Hobby-level: Kit or RTR?

RC kit instructions and an RTR

So you've decided you're ready to spend the cash for a nice hobby-level RC. Time to put on your thinking cap once again! There are two ways you can go -- buy a kit and put all of the parts together yourself, or get a a pre-assembled setup that's ready-to-run (RTR) out of the box. Let's take a quick inventory of the differences between the two.

RTR

Pros

  • (Almost) ready to run, right out of the box. You get fast satisfaction.
  • You don't need to worry about purchasing a ton of support equipment. Nitro RTRs at most require AA's for the transmitter & receiver (and perhaps the glow plug igniter), and fuel. Some manufacturers, such as Duratrax, even give you AA's. Electrics often require a battery & charger, but some even come with those.

Cons

  • Unless you're unusually thorough and tear your vehicle down before you ever run it, you don't get a chance to learn its construction and what to look for or what to expect when something goes wrong.
  • On occasion, there can be factory assembly errors that lead to premature breakages or a lost screw or part. There aren't many let-downs as miserable as when the first full-speed drive of your exciting new RC comes to an end after just two minutes because a driveshaft falls out and you can't even find it again!

Kit

Pros

  • You put your hands on see every single part. You, yourself, are the one to lube the differential, set the gear mesh, align the wheels, and tighten every screw. Even if you don't remember the assembly steps afterwards, the building process helps give you the confidence to disassemble the vehicle in the future to do thorough maintenance, make adjustments, or fix a warn or broken part.
  • You get a chance to assemble the vehicle to better than factory specs. You may choose a different mounting point for a component, or immediately buy and install an upgrade to a part that you know will fail.
  • There's a great feeling of accomplishment and emotional attachment that comes with turning a table full of small parts into a complete, working marvel of engineering.

Cons

  • Building takes time. Car & truck kits generally take 4 hours or more. Some advanced-level planes can take weeks of evening & weekend work.
  • If you have particularly unsteady hands or low confidence in your mechanical aptitude, it may be best to start with something prebuilt and slowly get your hands wet with repairs & maintenance.
  • Kits are not truly complete. They always require that you add your own radio system, but that's if you're lucky. A nitro-powered onroad car kit, for example, may require that you also separately purchase your own engine, tires, body, paint, glow plug, igniter & charger, bump-start box, and possibly more.