How to Choose a Remote Control Car
We spent at least 20 hours testing the performance, design and remote features of several remote control cars. Our performance tests centered on top speed and handling – features that are very important for the higher-cost, hobby-grade vehicles. Next, we focused on design – a category that's equally important across all remote control car styles. We looked at battery life and durability of each vehicle and tested both rechargeable and non-rechargeable models. Faster, more advanced vehicles required a rechargeable NiMH battery and typically lasted between seven and 15 minutes, while slower, kid-friendly models typically utilized standard alkaline batteries and, depending on the model, could run up to 90 minutes.
Nearly all of our other testing required the use of each car's remote control. During this time, we analyzed the performance, complexity and ease of use of each controller. For obvious reasons, kid-friendly models tend to favor simplicity and ease of use. While this makes them less precise than hobby-grade options, they're much easier for kids to grasp.
Traxxas Rustler XL-5 - Best Overall
This car is quick, easy-to-use and a lot of fun. Powered by a seven-cell Ni-MH battery, the Traxxas Rustler XL-5 can reach speeds of 35 mph. It also sits high enough to easily navigate rough terrain and rocks but not so high that it tips over easily. The rechargeable battery pack means you don't have to waste time taking the car apart and installing batteries, and the design overall is compact and durable. You can expect to get roughly 15 minutes of good battery power out of the car before it starts to slow down. The remote has a hand grip with a steering wheel you can use to turn the wheels one way or the other. It's a two-wheel drive car, so turns are easy, and the tires are large and ribbed for traction. The important internal components are sealed in a waterproof casing so you can take this car into wet areas, but we wouldn't recommend submerging it. It’s also available in various colors. Aside from having a high price point, this car really checks all the boxes.
Read the full review here: Traxxas Rustler XL-5
- Pro: Rechargeable battery.
- Con: Not recommended for young children.
Kid Galaxy Morphibians Rover - Best for Kids
This car is fun and still tough enough to withstand playtime. The Kid Galaxy Morphibians Rover is a waterproof RC car your kid can use on rocky, wet terrain. It doesn't move very quickly but, with four-wheel drive, this car can get over most grass and gravel, though the low-riding base does occasionally get stuck on rocky, uneven ground. If you take this car near a body of water and it happens to get away from you, it will float, so you don't have to worry about losing it to the depths. The transmitter remote has two buttons and is simple enough for young children to operate. The left button powers the two left tires and the right powers the right side of the car, so it does take a little getting used to. It does, however, make for easy steering in water. Kid Galaxy Morphibians Rover requires three AA batteries and comes in various styles, including the Shark, Stingray, Gator and Rover. This car is also incredibly affordable, especially compared to expensive hobby cars.
Read the full review here: Kid Galaxy Morphibians Rover
- Pro: Durable
- Con: Batteries aren’t included.
Maisto Baja Beast - Best Value
This remote control car is speedy, rugged and handles well. The durable design comes in several color variations, and the wheels are large and ribbed for better handling. The pistol-grip transmitter steers the car with a wheel on the side, and while we noticed it was a little laggy in our tests, it's generally easy to use and still fun. The transmitter also has three channels, so you can drive the Baja Beast or other vehicles with the same remote. The outer shell of this car is removable and the suspension is made mostly of plastic, making it a little fragile. That being said, the height of this car means you can take it over rough terrain, like gravel and rocks, we just don't recommend dropping it off a cliff. It requires three AA batteries to run and while it maxes out at 12 mph, it's got some muscle. You get a 30-day warranty that covers defects but not normal wear and tear. If you do have any problems you can reach customer service several ways, including email. This isn’t necessarily the best remote control car, but it’s affordable, unique and rugged.
Read the full review here: Maisto Baja Beast
- Pro: Affordable
- Con: Steering lags
Redcat Racing Lightning EPX Drift - Best for Drifting
The tires on this remote control car are super slick, which means you don't get much traction. This makes for easy drifting when you take turns, but it's also simultaneously hard to get any grip on the road, even when moving in a straight line. The remote control that moves the wheels is a typical 2.4GHz pistol transmitter with proportional control. It's not incredibly precise especially when combined with the slick tires, but it's easy to use. This car's top speed is 15 mph but we only got it up to 11 mph in our tests. Despite the relatively slow speed, it's still fun to take around hard corners. Because this car is built for drifting it sits low to the ground and doesn't do well on rugged terrain. The design is unique and modern though, and it has a rechargeable battery pack so you don't have to fumble around and install new ones. You also get a 90-day warranty, which is one of the longest of the cars we tested.
