Electric Vs Nitro Cars – Which Is Best For Racing

When your thinking of racing remote control cars it can be difficult to choose between electric or nitro. If you go down the on road route or prefer to race indoors this option will most likely be electric. If you want to race off road cars then there is more to consider.

Through my experience of racing both nitro and electric I will go through the pro’s and con’s of each. Hopefully by the end you may have some help towards making your decision.

Disclaimer: The lists below refer only to the propulsion methods. Both nitro and electric cars will need the essentials your chosen car kit, radio equipment and wheels & tires.

Setting Up A Nitro Engine Car.

To get started with a nitro car there are more parts and equipment required:

  1. Engine
  2. Exhaust
  3. Throttle servo
  4. Nitro fuel I like to use 25% when racing.
  5. A glow plug.
  6. Glow plug igniter.
  7. Air filter these need to be oiled.
  8. Starter box with batteries and charger.
  9. Fly wheel.
  10. Clutch shoes and springs.
  11. Clutch bell and bearings.

These all add up the cost, if you would like to know how much it costs to race rc cars. I wrote a more detailed article on this subject. Then you will need to correctly set the end points on your throttle servo.

Once you have all these items in place you can start your engine. You need to make sure to run roughly a gallon of fuel, through the engine before you can give it full throttle. This is known as the engine break-in procedure. Manufacturers have different methods for this. So be sure to follow the instruction manual that came with your engine.

Setting Up An Electric Brushless Car.

Compared to nitro setting up an electric brushless car is easier, however you still need the following:

  1. Brushless motor.
  2. Speed controller.
  3. Lipo batteries.
  4. Lipo battery charger.
  5. Pinion gear.

It’s not always as simple as plug and play you could have these parts in your kit. But still need to go through a setting up procedure. Most ESC’s require setting up your ESC to the throttle positions on your transmitter. You need to program neutral, full brake and full throttle.

You may also need to go through other settings on the speed controller like cell count and voltage cutoff. Quite often you can go with most default settings and then tweak the ESC to your needs afterwards. Just like with nitro engines I recommend you go through the instruction manual that came with your ESC.

Nitro 1/8 Scale Racing.

I will start off with my favorite aspect of nitro cars you just cant beat the sound. It aids with knowing how fast the car is going round the race track. You are able to find the sweet spot for a jump and make the landing. You can also tell if something is off with the engine.

Lets face it nitro cars have been around in the off road racing scene for longer than brushless cars. The advantage of this is the technology has improved and developed over the years. The engines are far better in all aspects than they used to be. Most importantly the power available from these little .21 engines is astonishing. You can’t exclude the fact that run time has also improved albeit not as much as some racers would like. A qualifying round at club level can last around 7 minutes with a 2 minute warmup. A dash of fuel towards the end of the warmup and you will be all good to finish the qualifying round without anymore pitting.

Race finals at club level are usually around 30 minutes. If you have a good tuning set up, it is possible to make 10 minute or more pit intervals. But even then you would be pitting 3 or more times during a race. It’s a frustrating feeling knowing you were in a good position to come into the pits just to let human error hinder your chances. It’s been said many times in all forms of racing.

A race can be won or lost in the pits.

If you like to tinker nitro cars are great the engine requires fine adjustments to get it running perfectly. You could have the best tuning on your engine you pack everything up with a smile on your face. Next race day comes around and the engine is just not running right. Air density and heat can play a big part in how the engine performs. Glow plug health and air filter cleanliness are also factors which can effect the performance of your engine.

Electric Brushless 1/8 scale Racing.

Brushless cars may lack the sound aspect you get with nitro engines. However they sure make up for it in the torque. The beauty of a electric brushless motor is it delivers power instantly. There is no time lost in spooling up for a clutch to engage because you don’t have one.

The ESC (electronic speed controller) is the brain of the car think of this like the ECU in your car. The more advanced your ESC is the more options you have. Even the basic ESC’s come with options like throttle punch, drag break and breaking force. At present the only real limitation for electric brushless cars is the batteries. A typical 4s 6600 mah lipo battery will last you approx 17 minutes depending on track conditions and your driving style. Larger capacities are coming out all the time, its not too uncommon to see a 8000 mah lipo battery the same dimensions as the 6600. This capacity could see you staying out on track for more than 22 minutes.

Qualifying rounds at club level are similar to nitro 6 or 7 minutes with a couple minutes warmup. You can go out and not worry about loosing power. The great aspect to lipo batteries is as you loose battery life the performance drop off is minimal. They give as much power as they can till the end. A final is normally under 30 minutes around the 22 minute mark.

Nitro Car Pro’s & Con’s

Electric Car Pro’s & Con’s


Personally I race electric 1/8 brushless and stopped racing nitro cars a while back. It’s to expensive to do both. I like testing settings on the ESC and feel I get more value for my money from a set of batteries.

Hopefully some points raised in this topic help you make a choice based on your preferences. A nitro car takes more work to setup and more money to maintain. The nitro engines are more involving and it feels like more of you is required. I wouldn’t say it feels better winning a race but you do put more in.

A electric brushless car is cleaner and quicker than the nitro counter part. They haven’t yet taken over the RC racing industry. Some clubs will have smaller groups and less competitors for electric classes. However you can’t hide the fact electric has improved. There is a big push to be greener, electric vehicles are becoming more popular on the roads. It’s only a matter of time.

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