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General Buying Decisions

Nitro or Electric? Page 2 of 4


We're going right ahead and starting with the most controversial subject. It is true, ready-to-run (RTR) nitro-powered cars & trucks are almost always faster out of the box than their electric counterparts, and frequently by a significant amount. It's easy to find a ready-to-run nitro vehicle that will go over 40mph, and some even push 60+. Prebuilt hobby-level electrics usually hit 20-30mph out of the box. Simply put, the up-front cost to start out with a lot of speed in nitro RC is much lower than with electrics. However, don't think for a second that as soon as you get a nitro vehicle, you can automatically beat anything electric; more on this later.

Continuous nitro running is generally a "fuel & go" proposition. As you get low on fuel, you just pull in for a pit stop, add more fuel in a matter of seconds, and drive off. A single gallon of fuel will last for many hours of continuous running, which is especially desireable if you want to travel somewhere to run your RC and not have to lug along a lot of support equipment. It's also easy to share a bottle of fuel between friends. In racing, main events for nitro-powered classes are frequently 15-30 minutes with pit stops, compared to the 5- to 6-minute sprint races of most electric classes.

RC nitro buggyRealism
With the sound of a real engine, nitro vehicles have a special appeal to many people and tend to draw a lot of attention. They rev up and get louder the faster they go, and this adds a level of excitement to either running or watching them that's hard to put to words. A nitro vehicle can actually feel more fast than a faster electric. On the flip side, the significant amount of noise can limit when and/or where you can drive a nitro RC. They can only be run outdoors (or in heavily-ventilated special facilities) due to the toxic, nauxeous exhaust gas they produce. Neighbors or patrons of quiet parks may not appreciate a nitro-powered vehicle being driven around them, particularly in the mornings & evenings.

Nitro cars are generally better built for strength than electrics. You can look at their parts and immediately see the "beef." Driving at a given speed in a given situation, they'll break less frequently. However, more available speed out of the box can offset some of this advantage. The force of an impact equals the weight of a vehicle times its speed squared. Double your speed and crashes become four times as potent!

Tuning & Maintenance
One of the most commonly-cited downsides to nitro RC'ing is engine tuning. Like old cars, they use carburetors that require fine adjustments to needle valves to keep them running optimally. Some engines "hold" their tune well, meaning they don't need to be fiddled with much once they're set up right, while others need frequent adjustments. Changes in atmospheric conditions such as barometric pressure and humidity can require changes in engine tuning from one day to the next. If you enjoy tuning up real cars or just generally fixing things yourself, you'll find this challenge to be welcome and fun. If you live in an area where the weather changes a lot or if you get stuck with a finicky engine, tuning can sometimes be aggravating, especially when an engine either won't start or just dies whenever you apply the throttle. If you are short on patience, this can be a major turnoff. Also, nitro engines need to be kept in a certain temperature range when runing; go above this range you risk permanent damage.

Neat freaks beware. Nitro RCs can get dirty -- very dirty. There's liquid fuel onboard and when it burns, the exhaust is laden with inert oils in aerosol form. Invariably this oil permeates everything. Even when you have a muffler exit pipe that extends outside of the body, some of the oil-laden exhaust doubles back in the turbulence when you're running at speed. Especially if you're running offroad, the oil settles in and attracts dust & dirt, which then turns into a pasty crust. The good news is that there are no tenacious chemicals involved -- most of the stuff can be blown away with compressed air, and it can be completely washed away with various readily-available aerosol solvents.

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