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General Buying Decisions

Nitro or Electric? Page 3 of 4


Ready for a shocker? As of this writing, both the drag racing and all-out top land speed records in RC were held by electric vehicles. The fastest boat was also electric. As mentioned before, RTR electric vehicles are generally significantly slower than nitros, but once you bring upgrades into the picture or if you start with a kit and use high-grade power components, things change dramatically. People have had even 1/18th scale micro-sized electric RCs over 60mph. You do have to pay a pretty penny to get to the high end of performance, though. It's not hard to catch the "gotta go faster" bug and invest $250-300 US into a brushless motor & controller, $100 each into a couple of lithium-polymer batteries, and $150-200 into a good charger. The good news is that on top of making your vehicle incredibly fast, every one of these investments should last for quite a long time. Brushless motors don't really wear out over time, lithium polymer batteries can be charged and used back to back (with 15- to 30-minute running times) without losing strength, and a high-end charger will remain usable for many years. The bad news is that you've just invested a boatload of money into a vehicle on top of its original cost.

RC electric truckElectrics do have a couple of undeniable advantages in handling. Electric motors, by design, have a lot of low-end torque, thus giving them an edge over 2-stroke nitros in acceleration. These motors have a linear, "choose your speed" feel through their entire RPM range. Electric vehicles also tend to have a lower center of gravity than nitros due to their small motors and flat, low-mounted batteries, which contributes to good handling.

The most commonly-cited downside of electrics is the need to keep charging batteries. If you only have one battery pack, you will find yourself having significantly more downtime than driving time. A typical battery will take 30-45 minutes to charge and give you 7-15 minutes of running time, depending upon your specific vehicle and its setup. For this reason, electric RCers generally have 3 or more batteries so that at a given time, one can be in use, one can be cooling from its last use, and the next can be charging.

Arguably the greatest thing about electric RCs is how clean and quiet they run. You can run them in your house or garage if you have the space and be none the worse for wear. You can take one to work to goof around with during breaks. You can race them at indoor tracks during the rainy season. Unless you have very picky neighbors, you can run them on your street at any time of day and probably even through some evening hours. Most of the sound they make is the high-pitched whine of the gears in the transmission. When you're done driving, you just make sure your battery has the proper charge for maintenance, blow off any dust (unless you've driven through mud, which is generally not advised with electrics vehicles), and call it quits.

Tuning & Maintenance
It's easy to get an electric vehicle up and running as you generally just charge up your battery, turn everything on, and go. It's once you start taking things more seriously or when your equipment earns some age that the hidden intricacy of electric RC upkeep starts to reveal itself. Batteries, in particular, require specific treatment regimes. Nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries are best stored completely drained, while nickel-metal hydrides (NiMH) are best stored with a half to full charge. Leave either sitting for a couple of months and they will lose some potency and you will need to go through a few discharge/charge cycles to reinvigorate them. Newer lithium polymer (LiPo) batteries need to be electrically balanced with a special device on occasion and cannot be charged above or discharged below a very specific voltage range. On traditional ("brushed") motors, you need to replace brushes regularly and clean the inside. To avoid losing power over time, you need to have your motor core put on a small lathe to be "trued" and renewed. The more expensive "brushless" motor systems promise basically no ongoing maintenance, but even with them, regular cleaning is recommended and their bearings can go bad over time.

Electric RCs can be difficult to gear properly. Especially with higher-end setups, you can find yourself battling between increased performance and overheating motors. You also absolutely need to know how to solder unless you're going to stay with a fairly basic RTR setup with inexpensive batteries. The good news is that electric vehicles are very easy to work on once you get the hang of a specific vehicle. The number of moving parts is low and what parts are there are easy to identify.

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