By Joe Rich
The battle of the century is here. Nitro powered RC car versus gas powered RC car. Which one is better? This question has been asked for decades and it’s time we finally get to answer it!
Nitro Powered RC Car Versus Gas Powered RC Car: Which Is the Best?
RC Cars may all seem to be the same type of thing to those who don’t know much about them.
After all, they all zip around the track at high speeds, so they have to be the same, right?
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are two choices between RC classes: nitro powered versus gas powered.
There are major differences between the two and there are hobbyists on both sides of the fence that feel strongly about the side they prefer.
Knowing the difference between the two can make a huge difference in which way a new racer goes.
So, nitro powered RC car vs gas powered RC car: which is the best?
Table of Contents
The Fundamental Difference Between the Two Major Types of Motors
Keep in mind that gas and nitro are relatively close in nature.
The real difference is electric versus gas/nitro.
The difference here is that electric uses a motor that runs on electricity whereas nitro/gas runs on a combustion engine.
These are the kinds of engines you will find in just about any regular-sized vehicle.
An electric motor uses what is known as a brushed or brushless electric motor.
The former is most commonly found in your toy-grade RC cars and even in some of the hobby-grade ones.
There are also kits in some of these hobby-grade cars that make use of brushed motors, though brushless are becoming more and more popular.
There are small contact brushes that are located inside of the motor that result in the motor spinning.
They can’t be adjusted and can’t be tuned or modified. Essentially, they are what they are and you are stuck with them for better or worse.
There are some non-fixed brushed motors that allow you to replace the brushes and modify or tune the motor to a degree.
Not only that, you can clean them out after much more frequent use.
Brushless, meanwhile, are a little more costly in comparison but are becoming far more popular.
They are actually just now starting to be legal in the professional RC world.
Brushless offers far more power for electric RC motors since they don’t have brushes and don’t require a lot of cleaning.
With no brushes, there is less friction, which results in far less heat and that is the major killer as far as motor performance.
Also, brushless motors can handle much higher voltages than traditional brushed motors.
Nitro cars are thought to be the fastest, but the records for test speed on RC cars actually belong to brushless motors.
So, don’t sleep on brushless motors if you are looking to make a more serious investment in your RC cars.
Nitro/gas engines, meanwhile, rely on fuel instead of batteries. Nitro engines also are far more comprehensive and detailed.
They have things such as flywheels, air filters, carburetors, pistons, clutches, glow plugs, and crankshafts.
You would find all of these in full-sized cars and trucks and there is also a fuel system that has an actual fuel tank as well as an exhaust system.
Generally speaking, especially since brushless motors aren’t fully welcomed in RC racing circles, nitro/gas is felt to be the fastest type of RC car that there is.
With all of the upgrades that can be made to the vehicle, you can make your car as fast as you like and to your own specifications.
Keep in mind that the faster that you make the car, the less control you will have and can result in your car wrecking.
For those hobbyists who are a bit more serious about their RC cars and the specifications that they can make, gas/nitro offers a far more comprehensive level of customizations.
If you like taking apart and building RC cars like you would for a full-sized car, going with gas/nitro is the way to go.
The Differences Between Nitro and Gas
So, now that we know that nitro and gas both use a combustion engine, requiring a fuel to make them run, you may be wondering what the difference is.
After all, they are both the kind that uses fuel to run, so what’s the difference?
The first is that nitro cars are less prevalent than those that run on gas.
A lot of hobby-grade RC vehicles will use gas-powered engines.
These run on gasoline much like your full-size car would.
That makes getting fuel a little more cost effective and easier.
Nitro fuel, meanwhile, requires a special car that is larger in size and much less common to find than the gas and electric models.
This can lead to greater investments up front and a more expensive fuel source than common gasoline.
Not only that, the customizations that can be made on both can lead to escalated costs.
If you are new to the hobby and don’t quite know what to expect, there are definitely costs to be aware of.
The more customized your vehicle is, the higher your costs will be.
But to get the highest possible speeds, you need to add to your vehicle to make it as fast as possible.
Another area where gas/nitro is different is improved control.
With the higher levels of speed, cars need higher levels of control as well.
No one wants to invest seriously in RC cars only for them to spin out of control and wreck.
Because of this, it means a need for more serious investment in stronger controls.
A few miles per hour can make a difference in a serious race and the last thing that you want is to lose speed, especially in the corners where the winners and losers are determined.
Speed is the name of the game, but control can mean the difference between a finish and a wreck. For the more serious, competitive racers out there, that little extra boost of speed can make the difference and that is why they choose nitro over other forms of RC vehicle.
But if you aren’t in a major racing circuit, the costs may be too much to justify for a hobby.
Pros and Cons of Nitro
Nitro provides that realistic noise and smoke that an engine brings to the table.
It is like having a life-sized vehicle at your disposal but in a much more manageable size.
There is also a belief that nitro vehicles tend to be faster as well when compared to gas and electric.
Nitro vehicles tend to be more water resistant than electric counterparts and can be run by adding fuel whenever you run out.
It’s a simple little formula.
The major downside of nitro is that it isn’t as common as gasoline-powered cars or even electric.
Not only that, it requires a much bigger investment to get an RC car and to keep it fuelled, especially during competitive races where costs can really add up.
Pros and Cons of Gas
Gas operates much the same as nitro, but gasoline is much less expensive and easier to find than nitro.
Most gas and nitro engines have the same components to them, but nitro motors allow for a little more customization to make them faster.
Still, it is easy to simply go to the gas station and fill up a gas can.
That’s all you need to keep your gas-powered vehicle on the road for longer.
Gas-powered engines feature the same level of detail and customization that nitro cars do, but might not be able to hit the same high-end speeds that nitro allows for.
Which Is Better?
There is no definitive statement as to which is better.
For those more serious racers, where a few MPH can make the difference between finishing in the middle of the pack or winning the whole thing, gas power could be worth the investment to win the big races.
Keep in mind that in most cases, the chassis are also very much the same for gas and nitro.
They tend to use metal chassis because they can hold up to heat and the wear and tear better than plastic chassis would.
When whipping around the track at the speeds that some of these RC cars can reach, durability becomes paramount.
The last thing that you want is to invest a ton in an RC vehicle only for it to wreck at the slightest contact.
You want a vehicle that can hold up to the rigors of an RC racetrack.
But if you are less serious about using your RC cars, it might be more cost-effective to get a gas-powered car.
This way, you can fill up at the gas station with ease and there is less customization than there would be with nitro-powered cars.
If you are a serious racer, making the investment into nitro might be the way to go.
This is especially true since RC racing has limited spaces for those who make serious money doing it for a living.
Coming in third or fourth can mean not having the funds to continue on.