The Top 10 facts about RC toys and RC vehicles!

RC toys, RC Vehicles

When it comes to RC toys, remote control toys, RC vehicles and remote control vehicles there are 10 really important things that everyone should know! This is especially the case if you are looking to buy a toy or vehicle for the first time or even if it’s just been a fair while since you last bought and you’re getting back into things.

The 10 things I’ve covered below are the best starting point to get a good understanding of the current state of the RC and remote control world including some of the common jargon and terminology used.

If there is anything else you think I’ve missed here that would also be great to have listed please feel free to leave me a comment below and perhaps we can later do a revised version of this post extending our list of 10 out to a top 20!

1. What is the real difference between ‘RC’ and ‘remote control’?

Now this is a very interesting one! Often when you read anything on the subject of remote controlled toys and vehicles you’ll either see the term ‘RC’ or just ‘remote control’ used. Often these terms are also used interchangeably (just like I do on this site).

So is there really a difference between what these two terms refer to?

To some degree this really comes down to who you ask. Just check out any of the forums on the internet and you’ll see there are even often some varying views within the community itself as to what the distinction really is.

Let’s start by looking at the term ‘RC‘. This is generally acknowledged to be short for ‘radio control’ and refers to the technical set up of the gadget in question which (keeping it relatively simple) is essentially:

  • A ‘transmitter’ which is the hand held controller you use to control the direction, movement etc of your gadget. When you move a joystick on push a button on your hand held controller effectively converts this movement into a message which is sent out as radio waves to your gadget.
  • A ‘receiver’ which sits inside your gadget to be controlled and receives the radio wave instructions sent from the transmitter.
  • A ‘servo’ (or even more than one servo) which is passed the instructions from the receiver and in response to these instructions will send an appropriate message to the motor (or motors) in your gadget.
  • A ‘motor’ (or even more than one motor) which once it receives is instructions from the servo takes action to put those instructions into effect e.g. makes your car race forward or backwards or turn left or right etc.

If you’re after a more in depth explanation of all these different components and how they interact on a more technical article then check this out

So in comparison to this very clear technical based understanding, what does ‘remote control’ actually mean? Now this is where a bit more disagreement often arises.

Unlike the very clear technical basis we have to define the term ‘RC’ when it comes to remote control we are much more looking at a descriptive term which on its most widely accepted meaning refers to any method of controlling a toy, vehicle or other gadget from a distance.

So this could refer to methods of control such as by wires, by infrared (as a lot of the cheaper models today use very effectively) or even arguable by RC as of course when you use an RC transmitter to operate a car you are still operating it from a distance.

So while all RC gadgets could be seen to be ‘remote control’ not all ‘remote control’ gadgets have the necessary technical make up to be considered ‘RC’ gadgets.

BUT increasingly people use the terms interchangeably (even I tend to on this site) and in all honesty it doesn’t really matter unless of course you are looking at buying and are really specifically after some of the advantages radio control may have over some of the other forms of remote control. In these cases make sure you do spend some time looking at the detail behind the name used to make sure you are really getting what you want.

2. Are RC Toys and RC Vehicles expensive?

Yes and no! The answer here really depends on what you are after.

The great thing we are seeing about some of the developments in new technology in the space (as I talk about further below) is that the range of toys, vehicles and gadgets is increasing not only in terms of the overall number available but also the previously existing boundaries are being pushed in terms of what is available to high end buyers as well as at a much more affordable entry level.

For example you can pick up a pretty impressive and fun little indoor RC helicopter for less than $30.

RC Helicopter

But at the very high end of things you can also spend into the thousands on a top of line nitro powered remote control car for competitive racing, particularly once you invest in the replacement parts and upgrades most people who get involved in competitive racing would consider necessary.

3. Are they just for kids?

In some cases definitely yes but in some cases definitely no!

You can of course get some great looking and very reasonably priced cars for kids of all ages that are great for safe indoor use. However at the other end of spectrum some of the high end modern nitro powered cars can hit 100 mph (and come with a price tag to match)! Definitely not a toy!

Similarly planes and other vehicles that can also achieve significant altitudes and velocity (such as some helicopters and drones) need to be used responsibility at all times and definitely wouldn’t fall into the toy category.

4. Is it a solo hobby?

Although when many people think of remote control vehicles they often associate it as a fairly solo pursuit there are in fact a number ways that is becoming more of a community focused pass time if you want to get involved in that way.

