, and even tanks! Some models are simple to operate and keep things very basic while others have more intricate engineering and design and take a bit more skill to operate. Keeping all this in mind there are a few basic things you should know about radio controlled vehicles before you go online or to your local hobby store to purchase one.
One of the first things you should know is the difference between "toy-grade" and "hobby-grade" radio controlled vehicles. In the world of radio controlled vehicles the term "toy-grade" is often used to describe vehicles of the pre-assembled type typically found in discount stores and consumer stores. Sometimes they referred to as "Radio Shack cars". Toy-grade models are typically cheaper than hobby-grade models, around $ 50- $ 100 cheaper than an entry-level electric hobby class vehicle. Toy-grade models are easier to operate and easier to set up than the simple hobby-grade ready-to-run vehicles (RTR's). Toy-grade models are also reliably safer as most models are capable of only about 8-10 mph. While ease of use and low price are some of the toy-grade models larger advantages, they do have a few disadvantages. Toy-grade models are typically manufactured with a focus on design coupled with reducing production costs. Toy-grade models are not made with any parts that are repairable, replaceable, or interchangeable. When one component on the vehicle fails, typically the entire vehicle must be thrown away. Toy-models are generally built with small, weak motors and are powered by either alkaline or rechargeable batteries which translate to shorter run times and lower top speeds. All things considered, toy-grade models are an excellent choice for younger children under the age of twelve and adults whom just want to keep things simple are not overly concerned with the disposability factor that comes with toy-grade models.
But if you see yourself becoming seriously involved in the sport of radio controlled vehicles, sometimes even racing someday, then you may want to familiarize yourself with "hobby-grade" models. Hobby-grade models are more advanced in design and are built to be durable, rugged, and customizable. Unlike their toy-grade cousin's, hobby-grade models have standardized motors, actual working suspensions, and separate electronic components that are individually replaceable if they fail. Hobby-grade models are either powered by an electric motor and battery or an engine that runs on fuel. Depending on the model you choose, speeds between 20mph – 70mph are quite common. In fact, the current top speed record is held by Nic Case at 161.76 mph! Typically, even the slowest Hobby grade RC vehicle will outperform the "best" of toy-grade variety. The biggest advantages of hobby-grade models are better speed, durability, more handling control, and excellent overall performance. However, just as their toy-grade cousins, hobby-grade models do have a few disadvantages as well: cost, repair and maintenance, time-commitment. Hobby-grade models are generally more expensive to get into prices ranging from as low as $ 100 to well over $ 500, depending on the model. Hobby-grade models WILL require repairs. With many models reaching top periods of 50+ mph it is inevitable that crashes WILL occur and things WILL break and will either need to be repaired or replaced, adding to the cost of owning the vehicle. Also, while electric engine models do not require much adjusting other than keeping your battery packs charged, the same can not be said for fuel-powered models. Fuel-powered engines require frequent adjustments and fine tuning in order to ensure that they are burning fuel appropriately and running in peak condition. And if all these things sound just a little bit time consuming, your assumption is correct. Hobby-grade models absolutely DO take more time to assemble, learn, repair, maintain, and keep running. However, do not let these factors dissuade you from hobby-grade models, for these very same factors are the reason that hobby-grade enthusiast love the sport! They LOVE these "disadvantages" as they allow them to be more hands-on with their vehicle and customize it to his or her exact liking and extremely making their vehicle entirely their own.
Whichever path you take as your first step into the RC hobby is up to you. Many in the RC hobby have just one or two vehicles that continually tweak, upgrade, and modify while others specialize in certain types of RC vehicles such as large scale, micro, vintage, just boats, or just touring cars that they buy ready-to -run or build themselves. Still others may have a wide-ranged collection of both toy-grade and hobby-grade RCs of all types and sizes. Your approach is your own based on time, money, and interests. There is no right or wrong path to the RC hobby!