Most remote control cars usually come ready to run, meaning they can be put to immediate use once unboxed, but you can choose to go the hard (and more fulfilling) way and assemble an entire RC car from scratch as a DIY project. But to do so, you’ll need to observe some basic steps and tips, especially if you want to build a highly capable DIY RC car. So how can you build an RC Car?
To build an RC car, you’ll first need to determine the type of car you want. Next is to get the appropriate kit for that particular car. Work on the different parts, starting with the larger components like the base and rear axle. Then, after working on each part, start connecting the various parts.
In this article, I’ll shed light on all you need to know to build an RC car from scratch. Ready? Then let’s get our hands dirty and jump straight to business!
What Is an RC Car?
Radio-controlled cars (RC for short) are miniature cars or trucks that are controlled through a remote controller or specialized transmitter. RC is often used to mean both radio-controlled or remote-controlled cars.
RC cars can be powered by different sources, with most featuring powerful (or semi-powerful) electric motors and rechargeable cells. There are also fuel-powered RC cars that are commonly referred to as nitro cars. However, electric RC cars are a lot more popular than their fuel-driven counterparts.
Electric RC cars are fairly easy to build from scratch and upgrade along the way, which explains why most DIY enthusiasts prefer them. And since there are a lot of RC car types and options out there, it’s always advisable to determine the model you want first before building from scratch.
Is It Possible To Build an RC Car From Scratch?
Although not easy, it’s possible to build an RC car from scratch, provided you observe the right steps and have the basic parts required. The good thing with RC cars is that they can also be sold as parts in an RC car kit besides being sold ready to run.
For inexperienced hobbyists, it’s usually advisable to start with the kit as it makes the process a lot easier, especially since most come complete with a manual. Kits come in different styles and with different parts, meaning you can choose to go for a basic or detailed kit.
Building from scratch is a bit more complex than using an RC car kit. However, you’ll have more freedom in terms of style and customization as you’ll be in full control over the parts you choose to include or leave out.
How To Build an RC Car From Scratch
Before we get started with the steps, it’s important to note that the process of building RC cars varies from car to car. An advanced DIY RC car with enhanced capabilities will require more parts and work than a basic RC car.
In this guide, I’ll provide the steps required to build a basic RC car. This should give you the basic knowledge and confidence to graduate to building more advanced RC cars from scratch later on.
1. Determine the Type of RC Car You Want To Build
As mentioned earlier, RC cars come in different shapes and sizes. So, when looking to build an RC car, the first step is to determine the type of car you want to build. You’ll need to choose whether you want an electric or gas-powered vehicle.
Besides choosing between electric and gas-powered RCs, you’ll also need to determine your preferred size and capabilities. This process is crucial since it helps you understand the exact equipment and tools you’ll need throughout the RC car building process.
For instance, if you prefer to build a battery-powered car, you’ll need to determine the battery’s total voltage. Other factors to consider include the type of motors to use, wheels, and your preferred body material. Some prefer using cardboard to create the base and foundation of other parts, while others prefer using more durable materials like Lexan plastic, wood, or even PVC pipes.
2. Assemble the Raw Materials
The importance of assembling your raw materials before the actual work begins cannot be overstated. Once you’ve decided on your preferred type of RC car, the next step is to assemble your preferred raw materials.
One advantage of building RC cars from scratch is that the different parts are usually easily available. You can get the basic parts like motors and batteries from an RC shop or online. Even better, some parts like wheels can easily be obtained from other toys at home.
Some of the basic supplies you’ll need before getting started are as listed below.
- Thick plastic sheet
- Set of wheels (preferably 2-inches or 5.08 cm and above)
- RC car servo
- Tiny bolts
- Two electric drive motors
- Speed controller
- Electric drill
You can play around with different options when choosing motors and batteries (if you want a powerful RC car). You can also use larger plastic or plywood if you want to create a larger RC car. Remember, the heavier the car, the more powerful batteries and motors you’ll need to power it.
