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