Nitro vs Electric RC Cars - What's the Difference?

Nitro vs Electric RC Cars - What's the Difference?

- Laegendary Brand Team 

The variety of RC cars out there can be overwhelming. There are a lot of decisions to make, such as what body type you want, whether you want off road capability, etc.

One big division that you need to understand is that between electric RC cars and nitro RC cars. What's the difference, and which one should you choose? The difference is in the powertrain. Electric RC cars are battery operated. Nitro RC cars are powered by a small internal combustion engine.

Pros and Cons of Nitro RC Cars

These RC cars run on an internal combustion engine, but it is not the same as a gasoline-powered engine. Instead, it runs off of a methanol based fuel...the "nitro" part comes from the fact that the fuel contains nitro methane.

Pros of Nitro RC Cars are:

  1. You get engine noise and exhaust fumes, which can make the cars feel that much more real.
  2. They are fun to overhaul, maintain, and mess with.
  3. You don't have to wait to charge a battery or switch it out between runs. You can often run the car for longer
  4. You can learn skills such as engine tuning which can be useful.
  5. Often faster than electric RC cars. Some nitro RC cars can hit 60 mph. However, very high end electric RC cars still have them beat.
  6. They disperse heat better, meaning there's no risk of overheating.

The big reason fans love nitro RC cars, though, is that they feel so much more like the real thing.

Cons of Nitro RC Cars are:

  1. You can't run them indoors due to the way the fumes can collect.
  2. Fuel can be expensive. Typically each quart of nitro fuel costs about $20 to $25.
  3. They require more work to maintain and some can even be fiddly to start. The tank has to be drained after each use and after-burn oil added.
  4. They are typically heavier than electric RC cars, and thus harder to lift and transport. Nitro RC cars are generally made of lightweight titanium and aluminum, but this is still heavier than the plastic and carbon-fiber of an electric RC.
  5. If you are racing, a nitro RC car requires a pit person to refuel the car during the race. This is great if you are working with a buddy, but adds a layer of complexity.
  6. New nitro engines have to be broken in, like older car engines, or they will develop issues down the road.
  7. Nitro RC cars are noisy and some tracks will not allow them to run because they might disturb the neighbors.
  8. The fuel is flammable, and can burn if the car wrecks, causing major damage.
  9. If you invert the car you can end up with a fuel or oil leak.

Of course, true nitro enthusiasts consider the extra work on maintenance to be a pro, not a con. But the truth is that they are a bit more complicated for new people to deal with...but also a lot of fun.

Pros and Cons of Electric RC Cars

These RC cars are far more popular and many people outside the hobby think all RC cars are electric. They do have their advantages, although obviously some people still prefer an actual engine.

Pros of electric RC cars include:

  1. Generally less work to maintain and run. After-run maintenance on an electric car is pretty much just cleaning.
  2. Run better "out of the box," without a lot of tweaking to get things right. This makes them more beginner friendly.
  3. Lighter and thus easier to transport, especially for children.
  4. Most modern electric RC cars are waterproof. You can run them in pretty much any weather.
  5. They are clean and quiet, with no engine noise or exhaust.
  6. Cheaper in the long run. While you will want to buy multiple batteries, they generally last longer. The car itself is also typically cheaper.
  7. Increased reliability.
  8. Have reverse as standard. Not all nitro RC cars have a reverse gear.
  9. Typically easier to drive.

Cons of electric RC cars include:

  1. Shorter run time. Most electric RC cars get only 10 to 15 minutes of use before you have to switch out the battery pack. For longer sessions, you will need to buy multiple packs, which cost a lot. Charging a battery can take as long as 45 minutes.
  2. Most electric RC cars are slower. The very fast cars, some of which can touch 100mph, have brushless motors, and are not legal on all tracks because of their speed. Your typical electric RC car with a brushless motor won't touch a nitro RC car's performance.
  3. Electric RC cars typically have proprietary discharge sockets, meaning you can only use a charging cable designed for that car.
  4. If something does go wrong with the electric motor, you typically can't fix it yourself and it can be more expensive to make repairs.
  5. A lot of electric RC cars have LiPo batteries which, in addition to being expensive, require a certain amount of care. Fires started by these kinds of batteries are not unknown.

What's the Difference?

The entire situation with electric RC cars versus nitro RC cars boils down to preference. Some of the cons of the nitro RC car are the very reasons people get them. It depends on what you need them to do.

In general, electric RC cars are more versatile, more beginner friendly and cheaper in the long run. Nitro RC cars are more exciting, often have higher performance, and give you an opportunity to practice your mechanic skills. Some people also consider electric RC cars more environmentally friendly.

If you want to be able to run your car anywhere including outside and not to have to worry about as much maintenance, get an electric car. If the idea of an intimate relationship with your car where you are eternally maintaining it and tweaking it...then you are probably a nitro driver.

The choice between nitro and electric is not a no brainer. In fact, some enthusiasts may have both. But it is something you should think about carefully before you put down money on a car, especially a higher end one. Regardless of your preferences, both can be a lot of fun to use and work with.