How Fast Can RC Cars Go? | Factors that affect RC car Speed

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Radio-controlled or RC cars have come a long way since their inception. Back then, their speed was relatively limited and there wasn’t a lot of selection for parts that could significantly impact speed performance. But we’ve since seen great advancements in RC technology.

Hobby-grade RC cars can go as fast as 10-70mph (16.09-112.65kph) depending on the level of modification put in by the owner. More advanced hobbyists can get RC cars up to 100mph (160.93kph) and beyond, while the world record for fastest RC car speed is a staggering 202.2mph (325.12kph).

In this article, I’ll be discussing a variety of factors that affect RC car speed, as well as how to test your car’s speed, and some other relevant topics. If you’re all about speed, read on to learn everything about it!

How Fast Can RC Cars Go?

What Is the Top Speed Record for RC Cars?

The top speed record for RC cars was 202.2mph (325.12kph).  This was achieved by the ‘Radio Controlled Bullet’ built by Nic Case. On October 25th, 2014, this speed demon ran at this top speed at the ROSSA (Radio Operated Scale Speed Association) World Championships in Saint George, Utah.

Difference between Scale Speed and Actual Speed

Product descriptions for RC cars often have a confusing and somewhat misleading term included: scale speed. Many manufacturers will advertise the car’s scale speed, say, 100mph (160.93kph), but for the actual speed, you have to factor in the scale size of the car. 

To easily determine the actual speed, just divide the scale speed by the scale size. For example, a ⅛ scale car would only go ⅛ of the scale speed listed. Thus, in our example, the actual speed is about 12.5 mph (20.12 kph).

You might find interesting: RC Car Scales and Available Choices

How Speed and Acceleration Work Together?

This isn’t discussed very often, but acceleration is nearly as important as speed when it comes to your RC car. Generally speaking, you can either have fast acceleration at the cost of a slightly lower top speed, or slightly slower acceleration on your way to a higher top speed.

NOTE:  This is a generalization, and it’s perfectly possible to modify cars to have both high speeds and great acceleration.

How Battery Type Affects the Speed of an RC Car?

The two most well-known types of RC batteries are LiPo and NiMH – lithium polymer and nickel hydride, respectively. Because of the way the cells are arranged and work on each of these, they discharge and drop voltage at different rates. 

NiMH is the most common type of battery to be included with Ready-To-Run kits because it’s cheaper and doesn’t have special storage requirements. LiPo, in contrast, is a little more cutting edge, even if it’s becoming more popular. LiPo batteries are more commonly sold separately from cars, but you may find them included with some more top-shelf cars.

For all you speed freaks out there, LiPo is better. This is because LiPo immediately uses the full voltage of the battery and tends to drop drastically towards the end of its charge. LiPo batteries simply provide more of a ‘punch’ while NiMH offers reliable voltage that drops at a more steady rate than LiPo batteries.

You might find it interesting: Are Traxxas Batteries Waterproof? or Why Is My Traxxas LiPo Battery Swelling?

How To Make an RC Car Go Faster?

There are multiple ways to make an RC car go faster, which range from simple to mechanically involved. Below are two of the easiest and best ways to increase your car’s speed.

Decrease Weight

It may not seem like swapping a few small parts can make much of a difference, but in the grand scheme of things, there isn’t much weight to an RC car. This makes swapping heavy iron or steel parts for components made of aluminum, graphite, or carbon a great way to lighten your car up.

Swapping heavy NiMH batteries for LiPo batteries is another way to lower your car’s weight since the latter are significantly lighter than the former. Keep in mind that lowering weight also lessens the traction your car will have, which isn’t ideal for offroad vehicles.

Change the Gear Ratio

Changing the pinion and spur gear ratios can increase or decrease both the acceleration and the top speed of your car. The pinion gear can be made bigger to increase the top speed at the cost of slightly slower acceleration, and vice versa. The spur gear is just the opposite, with a smaller size meaning higher speed and a larger size meaning better acceleration.

PRO TIP: When altering your gear ratio, it’s advisable to only change the size one or two teeth at a time to best judge how it will affect your car when running.

Electric vs. Nitro RC Cars: Which Are Faster?

Years ago, nitro cars were the undisputed champion of RC speed. But electric motor technology has come a very long way and now offers much more speed than nitro cars do, especially for the money. This isn’t to say that nitro cars can’t go fast, but the top speed records have generally been held by electric cars in recent years.

This is because you can only get so much power from chemical-based fuels, whereas advances in motor and battery technology have pushed electric-powered cars to lightyears ahead of their nitro cousins.

Brushed vs. Brushless Motors: Which is faster?

It’s important to understand how RC motors work in order to make informed buying decisions, and whether a car has a brushed or brushless motor is a major factor in how fast it can go. In the simplest terms, the difference is whether the motor has brushes or not, but in technical terms, it gets a lot more complicated.

When it comes down to brass tacks, brushless motors are about 10-15% more efficient than brushed motors. This is because brushed motors use friction to apply current to the motor, which is inefficient because some energy meant to power the motor is lost as heat. Because brushless motors don’t use friction as a means of distributing power, they can achieve better results without the use of brushes.

In terms of raw power, this means that brushless motors are the way to go. The corresponding increase in power means more speed and better acceleration for the car. It also helps that the brushes that actually apply power won’t get worn, because they don’t exist!

How Much Speed You Really Need for your RC car?

It can be easy to get wrapped up and get tunnel vision when it comes to how fast your RC car goes. As with full-sized cars, we want the most speed we can possibly squeeze out of an RC car. Before thinking about what cars go the fastest or how to modify your car to go faster, ask yourself if it’s really necessary.

Think about this: why do you need a car that goes 80mph (128.74kph) if all you do is mess around in your driveway or at the local park? You don’t, because you’ll likely never have the chance to take advantage of all that fancy hardware. 

I’m not saying to ignore speed altogether, but you may be better served by getting more suitable tires for the terrain, for example. More speed doesn’t automatically mean your RC experience will be better unless you can actually use it.

Especially when researching RC cars to make your first purchase, consider every variable. Will you be using it on flat terrain with lots of long stretches, or in woody forests? In the latter case, it doesn’t make much sense to prioritize speed overlooking into 4WD and terrain-appropriate tires.

Please know that I’m not trying to burst your bubble when it comes to wanting the best for your RC car! No, rather I’m trying to get you to think about if speed is really the best possible thing you can be trying to add to your car for the type of experience you want.