The internet has of course introduced a wide number of forums and social networking sites on which you can discuss all aspects of remote control toys and vehicles from maintenance, to new technology and even ‘vintage’ collectables. However there has also always been a strong club culture for real enthusiasts who want to get involved in competitive racing or just want to enjoy and show off their vehicles with others.

Today clubs for all types of vehicles are still strong and if anything recent years have seen resurgence in some areas, particularly as some of the more high performance and competition focused vehicles also come down in price.

5. Are remote toys and remote control vehicles easy to break?

Overall the higher end remote control toys and remote control vehicles are generally more robust these days than they have ever been, but the true answer to this really falls into parts.

Firstly all vehicles are of course generally designed for a specific purpose.

For example a remote control sailing boat is not going to go well in rougher waters and waves and also an RC car designed for on track racing will not cope well on a rough dirt track.

Using a remote control vehicle outside of its intended areas of use is not only going to increase the chances for breakages or permanent incapacitation but – let’s face it – it’s just not going to be as much fun if the performance of your vehicle will be hampered by the environment you’re trying to use it in.

Secondly, no matter how robust something is you need to be aware of its inherent limitations and also what maintenance it requires to keep it in the best condition. A higher end RC vehicle may be sturdier in the short term but its optimum performance and overall state of repair may deteriorate more noticeably overtime than a lower end vehicle if it’s not properly maintained.

So when choosing an RC vehicle think about how committed you really want to be to maintenance of the vehicle and also just how respectfully you are likely to treat it and tailor your purchase accordingly. This is a particularly important consideration when buying for kids!

6. Is the technology improving?

Definitely! The speed of motors, the robustness of the vehicles manufactured and of course the size and expense of the other component parts are also decreasing meaning that there are a lot more possibilities theses days when it comes to the purchase of (or building your own) RC vehicles in all price ranges.

At the lower end of the spectrum some of these technological advances have been especially seen in the greater quality of infrared and non ‘radio controlled’ RC vehicles (and most particularly those that fall into the ‘remote control toy’ category) that we’ve seen come onto the market in recent years.

The other really interesting development (I think!) in the space has also been the increasing emergence of iPhone and all the mobile phone and tablet controlled vehicles. These use a range of technologies from infrared ‘dongles’ that connect to your mobile device (like these ones do) to even blue tooth (like this one does) to control your vehicle.

7. Are there more to RC vehicles and RC toys than just cars, planes, boats and helicopters?

Yes! Yes! Yes! These days you can pretty much pick up any time of RC vehicle you can wish for. From tanks, jets, and submarines to even more exotic models like this one:

8. Do all RC toys and RC vehicles run on batteries?

Although controllers will always use some form of batteries (whether standard off the shelf or more specific rechargeable ones), vehicles themselves can run on either batteries (in varying forms once again) or what is referred to as ‘nitro‘.

Nitro fuel is essentially just a methanol-based product that has had varying amounts of oil and nitromethane added. The type of nitro fuel you want to use depends on the type of vehicle your running (and also of course your budget!). Speciality nitro fuel can be purchased from all hobby shops and for the more intrepid amongst us you can in fact mix up your own!

Although less common than Nitro powered vehicles it is also possible to get vehicles which run on variations of more traditional gasoline.

Nitro and gas powered engines are generally only found in the more highline or competitive focused models. Definitely not something you want running inside your house!

9. Are old RC toys and RC vehicles able to be refurbished or updated?

This really depends on the model you have but for the ones which were more expensive when purchased generally you can update and up-spec them.

To some degree this will also depend on just how old the vehicle in question is and whether any newer parts can be substituted for the older materials.

There are however some fantastic examples out there of the refurbishment of older vehicles – check this out from the guys at IconicRC featuring a refurbished and modified Tamiya Hot Shot II 4WD Buggy (also actually the first car I had when I was 11!).

10. Are the best ones only for use outdoors?

Although you can get some amazing RC toys and RC vehicles intended to be primarily used outdoors some of the developments in the whole RC space in recent times have most definitely benefitted what types of vehicles and toys you can run indoors.

From really fun and robust helicopters and drones to mini cars, iPhone controlled vehicles and even robots.

Whether you want something for indoors or outdoors these days you can be guaranteed to have a wide range of options to choose from!

What else


  1. Derek says

    If i buy 5 of the same rc car, with the intent to race them, would they all be ran by a single remote? Or could i have 5 different drivers? Will i need to buy 5 different types of rc cars?

