Radio controlled vehicles/craft can be fairly cleanly divided into two categories, toy and hobby-level. The toy type are what most people think of when you mention “RC” — buy-and-drive playthings that you can purchase from a toy or electronics store. These are made strictly for the sake of fun. Then there are the more sophisticated and capable models targeted towards hobbyists who want to go faster, tinker with settings and upgrades, and perhaps participate in one of the many levels of established competitive events. Neither class of RC is necessarily “better” — they each have their positive and negative qualities. However, when you’re first starting out, it’s very worthwhile to choose which way you want to go up front, long before you pull out your credit card. This article presents the most important facts that can help you make an informed decision.
Toy R/C cars & trucks that you can buy at places like Toys R Us or Walmart start at $20-25 USD, and the most extreme ones top out around $150. Toy R/C planes start at around $30. When you step up to the hobby level, you’ll be hard pressed to find something complete for under $130. It’s very easy to spend $400-500 on a 1/10th scale car or truck that will last awhile, and a fully upgraded rig can easily shoot up to $2,000-3,000 USD.
In most cases, there’s really no comparison between the performance of toy and hobby-level RCs. Most toy cars & trucks will go anywhere from 5mph to 15mph, with the fastest few doing 20-24mph. Hobby-level RCs generally start at 15-25mph for electrics and 25-35mph for nitro versions. You can get monster trucks that will do over 40mph out of the box, and low-slung street cars that will do over 60 with no upgrades or modifications. In planes, the toys generally go around 5-15mph, while there are hobby-class craft that will do 30, 50, even 80mph in factory stock form. The most extreme speed differences are in boats. The toys often putt and crawl along at 1-5mph, while the hottest hobby-level racing boats will skim the surface at over 100mph
Mostly because they’re slow, toy RCs tend to handle more abuse than their more expensive cousins. The most common things to break are bumpers and body trim. The land and water-borne vehicles are built with a lot more material than is necessary, while aircraft tend to be constructed of foam and flexible plastics that bounce back after being bent. However…
When they break…
Repairing a toy RC is sometimes not worth the time & effort. Nearly all use multifunction circuit boards that combine several major functions, so if something goes electrically wrong, you have to change out the whole thing. Most manufacturers don’t have a factory service program, so you have to do the work yourself. Many don’t even offer a way to order new parts. Nikko is a notable exception. You can call them, tell them exactly what vehicle you have, describe the problem, and order precisely the part(s) you need. Many RC’s available at Radio Shack are actually from Nikko and are covered by this same level of support, with the additional convenience of being able to go back to the store and special-order your parts in person.
Fixing hobby-level RCs is, in most cases, a completely different affair. You can disassemble anything yourself. With most popular brands there are manuals and exploded views. There are service departments that handle returns of defective components. Electronics are, with rare exception, separated by function so that you don’t have to change your speed controller if your radio receiver crystal goes bad. Parts are available at brick-and-mortar hobby shops and dozens of trusted, popular web sites. There are online forums (message boards) where you can ask other hobbyists for advice and learn from their experience.
These days, ever more toy RCs have upgrades available for purchase from the original manufacturer, particularly amongst the smaller “micro” cars and trucks. These upgrades can range from different body kits to stickier tires to faster motors. They’re generally very easy to install, requiring at most a small screwdriver (which is often included) and 15 minutes, and can dramatically change the look or performance of the vehicle. They’re also great fun to install and let the owner add a bit of their own personality.
The most popular hobby RCs may have literally hundreds of upgrades available from many different aftermarket sources (companies other than the original manufacturer). Among the available upgrades may be anything from scale-realistic wheels to anodized aluminum struts in various colors to larger motors/engines to total conversion kits that fundamentally change the vehicle. Many hobby-level RC parts are reusable from one vehicle to another, especially electronic components and motors/engines. Popular RC models come with the support of other owners nationwide or around the world who share their experiences, tips, and home-grown modifications freely on the Internet.
Toy radio systems traditionally give you forward/reverse (or up/down) and left/right direction control. A growing number of cars & trucks these days now have “digital proportional” steering to boot, which gives you a number of steps between neutral and full turning, depending upon how far you turn the wheel or push the stick on the radio transmitter. Some, though, only let you go straight forward or to turn one pre-set direction in reverse. Toy helicopters are what you have to watch out for the most, as these sometimes give you only one axis of control — go straight up, or come straight down. Most toy RC’s are still only available on two frequencies (e.g., 27mhz and 49mhz in the US), with a few now offering 3 to 6 possibilities. This limits the number of vehicles that can run at one time, but more unfortunately it reduces the possibility of even being able to run two random vehicles together.
Hobby-class radio systems give you 64 to 256 (or more) steps of control in each direction for what feels like perfectly smooth turning & throttle control. These systems can also be easily changed between anywhere from 6 to 30 different frequencies, so even if the one person you want to race against or fly with has an absolutely identical radio setup, for around $20 and with a one-minute part swap, you’re both in the clear. Still better, the most recent generation of radio systems, while expensive, operate on an extremely high frequency and use small computer chips to automatically search for and lock onto an open channel, ensuring that you’ll never have a frequency conflict.
Toy RCs can be raced between siblings or friends around the neighborhood, but there’s generally no sanctioned racing. Hobby-level RCs are raced around the world in local, regional, national, and even international events, even including multi-track tours.
When all is said and done, the purchase decision between toy & hobby-level RCs should always come down to who the purchase is being made for. You don’t want to buy a $390, 45mph nitro-powered car for a 6-year-old. Likewise, a 16-year-old who wants to get into RC racing for sport wouldn’t be well-served by a $39 toy. What’s really interesting is the 26-year-old with a $25 micro-sized monster truck who would derive hours of fun from chasing his/her cat around the kitchen floor or gingerly driving around a makeshift desktop obstacle course during lunchtime at work. Before you buy an RC, know who you’re buying it for and do a little research. That extra time spent up front could make the difference between tremendous fun and awkward disappointment. Credits: http://www.beginningrc.com/ http://