3. Start With the Chassis
If you’re building completely from scratch, you should first start by making the chassis of the RC car. Take the plastic (or any) material you’re working with and cut it out to your preferred rectangular size. Ideally, you should aim for a large enough rectangle as that’s where all the other components will be placed.
For a small RC car, you should look to cut out a large 4-inch x 8-inch (10.16 cm x 20.32 cm) rectangle from the plastic material you’ve set aside. Try as much as you can to cut out uniform dimensions, at least if you want to have a normal type of RC car.
After you’ve cut out the chassis from the plastic, the next step is to make the tiny rectangular cuttings on all four corners of the rectangular chassis. This is vital since it’ll allow the wheels to turn without coming in contact with the chassis.
4. Make the Hinges
To make the hinges of your RC car, you’ll need to cut six identical pieces, each measuring 1.5 inches x 1.5 inches (3.81 cm x 3.81 cm). Cut the pieces in an L-shape before gluing them together in groups of three, which means that after gluing the plastic pieces, you should have two well-dried hinges.
While you can cut out the pieces in different sizes, it’s best to cut them uniformly to avoid encountering any difficulties later on when assembling other parts.
5. Attach the Wheels
Attaching wheels should be a fairly straightforward process. You can either choose to remove the wheels directly from another toy or use those that come in RC kits. To attach the wheels:
- Stick a nail at the center of each wheel, ensuring that it passes through the middle of the hinge.
- Start with the front wheels as it’s highly advisable when building an RC car from scratch.
- Use bolts to secure the bottom parts of the hinges (both front and rear) to your car’s chassis.
- Remember to attach a nail through the center of the wheels and hinges when installing the rear wheels.
6. Make a Steering Component
To make a steering component:
- Cut a thin strip from your plastic material. Ensure that the cut strip has a similar length to the distance/space between the hinges.
- Using an electric drill, drill small holes through the hinges and the recently cut strip.
- Attach bolts to each hole to ensure the strip stays perfectly in position. Attaching the strip to the hinges will ensure your wheels turn at the same time (and in the same direction).
7. Attach the Servo
Attaching the servo should also be a fairly straightforward process. Take the servo you purchased from a hobby shop (or online) and install it on the front part of the RC car. As a simple rule, it should be carefully glued behind the car’s steering component, ensuring that the servo controls the wheels in terms of movement and direction.
8. Attach the Electric Drive Motors on the Back Tires
After you’re done with the front part of the RC car, you should now switch your focus to installing the electric drive motors.
- Take the two electric drive motors and place them inside the plastic housing.
- You should remove one of the rear end wheels to allow for the installation of the motor.
- Once you’ve positioned the motors correctly, slide the wheel carefully such that it holds the motor in position.
- Glue the motor to the chassis to hold it perfectly in position.
9. Make the Final Connections
Perhaps the most important step of the entire process is connecting all the parts to function as a complete unit. In this step, you should connect the battery, speed controller, and receiver to the RC car’s chassis.
The good thing is the organization of the components doesn’t matter much, provided the components are well-wired.
- Start by gluing the various components to the chassis first before making the wire connections.
- Once the glue has dried, proceed with the wiring process, focusing on one component at a time.
As a rule of thumb, you should always disconnect the battery when working on the other electrical components. Components like transmitters, receivers, battery packs, and speed controllers work best when used new, so you might want to buy from a trusted RC hobby shop or online from reputable vendors.
10. Test the RC Car
Once you’re done connecting the wires, the next thing to do is to check on whether the RC car is functioning as expected. Take the remote transmitter and attempt to drive the car around a designated area. If the car responds to the signal sent by the transmitter, then you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
11. Decorate As Needed
This should always be the final step when building an RC car from scratch. And although some people tend to skip the decorations, adding an external cover and sprucing up other parts can give your RC car a much-needed edge.
However, as you decorate your DIY RC car, it’s advisable to avoid using wet paint or colors on the inside of the chassis as it might interfere with the functioning of the electronic components and wires.