Read the full review here: Redcat Racing Lightning EPX Drift
- Pro: Drifting
- Con: Poor handling.
Redcat Racing Volcano EPX - Best Off Road
This RC sits high up off the ground with massive wheels, making it perfect for off-road adventures. The Volcano EPX can climb almost any barrier, like rocks or tall grass, making this a fun car to take on a hiking trail. Despite having a high center of gravity it took a lot to knock this truck over. It slowly but surely makes its way over rough terrain. It topped out at 19 mph in our tests, which isn't particularly fast, but what this car lacks in speed it makes up for in power. This monster truck handled every terrain we tested it on with well-balanced suspension and 4-wheel drive. It runs off a rechargeable Ni-MH battery that is protected in the casing of the car. Most wear and tear happens on the wheels and suspension of the truck, so you don't have to worry about the electronics inside. The pistol-grip remote control uses eight AA batteries. You steer using proportional control, which can take some getting used to. This RC car also has one of the best warranties of the vehicles we used at 90 days.
Read the full review here: Redcat Racing Volcano EPX
- Pro: Stable and fast on uneven terrain
- Con: Expensive
Shopping for a Remote Control Car
Remote control cars are in a unique category that appeals to a broad range of people. From small kids just learning to drive to hobbyists who race, upgrade and repair their cars, there's an option for everyone. The trick to choosing the best RC car is figuring out what you or the person you're buying for intends to do with the vehicle.
Experienced RC enthusiasts typically prefer cars and trucks with high top speeds, precise handling and advanced, performance-oriented features. These things, however, make driving and maintaining your vehicle considerably more complicated. While these features sound beneficial across the board, small children will simply have a difficult time controlling them.
When buying for small kids and toddlers, ease of use, safety and durability features, like a waterproof chassis, should instead be your primary concerns. While these cars may not have the most impressive spec sheets, they can meet your needs better and give your kids a safe, beginner-friendly platform on which to hone their abilities.
Once you decide the grade of vehicle you're after, you'll also want to consider whether you want an on-road vehicle or the more versatile off-road variety. Buying a car specifically for the road means you'll have unmatched handling on smooth surfaces. RC drift cars also allow you to slide around corners with style.
On the other hand, you have off-road cars, which, despite the name, are perfectly capable of driving on and off the concrete. While you have more versatility and more options for jumps and stunts, you give up the handling performance of a road-specific vehicle.
The best RC cars also include rechargeable batteries. Having a battery that you can recharge after each use will end up saving you a lot of time and money in the long run. Battery life is the Achilles' heel of remote control cars, as the battery life tends to be short-lived. For this reason, it's important to consider run time, or perhaps more importantly, charge time. Many RC enthusiasts make use of multiple batteries to increase run times.
Lastly, you should consider the remote control that comes with your vehicle of choice. Some are very basic and offer only limited control of your vehicle. Others, particularly the 2.4GHz pistol-grip variety, offer improved ergonomics as well as precision controls. If you're driving near other users, you'll also want to check out the number of channels your remote offers. Running two cars on the same channel can cause interference between the two.
Remote Control Cars: What We Tested, What We Found
Performance: Speed or Safety
For most RC enthusiasts, performance is the most important aspect of a vehicle. In many ways, the performance of your car or truck determines just how much fun you can have with it. The main performance features are top speed, handling and primary use.
Top speed is important because the faster your remote control car goes, the more fun you're going to have tearing up a dirt track, launching off ramps or drifting around corners in your neighborhood. The only exception to this is if you're buying a vehicle for a toddler or small child. In that case, if you value your shins at all, it may be better to opt for a slower, more kid-friendly option.
We tested speed in this category by fitting each vehicle with a GPS and running it on a smooth, straight course. We then ran each of the vehicles through the course a number of times. After this, we recorded the fastest speed each car was able to reach. RC vehicles tend to gain three or four miles per hour as they continue to break in, so we made some adjustments to account for that. The speeds quoted by the manufacturer are included for reference.
Handling is a tricky thing to test in any category, but when comparing remote control cars with completely different intended uses, it becomes even trickier. For this reason, we set up separate test courses for off-road and on-road vehicles. We then ran each of the vehicles through the courses repeatedly and analyzed the handling. It's worth noting that off-road vehicles are generally more versatile and handle more reliably, regardless of terrain.
