RC cars racing in the dirt ground

What is a Brushless RC Car?

- Laegendary Brand Team

Remote-controlled cars are a timeless hobby for children and adults alike. That range in audience means there is an enormous range of products to choose from, with extremely varied pricing levels to match. And the main decision starts with whether one wants to spend the extra money on a brushless RC car.

But even some RC car owners are unfamiliar with the details of the difference between, say, the brushless RC truck they have at home and a cheaper brushed motor equivalent they saw on a toy store shelf. Are the two types of motors largely differentiated as a marketing gimmick? Or is there a real performance gap that makes the decision crucial for choosing the perfect RC car? Let's dive into the details to find the answer.

Differences Between a Brushed Motor and a Brushless Motor

RC car motors largely fall in either the brushed motor or brushless motor categories. Their technological differences are fundamental, as brushed motors date back to the 19th century. The brushless school of design, on the other hand, came into prominence in the 1970s. However, from a consumer perspective,  both designs continue to have relevance depending on factors like cost, performance, and maintenance.

What is a Brushed Motor?

Brushed motor RC cars are based on a technology that originated in 1836. The basic design involves an array of fixed magnets positioned around an electromagnet. Said electromagnet is mounted with "brushes," made out of materials like copper, graphic, or silver. 

A component called a commutator delivers electricity to the electromagnet, triggering a controlled spin cycle. This movement from the magnet transfers to the rest of the motor via the brushes, transferring electric energy from the DC battery to the rest of the motor. Each brush transfers negative polarity to the positive polarity, then kinetic energy flips it back, so that it does the opposite on the other end.

While the actual construction of each brushed motor RC car is different, the core of each of these motors is this simple process. Depending on the brush material used, the amount of DC power applied, and many more factors outside of the engine itself, performance of these types of RC cars vary widely.

What is a Brushless Motor?

Brushless motor rc cars are a much more modern technological approach to a similar concept as the older brushed motor style. There are some striking similarities to the basic process. Energy is still transferred from a DC battery into a magnetic array that then bounces back and forth between negative and positive polarities.

The difference is in how this process is controlled. Instead of a fixed magnet array with an electromagnet in the middle, there is a moving array of magnets. These are moved not by the kinetic energy of a central electromagnet, but by a powered computer-based controller with its own complex integrated circuit board. Instead of the brushes causing a physical "bouncing" motion, the commutator computer points the magnet array automatically.

So does that mean a brushless RC car is the absolute best choice, a straight upgrade from the alternative? Well, not exactly. There are certainly both advantages and disadvantages worth considering before choosing the perfect RC car for yourself or as a gift.

Brushless Advantages

Brushless RC cars are, without a doubt, the best option for a fully top-of-the-line, spare-no-expense kind of approach to the hobby.

The positives of brushless motors are:

  • Efficiency. Brushed motors expend more energy on their approach to transferring DC currents into kinetic energy that actually moves your RC car. The computer that runs a brushless motor ultimately uses less power.
  • Longevity. A brushless electric RC car will not only outlive a brushed motor equivalent, but the other components in the RC car itself. This inverts the standard process of RC car maintenance, with frequent brushed motor replacements that are punctuated by being taken off guard by another component failure.
  • Accessibility. RC cars are great for kids and adults alike. But the hobby trends towards adults when it comes to maintenance. Brushless RC cars do require some maintenance, but it comes down largely to greasing ball bearings periodically. It makes the hobby more accessible for children who want to focus on driving, as well as adults with less time to dedicate to fiddly engine replacement work.
  • Cost over time. You'll spend more up front on a brushless motor option every single time. But, for RC car enthusiasts who stick to the same car for extended periods of time, the ongoing costs will be lower.

Brushless Disadvantages

All of the above justifies the position of brushless RC cars as a higher-end portion of the market. But that isn't to say there is no reason to ever buy a brushed motor RC car. The older style of motor still has a place in the current market for several major reasons, including:

  • Upfront Cost. Without a computer chip involved, and in part thanks to the consistent manufacture of brushed motors for purposes outside of RC car applications, overall cost is lower. A high quality car with a decent brushed motor inside can be a viable cost/performance calculation for consumers.
  • Control.  Brushed motors are extremely modifiable, including changing the brushes themselves. Third party components and modification instructions are common, giving owners control over voltage, speed, and more. The computer-controlled brushless motors, in contrast, are specifically tuned and not designed for ready modification.
  • Risk of water damage. Brushed motors aren't always designed to be explicitly waterproof. But in practice, they do very well with surviving exposure to water after taking some time to dry. Brushed motor RC trucks in particular are a popular application for this model, as they're great for taking RC cars into rougher, puddle-filled terrain without destroying the vehicle.

Brushed or Brushless RC Car Motors? It's Your Decision

The brushed vs. brushless debate isn't just about cost effectiveness. Even for high end users, there are situations where a brushed motor design will hold up much better than a more expensive brushless motor RC car. At the same time, for the average RC car buyer, brushless motors are absolutely the most beneficial option.

It all comes down to what you, personally, want from your RC car. A brushless RC car makes for a better gift, with fewer potential headaches for the recipient as long as the cars aren't exposed to water. It's also great for a knowledgeable RC car enthusiast who wants consistent performance, less maintenance, and an RC car that lasts.

But for the enthusiast who knows exactly what they want from an RC car, that old-school, highly-modifiable, water-resistant brushed motor is the perfect choice. So take a moment to think about what you want to do with your RC cars, and make your informed decision from there. Whether you choose a brushed or brushless motor RC car, though, make sure to pick yours up from a reputable retailer that provides strong versions of both.