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How to Build an RC Car: Getting Started

An electric RC car in motion.

Learning how to build an RC car can turn into a fun hobby. Just like real cars, RC cars come in all shapes, sizes and price points. There are also lots of hobby stores and clubs around the country, so there are definitely opportunities to talk shop and improve your build’s looks and performance. If you’re wondering how to build an RC car, here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you delve into this fun pastime.

What Is an RC Car?

RC stands for remote-controlled or radio-controlled. Technically, remote-controlled cars have a wire, while radio-controlled cars are wireless, and the latter is the most popular option.

These little machines can provide you with countless hours of fun zipping around tracks and parking lots. Prices range from about $100 to $1,000+ for high-end kits. Depending on how much you want to spend on them and how you tune them, these cars can go from 20 to 60+ miles per hour. Quick handling and lightning-fast acceleration add to the appeal.

Choose Electric or Gas

First, you’ll need to choose what will power your car. There are pros and cons to both options.

Battery-electric is the most popular choice. They’re quick and relatively quiet, and they don’t make fumes, so they’re a better choice if you plan to run your car in a populated area or indoors. Your run time will be limited by how many batteries you have, so many owners use fast chargers or multiple battery packs. In terms of cost, electrics vary widely but will generally be a more affordable entry point unless you go straight to a top-of-the-line setup.NAPA painted Traxxas Slash

There are also RC cars that use fuel to power an internal combustion engine, which operates on principles similar to your conventional gas-powered car. These are the go-to for hardcore hobbyists who prefer a mechanical approach or have a significant amount of time invested in wrenching on full-size autos. These tend to be extremely tunable and can really evoke the feeling of a life-size performance car. On the flip side, they have more parts to maintain, start at higher prices, and run on a specially formulated hobby fuel, which is an added expense.

In terms of speed, gas RC cars traditionally had the advantage, but with modern motors and batteries, you can now get extreme performance out of either option. The choice between the two is often a matter of budget.

Choose A Build Style

There are ready-to-run, or “RTR,” cars that you can buy and drive right away. These can be an easy entry point, but many enthusiasts agree that half the fun of an RC car is building one from a kit or from the ground up and customizing it to your exact preferences. There are seemingly endless kits to choose from, and many online stores and brick-and-mortar shops across the country sell parts that you can swap in as you go. These machines can be highly modular, allowing you to upgrade the motors, batteries, suspension components and more.

If you have a general idea of the experience you’re looking for, the staff at your local hobby shop will be happy to steer you in the right direction on the specifics.

Develop Your Look

Some models are made to resemble your favorite road cars, while other designs are purely original. Try to choose one you like, as you’ll be spending a good bit of time cobbling it together. If you fancy an aesthetic change, that’s okay too — molded plastic body shells can be shaped and painted for the exact look you want.

Get the Tools of the Trade

There are certain tools you’ll need to have on hand to assemble your car. Some may be included in your kit, but others you’ll likely have to source on your own. These may include nut drivers, screwdrivers, hex keys, pliers, hobby knives and a sprue cutter to fasten and shape the many small parts you’ll be dealing with. A good workbench and a headlamp wouldn’t hurt either. These are the tools of the modeler’s trade, so it’s worth investing in quality items that you can use again and again as you modify your car.

If you like working on real cars, then give RC cars a try. They’re fun to build and run, and they’re definitely something the whole family can enjoy.

Check out all the tools and equipment available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on tools for projects small and large, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy Flickr.

Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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