What’s the difference between toy- and hobby-grade radio controlled vehicles?

The Grasshopper was around when I started playing with RC. Photo: MIKI Yoshihito, flickr, CC BY 2.0

Radio controlled vehicles are a lot of fun. They have been a hobby of mine since I was a teen. (Now I am an old man.)

Many people don’t know that the RC vehicles in a toy store, discount store, or retail store are not the same quality as RC vehicles from a hobby store. Let’s understand why.

Performance

Toy RC vehicles are don’t perform at the same level as a hobby-grade unit. For example, many toy units feature coil-over shocks while hobby units feature oil dampened coil-over shocks.

The oil and springs can be changed and tweaked to driving conditions and how one wants a hobby RC vehicle to perform.

These vehicles also allow upgrades and replacement parts for just about anything you break or want to strengthen.

Another good example is electronics. They are not customizable on toys, but they are on hobby-grade RCs.

Hobby-grade electronics can be swapped out for better (or worse) equipment. Example: Motors can be changed from brushed to brushless. Radios usually have more range with hobby units, too.

Durability

Durability is important. There’s nothing more fun than jumping your RC off a ramp, but they don’t always land right-side up when this happens. That’s where durability reigns.

Off-road trucks and buggies from brand names like Losi, Traxxas, HPI, Team Associated, among others are designed for these repeated stresses.

Manufacturers like those listed above test, test, and test their products in the lab and racetrack.

Compare that with a toy RC. The products don’t have the same durability. They are not tested on the track and most are treated as disposable, with no way to replace broken parts.

Parts, upgrading as skills increase

Parts availability is essential. Everything gets broke — sooner or later. Hobby-grade cars will have replacement parts available through the hobby shop or online.

It makes the most sense to spend a little more on a vehicle that has the ability to grow as your skills grow. That brings us to cost.

Cost

It’s true that hobby products will cost more than department store / retail store RCs.

The higher cost is generally offset by the durability, upgrade capacities, and parts availability — not to mention the speed and run time that a good RC will have.