Purple RC car with batteries on a table top

How to Choose the Best RC Car Battery for Every Use Case

- Laegendary Brand Team

The RC car hobby has more options than ever -- and that can be daunting for newcomers and experienced hobbyists alike. RC car battery options, in particular, are difficult to parse. There are several battery types, yet more chargers, and different use cases for each RC vehicle.

Don't worry. It doesn't take long to figure out the basics of each battery type. And better yet, once you've settled on the right choice for your RC hobby batteries, you'll likely save time, money, or both compared to an arbitrary battery choice. Read on to get straight to the core of the knowledge you need to supercharge your hobby and pick the perfect battery for RC cars.

Why Is Choosing the Right Battery For Your RC Vehicle So Important?

Remote control car battery choices depend on three core needs: performance, endurance, and rechargeability. There is a bit more nuance to choosing the right battery for your particular car. But generally, you'll start with a preference based on your needs within these three categories.

Performance in this case means how much power your RC vehicle's motor demands. Not all DC power is equal in this sense. RC trucks, built for heavy-duty offload performance, are an example of an RC vehicle that needs a strong battery.

Endurance matters for serious racers, or RC car hobbyists that simply prefer to go on long runs without interruptions. Higher battery capacities -- measured in milliampere-hours, abbreviated as mAh -- are the obvious start here. But weight also factors in for long-term performance, and certain types of batteries can help with that aspect.

Rechargeability is common to the point of being nearly standard in the hobbyist RC car space, outside of lower-end vehicles that use standard household batteries. Again, different battery types and different chargers make the choice somewhat complex. Cost and performance loom large when settling on the right rechargeable battery for RC cars.

Choosing the Right Types of RC Vehicle Batteries

RC car battery packs fit into four major categories:

  • Alkaline, the familiar single-use household batteries you are likely to use every day in things like TV remotes. AA, AAA, and 9V DC batteries all fit into this category. These are a much less common RC car battery choice for hobbyist models.
  • Ni-CD, or nickel-cadmium batteries, are another legacy tech in the RC car battery space. They are affordable, and perform well in many different temperatures. However, they have a "battery memory" issue that requires them to be fully discharged periodically or else their capacity drops quickly. They're also particularly environmentally unfriendly.
  • NiMH, or nickel metal hydride batteries, are one of the two popular options for RC vehicle hobbyists. These are straightforward rechargeable batteries that retain their capacity over long periods of use.
  • Li-Po, or lithium-ion polymer batteries, are the other top choice for RC car applications. It has a higher mAh cap relative to size. It's the lightest option of the four categories listed here. The main drawback is volatility, making it inappropriate for certain particularly rough terrain RC car use. There are also Li-Ion batteries that are a similar tech, but somewhat heavier.

For RC cars outside of the very low end space, NiMH and Li-Po batteries are the most appropriate choices. RC vehicles for hobbyists are heavily modular, with many remote control battery types usable on the same car. For a simple rule of thumb, aim for a high mAh capacity battery in your price range. If you're offloading, lean towards NiMH. Otherwise, Li-Po batteries are the best possible choice.

How to Maintain RC Car Batteries

Batteries can be one of the more deceptively costly aspects of the RC car hobby. Their cost can also be heavily mitigated by proper storage and good maintenance habits. Try to stick to the following tips:

  • Store batteries in a safety sack. Damaged batteries can lose effectiveness altogether, or at worst, become volatile. Store them safely!
  • Match battery output to the manufacturer's recommended rating listed in your RC vehicle's manual. For experienced hobbyists, intentional undervolting or overvolting can be viable and safe. For everyone else, stick to the basics. Battery life can be severely affected by a mismatch.
  • Only use batteries that fit neatly in your RC vehicles. The modular nature of the RC car hobby means not every mount can take every type of battery. If you swap batteries between vehicles, make sure none of the fits are leading to battery case damage. Again, this can lead to lowered effectiveness, or even hazardous situations.
  • Don't overcharge batteries. While NiMH and Li-Po batteries don't suffer from the battery memory issue of their Ni-CD cousins, they still slowly lose their overall capacity over time from normal use. Charging constantly will shorten their lives. Save money, and keep your capacity closest to the listed mAh cap for your battery, by charging only when you need to.

How to Choose the Right Charger for Your RC Vehicle Battery

Once you've decided on the right battery, you'll need to pair it with the best charger. This choice starts, again ,with how much you want to spend. Rapid chargers cost more, but if you don't particularly need to get your car out as soon as possible all the time, a slower charger costs less and fills the battery up to the same capacity.

You'll need to pick a charger meant for your particular battery type. NiMH and Li-Po batteries require different types of chargers, unless the unit specifically lists that it supports both. And, of course, you'll have to match the connector. This tends to be universal in the RC car space. But, if you happen to be using a lower-end car that uses standard household batteries like AA or AAAs, simply match the branded charger to the batteries.

So how does one gauge compatibility between NiMH or Li-Po chargers and batteries? An easy rule of thumb: match the C rating of your battery to the charger. If the rating corresponds, it will charge it. Higher amp chargers will get the job done faster. And the highest end models will even allow you to leave batteries in without overcharging, thanks to smart features that shut down voltage when it isn't necessary.

Picking the Right Battery Boosts Efficiency and Saves Money

Battery technology doesn't move as fast as other tech. With all the options on the market, truly revolutionary alternatives are few and far in between. That's why getting the right battery -- accounting for size, capacity, weight, and rechargeability -- matters so much. Leverage the existing technology to your advantage, and you can get a lot out of a smaller overall investment than you might assume.

Putting a little thought into your RC car battery choice makes things easier down the road. You won't find many surprises if you get it right from the start. You'll have efficient, long-running sessions enjoying your RC vehicles. As with so many consumer choices, it just takes a little knowledge to greatly improve your hobbyist experience.

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