How To Build an RC Car From a Car Kit?
1. Get Your Preferred RC Kit
RC kits come in various models, shapes, and sizes and can be found in hobbyist shops or online. If you want to build a powerful RC car, it’s advisable to go for the costlier kits as they usually have powerful motors and batteries. However, you can buy budget kits if you’re more interested in building a basic RC car.
- Traxxas TRX-4 Sport 1/10 Scale Trail Rock Crawler Assembly Kit (TRA82010-4)
1. Set Up Your Working Area
Once you have the RC car kit with you, the next step is to prep the workspace to suit the type of project you’re embarking on. Ideally, the working area should be well-lit and clutter-free since you’ll be dealing with tiny components that can easily get lost or misplaced.
2. Start With the Screws
On most occasions, you’ll need to secure some screws to the chassis or the major parts. If you chose a kit for a metallic RC car, then you’ll need to use thread-locking glue to ensure the screws remain firmly positioned even when the car is driven on rough terrain. However, there won’t be a need for thread locking glue if the screws are designed to go through non-metal surfaces.
3. Insert the Wheel Axles to the Chassis
Open the bag containing the wheel pieces and carefully organize them in your workspace. And since the rear wheels will have the RC car’s gear attached, it’s best to secure the gears using a screwdriver and the hardware (casing) provided. Once you have the axles well assembled, you’ll need to attach the wheels to the ends.
4. Assemble and Install the Shocks System
If your kit comes with a shock system, then you’ll need to assemble and install it after working on the wheels and axle. Using the user manual, screw the cap and carefully slide the springs until they reach the bottom of the shocks. Secure them in place by screwing the shocks on the axles as per the manual’s guidance.
5. Attach the Other Components As Guided by the User Manual
To do this step:
- Start with the servo, and ensure you place it behind the front wheels as it’ll be responsible for transmitting the signal to determine your car’s direction.
- Screw the car’s electric motors to the back axle such that they’re properly attached to the ears.
- Place the battery and attach the wires to link the entire electronic system once the servo, gears, and electric motors are well placed and secured on the chassis. And since most kits rarely come with batteries, you might need to purchase batteries separately.
6. Test the RC Car
After you’ve attached all the main components to the chassis, the next step should be testing the car to see if all the parts work as expected. Use the transmitter that came with the kit and try driving the car to see how it responds to your instructions. If it works well, then you can complete the process by attaching the main body as explained below.
7. Attach the Main Body
Your user manual will most probably come with instructions on how to clip the body on top of the car’s chassis. Use the clips in your kit to attach the body, paying close attention to where the front and rear parts attach to the body.
The good thing with most bodies that come with RC kits is they’re easy to remove to give users access to the chassis. Therefore, whenever you need to reconnect a wiring or change batteries, all you’ll only need to do is undo the clips, and voila! You’ll have full access to the internal components.
It’s also advisable to make any changes to the body before attaching it to the chassis.
Tips To Observe When Building an RC Car From Scratch
As observed throughout the article, building an RC car from scratch isn’t rocket science. However, you’ll need to be extra careful to ensure you don’t skip a step or assemble parts incorrectly.
To guide you, here are simple tips to observe when building an RC car as a DIY project:
- Take advantage of the user manual. Almost all RC car kits come with user manuals to provide assistance on assembly and connections. If you choose to buy a kit, then it’s best to build with the manual close by, as doing so will smoothen and make the car assembly process faster.
- Arrange the different parts. Building an RC car means you’ll be dealing with tons of tiny parts. Therefore, before you start with the assembly, ensure that all parts are carefully placed on a well-lit work table.
- Work on a single component at a time. The last thing you want when building an RC car from scratch is to have a messy work table with tiny parts cluttered all over. Ideally, you should only work on one part at a time. Start with the front wheel and axle as you move towards the back.
- Test before attaching the body. Before attaching the body, it’s highly advisable to conduct regular tests to determine if the RC car functions as expected.
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