Design: Battery Life is Precious
The reality of remote control cars is that you spend much more time charging your vehicle than actually driving it. That said, some cars have longer drive times than others. Fortunately, testing battery life is relatively easy and offers useful insights.
On several occasions, we ran each vehicle constantly until it could no longer run properly. Each of these runs was timed, and then we calculated the averages of those times. This helped us estimate average drive times for these vehicles.
Safety should always come first, especially if you're shopping for a young child or toddler. These cars run on batteries which can be dangerous if ingested, so always supervise young children while they're using a remote control vehicle.
While top speeds, run times and features all vary within the world of remote control vehicles, there is one thing common to all RC cars, trucks and buggies: they all crash, usually with alarming regularity. For this reason, durability is often a primary concern. At Top Ten Reviews, we evaluate all kinds of electronics in depth and can discern quality in materials and construction. In addition to carefully analyzing the components and craftsmanship of each vehicle, we also tested each one vigorously in real-world scenarios. During this testing, we saw head-on collisions, failed jumps, speed-induced summersaults and more. After each test, we reexamined each vehicle for signs of premature wear, weaknesses and broken parts.
The vehicles that stood up best to our abuse earned higher durability scores. This is, of course, relative to the intended use of your vehicle. While on-road vehicles will often encounter curbs, walls and other obstacles, environmental factors like sand and grit often pose a much higher threat to the off-road variety. Indoor cars are less likely to encounter either. For this reason, we also consider these fundamental differences when scoring.
Remote Features: Kid Friendly Controls or Expert Precision
The remote control is your interface with the RC vehicle. For this reason, it's important to select a vehicle that comes with a remote suited to your skill level. In our review, there are just a few major remote types.
The most advanced remotes are the 2.4GHz pistol-grip style. These offer proportional control over steering and throttle, as well as increased ranged and customizability. While these features are all appealing to the advanced or adult user, young children will no doubt have a hard time with such sensitive controls.
The second type of remote is really not a remote at all. Many vehicles, yet just one in our review, make use of a Bluetooth connection for control. This allows you to use a phone or tablet with your vehicle and opens an entirely new world of possibilities. With this option, you can stream music, operate turn signals and even open the doors of your vehicle. However, you pay for these additional features with a decrease in range and increased difficulty in actual driving.
The third type of remote is what we call the two-button controllers. Pressing the button on the left causes your vehicle to veer to the right, while pressing the button on the right results in the vehicle turning to the left. When both buttons are pressed simultaneously, the vehicle travels straight ahead. While this doesn't offer much freedom or precise control, it is a great way of simplifying things for kids.
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What Else Is Important in Selecting a Remote Control Car?
You should also consider whether you'd like to modify or upgrade your vehicle. With all their crashes, jumps and stunts, RC cars can take quite a beating in their lifetime. To get any real mileage out of an RC vehicle, it’s a good idea to find one you can repair if something goes wrong.
In addition, buying a modification-ready vehicle means you can customize it to suit your driving style. On some models, you have the freedom to upgrade everything from the wheels and suspension to the battery and motor. While these upgrades may be too complicated for most children, they can make for hours of fun for adult enthusiasts.
Ryan Slynn lives in northern Utah and has been interested in RC vehicles since childhood, transitioning specifically to RC rock crawlers in 2010, which he takes on hiking trails. He said toy-grade vehicles usually break after a while, but if you’re willing to spend $300 to $400 on a hobby-grade vehicle, you can fix and customize it yourself.
“There are ones you put together and then buy the electronics for,” he said. “They’re more expensive but they’re more customizable.”
Whether it’s hyper-competitive speed racing or a low-key hike with an RC rock crawler, Slynn said the community is what has kept him interested in the hobby. Utah, for instance, is home to the 801 RCC club.
“Everybody is super friendly and willing to help and give pointers on how to tune trucks to perform better,” he said.
Hobby-grade cars are customizable, which makes them a lot of fun. If you want more speed or a less bulky frame, you can simply tweak the vehicle yourself. You need small tools to do this and lots of concentration. There’s also the possibility of taking your car apart and not being able to get it working again, so make sure to consult the internet or experienced hobbyists before you start. You can add or remove battery power to increase your car’s speed as well as change out tires and other moving mechanisms for more control around curves. The possibilities are endless.
Contributing Reviewer: Anna Burleson