Have you ever driven an electric car? No definitely not? Probably yes, maybe not that big. But the first contact with electromobility has often been an RC model car for many decades.
Would you like to drive such a speedster again or give one to the offspring? Then you should know the following. RC stands for Radio Controlled. Until well into the 1960s, however, remote-controlled speedsters were connected to the remote control by a cable, says Andreas Berse.
The car drew its juice from batteries and was steered via a Bowden cable - the children therefore had to follow behind with a small steering wheel box in their hands, remembers Berse, editor-in-chief of the specialist magazine "Modell Fahrzeug". The "line" between the steering box and the car measured its radius of action.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the triumph of the radio-controlled models with transmitter and receiver began for a larger group of customers. The cars freed themselves from the cable - powered by electric motors and even small combustion engines.
For a long time, cars with combustion engines were often more powerful, faster and lasted longer. Very powerful, brushless e-motors (brushless technology) and more powerful lithium-ion batteries have turned the market upside down for about a decade and pushed combustion engines very far back, especially in the entry-level sector.
"Hardly anyone feels like filling up with petrol, lubricating an engine and trying to start with the recoil starter like with an outboard engine," says Berse, naming some of the work that occurs with combustion engines. However, some lovers or racing categories continue to rely on it.
Both kits and finished models are available. "RTR, ready to run, is a very strong trend," says Berse of fully assembled models that come with a remote control and are ready to use. "I'll open the box, maybe screw the body on, charge the batteries and drive off," says Berse about the advantages of RTR. With the kit, on the other hand, you have to assemble the car yourself with literally every screw.
What should you pay attention to if you want to give away the racers to children? The fundamental question that arises, according to Dirk Horn: "Should it be a one-off pastime or actually an introduction to a hobby?"
A spontaneous purchase, for example in a department store, can make you happy. "But only for a short time," says Horn, who is President of the German Minicar Club (DMC). Because the department store speedster is usually not an expandable toy.
"It can be fun for the child, but then if they want to continue, I have to buy a second model," explains Horn. "Because if you ever need a spare part, it can be difficult or impossible to obtain."
Models the size of typical small toy cars are commercially available for as little as ten euros. The technology now also fits the HO scale, i.e. the classic model railway size.
However, up to three-digit amounts are due here, so HO radio speedsters are more for older teenagers or adults. There are also large 1:14 scale trucks with sound, light and coupling function, says Berse. The prices for it could be four digits.
When buying for children, you can go by the age information on the pack or get advice from a specialist shop. There are models on a scale of about 1:24, which start at around 20 euros.
There is also something for small children from the age of three. These include imaginative models such as buggies, steaming dinosaurs on wheels or farting kart drivers with a "bunch" for a helmet.
Such inexpensive models are not only simpler in design, but also much slower than larger ones, at less than 10 km/h. For smaller children, the experts recommend terrain models with thick tires, especially if you want to play outside. "They are relatively robust and the little ones can use them to refine their gross motor skills without anything breaking right away," says Berse.
"You do need a little bit of understanding - left, right and when the car comes towards you, then you have to think exactly the other way around," says Dirk Horn.
Roughly speaking, he says that the age at which children start school is a good time to get started with larger RC cars or even kits. Below that it's difficult. And first of all, you would have to at least be able to read the building instructions.
If you get the impression that it could become a hobby, Horn advises starting with a kit, especially for slightly older children from around nine or ten years of age. Widespread scales are 1:12, 1:10 and 1:8.
He also advises adult beginners to use kits, RTR cars or pre-assembled sets, where only partial work is required. Younger children can also join the latter. The prices for this and kits start at around 80 to 100 euros.
The radio remote control is then added to the kits for around 100 euros. So-called servos (from 20 euros each), which transmit the steering commands in the car to the steering, and a speed controller (from 15 euros), which controls the motor, are also required depending on the scope of the kit. According to Berse, spare parts are available from well-known brands such as Absima, Carrera, Carson, Kyosho and Tamiya.
Older siblings or parents can help assemble a kit. Because if you open the box, you see a lot of small bags with screws, wheels, ball bearings, springs, plates, an unpainted body and so on. Then you have to screw, cut, paint and glue, among other things.
But that's not rocket science either. "We often have school classes at trade fairs," says Horn. "We use them to assemble a car with different components in one morning."
When it comes to repairs, you also know exactly how the car is built. Especially in the initial phase, you quickly come to a curb, then maybe a wheel or a wishbone comes off.
Because the cars are fast. The current entry-level models should run between 15 and 30 km/h. "These are good speeds, and these vehicles can also be modified up to 50 or 60 km/h with relatively little effort," says Horn. But there are also models that can reach speeds of 120 km/h and are available as a complete set for around 700 euros, for example.
"That's why it's important to drive in places where it's safe." That also means not driving towards people or animals or even driving close to them. It is also important to keep a large distance from things that can break. However, Horn recommends taking out insurance that covers something like this.
According to club president Horn, you can quickly lose interest in driving alone. "Because soon you'll find out how fast you can go on your carpet or in the backyard in this and that place."
Perhaps there is generally too little free space for the often forearm-length racers. Or you are looking for tips for getting faster or for better battery yield. Then at the latest, looking for a club nearby could be a good idea.
Horn refers to the homepage of the DMC umbrella organization, where you can find regional contacts. The lanes of the clubs are around 100 meters long.
Driving in a club can train the intensive handling of the models and improve the driving style. Because the little runabouts are in no way inferior to real cars in terms of the setting options for tires, steering, track, shock absorbers and so on.
In general, the focus is on exchange and driving, but it's also about competition: "It can take a year or two before you're ready to start in real races," says Horn. Such a career can lead to world championship races in many different categories, just like in “real” motorsport.
The small RC speedsters can sometimes be extremely fast and cause damage. Private liability insurance can cover this.
According to the non-binding model conditions of the German Insurance Association (GDV), this covers damage caused by the use of remote-controlled land and water model vehicles.
The GDV advises asking the specific insurer what applies in detail. For example, to what extent children are also insured and what is the situation with participation in sporting events.
If you are a member of a club affiliated with the German Mini Car Club umbrella organization, insurance for this is already included: the vehicle is insured on closed off areas.
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