    • David says

      Hi Derek,

      Good questions! It totally depends on the make and model of the car. More expensive vehicles will have greater ability to selected differing frequencies whereas some of the lower priced models will just operate on one set frequency that can’t be changed. When you get to the low-mid price range sometimes you do see some relatively inexpensive models available with the ability to select maybe up to 3 frequencies to operate on for exactly the purpose you’re considering (e.g. buy multiple of the same vehicle type to race against each other). I’d say just check the specs of the product very carefully before you purchase to make sure you are getting the frequency flexibility you are after from any particular model. Hope that helps!


    • David says

      Hi Darla,

      Thanks for your query. A lot of the larger scale RC tanks available these days will work outside BUT it really depends on what you want to do with them outside. A lot of today’s more higher end RC tanks have decent climbing ability and will have no problem over grass and moderately uneven terrain outside. However, if you’re wanting to run the tank in wet or muddy environments then you’re probably going to run into trouble sooner rather than later. This is mainly because the realistic track system these models have which look great and work really well does create a lot more opportunity for dirt and water to penetrate the track system and into the internal workings of the tank. This isn’t so much a fault of the RC tanks themselves but rather just an inherent issue with the conceptual design of tracked vehicles generally! There are a lot of working parts which just means there is more chance for something to go wrong.

      If taking a bit of time to keep the tank clean after outside use and also avoiding water (and in all honesty for best longevity dirt and sand as well) is something you would be happy with then models like this German Tiger Air Soft RC Battle Tank ( and this 1/16 scale Snow Leopard ( would all be excellent choices. The other option is that if you were prepared to have a shorter life span for the tank you could go for a cheaper model (this battle tank set could be good for this as for the price you get 2 tanks and just go for broke on how you use it outside bearing in mind that it won’t last forever (or probably very long at all :-) ) but at such point you’ll either be ready to try something else anyway or it will be (relatively) cheap to replace.

      There are some AMAZING rc tanks you can get purpose designed for outdoor use, but most of these are really large scale and really expensive (hundreds if not thousands of dollars!) and many are in fact custom made. If you were interested in something like that then I’d suggest have a look around the internet and see if you can find a local RC tank club who might be able to point you to something in your area or otherwise just try your local hobby model ship who also may know some local contacts yon could try. And if you do opt for something like this would be great to hear what you get!

      Hope that helps!

      David – Myrctopia

  2. Ethan says

    hi david. Have you ever thought of making a category for drones on the website? they are a big part of the RC industry and with your knowledge of RC’s and your research ability on the subject I think it would make a great addition to the site

  3. Clint says


    I just purchased the Top Race TR-808 6-chan. heli because of your recommendation and I already have a problem. The operator’s manual is totally inadequate for someone like me. I can probably figure out how to use it in 4-chan. mode, but I haven’t a clue how to fly “3D”(fly inverted, etc.). Where can I get instructions? This is my first attempt at flying a 6-channel helicopter after flying 3- and 4-channel helicopters for several years both indoor and outdoors. I Presently have the Syma F3, WL-V911, WL-V912 and Blade120SR. I do pretty well with the first 3 and not so well yet with the Blade.

    Any advise on flying or where to get instructions will be appreciated very much as I am retired and in a small town and there aren’t any hobby shops or other sources of info. close by. I am pretty much dependent on the internet for help. (75 yrs old and retired)

    Thank You,


    • David says

      Hi Clint,

      Great to hear from you again and exciting to hear you purchased the Top Race! Very sorry to hear about the instructions though! 6 channel copters are a big step up for everyone so probably the first thing you have to do is just remember that everyone goes through the same thing when you step into the 6 channel world and you just need some time to get to grips with it. Flying 6 channel is almost more an ‘art’ than a ‘science’ so you have to give yourself some time to get into the groove with it and practice definitely makes perfect.

      As a starter I’d suggest check out some of the free YouTube and other resources you can find around the net.

      For example here is an excellent primer video (if you haven’t seen it already) that gives you an overall picture of the control process involved in 6 channel flying. The video has annotated comments on it at various points to further explain the thumb positions etc on the controller. There is also more in the video series here

      Another great overview is the collective pitch flight school you can check out here .

      You’ll no doubt find some more yourself from there if you do a bit more googling but let me know if that feels like enough to get you started?


      David – My RCtopia

  4. RD says

    Hi! Never had brothers or kids but want to get a car for my dogs to chase at the park. It’s just grass. Something that won’t tip over. With 20 minutes of battery? What would you recommend? Thank you.

    • David says

      Hi RD,

      Thanks for getting in touch! No problem to give you my thoughts on this but first to help me out I was jut wondering what type of dogs do you have?


      David – My RCtopia

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