General Buying Decisions

Toy or Hobby-Level? - Page 1 of 2

Toy & hobby-level RCs

Radio controlled vehicles/craft can be fairly cleanly divided into two categories, toy and hobby-level. The toy type are what most people think of when you mention "RC" -- buy-and-drive playthings that you can purchase from a toy or electronics store. These are made strictly for the sake of fun. Then there are the more sophisticated and capable models targeted towards hobbyists who want to go faster, tinker with settings and upgrades, and perhaps participate in one of the many levels of established competitive events. Neither class of RC is necessarily "better" -- they each have their positive and negative qualities. However, when you're first starting out, it's very worthwhile to choose which way you want to go up front, long before you pull out your credit card. This article presents the most important facts that can help you make an informed decision.

Cost

Toy R/C cars & trucks that you can buy at places like Toys R Us or Walmart start at $20-25 USD, and the most extreme ones top out around $150. Toy R/C planes start at around $30. When you step up to the hobby level, you'll be hard pressed to find something complete for under $130. It's very easy to spend $400-500 on a 1/10th scale car or truck that will last awhile, and a fully upgraded rig can easily shoot up to $2,000-3,000 USD.

Speed

In most cases, there's really no comparison between the performance of toy and hobby-level RCs. Most toy cars & trucks will go anywhere from 5mph to 15mph, with the fastest few doing 20-24mph. Hobby-level RCs generally start at 15-25mph for electrics and 25-35mph for nitro versions. You can get monster trucks that will do over 40mph out of the box, and low-slung street cars that will do over 60 with no upgrades or modifications. In planes, the toys generally go around 5-15mph, while there are hobby-class craft that will do 30, 50, even 80mph in factory stock form. The most extreme speed differences are in boats. The toys often putt and crawl along at 1-5mph, while the hottest hobby-level racing boats will skim the surface at over 100mph

Durability

Mostly because they're slow, toy RCs tend to handle more abuse than their more expensive cousins. The most common things to break are bumpers and body trim. The land and water-borne vehicles are built with a lot more material than is necessary, while aircraft tend to be constructed of foam and flexible plastics that bounce back after being bent. However...

When they break...

Repairing a toy RC is sometimes not worth the time & effort. Nearly all use multifunction circuit boards that combine several major functions, so if something goes electrically wrong, you have to change out the whole thing. Most manufacturers don't have a factory service program, so you have to do the work yourself. Many don't even offer a way to order new parts. Nikko is a notable exception. You can call them, tell them exactly what vehicle you have, describe the problem, and order precisely the part(s) you need. Many RC's available at Radio Shack are actually from Nikko and are covered by this same level of support, with the additional convenience of being able to go back to the store and special-order your parts in person.

Fixing hobby-level RCs is, in most cases, a completely different affair. You can disassemble anything yourself. With most popular brands there are manuals and exploded views. There are service departments that handle returns of defective components. Electronics are, with rare exception, separated by function so that you don't have to change your speed controller if your radio receiver crystal goes bad. Parts are available at brick-and-mortar hobby shops and dozens of trusted, popular web sites. There are online forums (message boards) where you can ask other hobbyists for advice and learn from their experience.

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