Radio-controlled and remote-controlled cars: What's the difference?

Radio controlled and remote controlled cars: What's the difference?
(Image credit: Amazon)

Chances are very good that if you are reading this article, you are interested in operating the best remote-controlled vehicles and radio-controlled vehicles. But what is the difference between them? 

There is a simple definition for both remote-controlled and radio-controlled.  Essentially, a remote-controlled vehicle is operated from a distant or remote location outside of the vehicle. This can be accomplished through a number of different methods, such as a wire attached to both vehicle and operating device or controller or a controller that transmits signals via radio waves to a receiver located in or on the vehicle. A radio-controlled vehicle is simply an unattached remote-controlled vehicle.    

In order for a radio-controlled vehicle to function properly, it needs to have four primary parts: a transmitter, a receiver, a motor, and a power source.

Power sources

Motors in RC vehicles are very simple. In an RC car, for example, the duties they perform are often limited to turning wheels to steer the car or serving as an electrical, nitro, or gas-powered engine.

As mentioned earlier in this article, the power behind the transmitter is usually a 9-volt battery. Inside most RC cars is a gas, electric or nitro motor or motors, an antenna a battery pack, and a circuit board. 


The transmitter is just another way of saying controller. It normally uses a 9-volt battery to send radio wave signals to the vehicle, telling it what to do. Most transmitters are small enough to fit in your hand.

Radio controlled and remote controlled cars: What's the difference?

(Image credit: Traxxas)

A common feature of RC transmitters is that they use only two frequency ranges (27 MHz and 49 MHz) to send signals. Some manufactures make controllers capable of using both frequencies so that two vehicles of the same model can be operated at the same time.   

Most transmitters tend to be either single-function or full-function controllers. A single-function controller primarily allows the vehicle to move forward and backward. Full-function devices control those same maneuvers and can also make the vehicle turn right or left going forward and in reverse. In some advanced full-function controllers, operators are offered multiple levels of precise control. Controllers for more advanced RC systems often use dual joysticks with several levels of response for precision control.

Transmitters typically send their radio waves out into the atmosphere as electrical pulse sequences, it's the receiver's job to catch those signals and respond accordingly. This is mostly done via an antenna built into the vehicle to receive the signals and a corresponding circuit board to interpret them and pass the instructions along to the motors inside the vehicle.

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