By Joe Rich
Table of Contents
Electric RC Cars Versus Nitro RC Cars: Which is Best
RC cars have not only remained a popular hobby for both children and adults, it has grown in popularity throughout the decades.
There are plenty of reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is the customization and the ability to make any changes that you desire.
That means creating the kind of car that you have always envisioned, even creating scale versions of some of the most iconic vehicles ever.
It gives hobbyists the ability to work on and play with cars that they may not be able to afford in full-sized versions.
For beginners, however, there are two different types of RC cars that may seem pretty much the same on the surface, but offer quite a different experience.
Those two different types are electric RC cars and nitro-powered RC cars.
Understanding the difference between the two is a key to understanding how they may impact your hobby experience and eventual understanding of RC cars as a whole.
Before we get into the pros and cons of each, here are the main differences between the two.
The biggest difference between RC cars and Nitro cars is the way they derive their power.
For the electric RC cars, the power comes from a motor that, you guessed it, works from an electrical charge.
Nine times out of ten, this is through a battery pack of some sort.
It is important to know that this kind of battery pack is different than the type of batteries needed for the controller.
Some electric RC cars offer a charge while others you can simply buy a replacement battery for.
When it comes to the nitro-powered cars, these operate on an engine that is fuelled with a methanol-based fuel that has nitro methane in it.
The nitro engine and nitro fuel are essentially the same thing as automotive and gas engines that you would use in your full-sized truck or car.
There are also RC cars that run off of regular gasoline, though these tend to be far larger than your electric or nitro-powered RC cars and are another category entirely, so we will skip that part for now.
Brush and Brush less Motor
For electric RC cars, there are two types of motors known as brush and brushless.
Brushed motors are common when it comes to toy-grade RC cars and can also be found on a few different hobby-level models.
The brush motor itself contains what is known as a small contact brush (hence the name) that gives the motor the ability to rotate.
Brushed motors are also available in fixed and non-fixed.
The former can’t be modified in any way shape or form (hence fixed) and the latter can be adjusted, though only to a certain level.
A brushless motor is probably the best choice because it is generally more powerful, and modifications can be made.
Most professional drivers that use electric go with brushless just for that reason.
While brushless motors are more expensive than their brushed counterparts, they are definitely more popular and can provide you with much more power for your electric RC.
Not only that, they can also handle higher voltages than brushed motors.
Brushless motors are a great way to help beginners race their RC cars at very fast speeds.
We have a article covering brushed and brushless motors click here to read.
The most obvious difference between the electric RC motor and the nitro engine is that the latter requires a fuel source other than batteries to operate.
The nitro engine also tends to be much more complicated as it has an air filter, carburettor, clutch, flywheel, glow plug, piston, and crankshaft.
These can all be found in your normal, full-sized cars and trucks while also containing a fuel tank and exhaust as well.
The main component of the nitro engine is the head radiator.
This is what dissipates heat from the engine block; on a full-sized equivalent, this would be the water pump and radiator that circulates coolant throughout the engine block to keep it from overheating.
That ability to dissipate and disperse heat by adjusting the fuel and air mixture to control engine temperature is one of the few advantages that a nitro engine has to its electric counterparts.
Pros of Nitro RC Cars
The most obvious pros of Nitro RC cars is their level of customization.
Because they have more complicated, complex engines, they can be altered and customized.
There are also other elements of the body that can be fully customized, allowing the user to create their own unique vehicle.
This is more suited to those moderate to advanced users that like to tinker, overhaul, and adjust their RC cars.
The electric versions might be a little too simplistic for someone experienced in the hobby and could lead to disinterest.
There is also the loud sound of the engine.
Part of the fun for some is the experience of racing a car without the costs involved in doing so on a full scale.
The loud noise coming from accelerating around the track can really help a hobbyist get into the action and excitement.
Combined with the smell of the exhaust that is generated from the use of fuel (much like real, full scale cars) allows the hobbyists to get that full racing experience without having to invest serious money into those full-scale cars.
Also, when it comes to that fuel, nitro cars also get a longer run time than electric-powered RC cars.
Generally speaking, you can drive anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes on a nitro-powered car before needing to refill.
For electric-powered RC cars, however, once the juice runs out there is a time where you have to wait to charge it unless you have a backup on hand. For nitro-powered RC cars, you simply fill the tank back up and get back to racing it again.
Lastly, nitro-powered RC cars provide a much more realistic driving experience compared to the electric RC cars.
You will find the most avid, experienced RC racers using nitro-powered RC cars more often than not.
Cons of Nitro RC Cars
One of the biggest cons of nitro-powered RC cars when compared to their electric counterparts is in the cost.
Not only do you have to continuously pay for fuel to keep the car running, modifications, repairs, and part replacements can get quite pricey depending on the model that you have.
Consider that every quart of nitro fuel will run you in the $20 to $25 range.
This continuous cost will be there and that is minimal if your car manages to stay in complete working order and requires no repair or modification.
That will never happen as RC cars take a lot of wear and tear, especially when raced competitively.
Nitro RC cars also need a lot of maintenance. Because there are so many working parts, you need to keep the engine clean and make certain that the internal compartment is cleaned as well.
Allowing dirt, grime, and debris to build up can cause issues with the components of the car, leading you to have to fix or replace them.
That means even more money out of your pocket.
Part of that maintenance also means draining the fuel tank, cleaning the air filter, and adding the post fuel to make certain that everything stays in working condition.
Electric RC cars tend to stay cleaner for longer and definitely do not require the same commitment level.
If you advance past the beginner stage, nitro RC cars require knowledge if you plan to maintain them properly.
If you have not cared for a car of any size before, that initial foray can feel confusing and you may end up doing something wrong.
This includes replacing the glow plug (the equivalent to a spark plug on full-sized cars).
Since there are liquids involved, there are several “dos and don’ts” involved with this kind of car such as “don’t invert the car.”
This can cause oil leakage that can damage your internal system.
Speaking of liquids, it is important to know that most nitro RC cars are not waterproof.
As a matter of fact, they are pretty sensitive to water, so keep them away from big puddles or using them out in the rain if you can.
Pros of Electric RC Cars
These are the best kinds of cars for beginners.
They don’t need major adjustments or require any time-consuming settings.
If you are looking to just pick up the controller and go, this is hands down the best kind of RC car for you.
Just make sure the battery is charged and you’re ready to go.
While some like the roar of the nitro RC engine, there are others who prefer to keep it quieter and the electric RC car is just that.
That goes hand-in-hand with not having to adjust things such as the carburettor or a glow starter.
Cost is one of the biggest differences.
Electric RC cars just tend to be less expensive to operate since you don’t have to buy fuel and their basic kits are less expensive than their nitro counterparts. Plus, they tend to be much more reliable since there are fewer moving parts to have to contend with.
Maintenance is another big positive with electric RC cars in that they have little to none.
The only repairs that you may need to make is if the suspension breaks, the steering components have issues, or there are problems with the chassis.
With the advances in battery technology and high-speed specifications on electric RC cars, they can also go much faster than their predecessors while running for far longer, too.
That means higher speeds for longer run times than ever before.
Lastly, the majority of electric-powered RC cars are waterproof.
That means you can run them through puddles, take them out in the rain, or even drive them in blizzards. Check out our article Can you run a RC car in the snow.
You can rely on electric RC cars to stand up to the wet environment with no problem.
Cons of Electric RC Cars
While electric RC cars might sound like the total package, they definitely have their cons, too.
The first is that they need special chargers for the battery packs unless you plan on buying a new battery pack each time.
Since that is expensive, the charger is your best option.
Speaking of charging, it takes a lot longer than refuelling.
The former requires some patience as it can take 45 minutes to an hour to fully charge.
If you want to get back out there ASAP, being able to refuel can be a major perk.
To match the speed of nitro RC cars, you’ll need to invest in a stronger and faster motor and battery.
This can run the costs up exponentially for something that is pretty standard across the board for nitro RC cars.
If you want to be competitive with your electric RC car, paying for a good setup will have larger upfront costs than a nitro RC car.
This means investing in higher-quality batteries as well to keep your car going with the power that it needs to be dynamic.
Another added cost is having to invest in high-quality LiPo batteries.
They tend to sell for around $50 or so, though they do have a higher capacity than they did previously and do offer more power than their predecessors.
Still, they require a lot of care to use.
So to summarise.
Pros of Nitros
- Nitros are able to be customized more
- You will have the sound of a real engine
- Fuel tanks give longer running time than batteries
- The driving experience for Nitros is more realistic
- Faster top speed than electric as standard
Cons of Nitros
- High initial cost and ongoing costs for fuel
- Longer to set before use
- More maintenance
- Needs through cleaning and fuel draining after every bash
- Most nitro cars are not waterproof
Pros of Electric
- Best for new starters and beginners
- Quieter to run do not annoy the neighbours
- Easy to set up and go add battery and away you go
- Lower cost to buy and lower maintenance
- Majority of models are waterproof
Cons of Electric
- Need special chargers and battery packs
- Battery charge time can be a long time so you will need a stock
- Slower than nitro power unless you make expensive upgrades
What it comes down to, ultimately, is the amount of detail the driver intends to give.
If you just want to get out there and race with as little upkeep or time spent away from the track as possible, an electric RC car is probably the one for you.
If you enjoy customization, the roar and smell of the engine, and being able to hit higher speeds with greater consistency, nitro-powered RC cars are the way to go.
It all comes down to personal preference, level of experience, and the amount of money that you are willing to spend on your vehicle.