We purchase every product we review with our own funds—we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Whether you’re buying a radio-control car for a kid, an adult, or a kid-like adult, we at BestReviews understand how much fun tooling around these toys can be.
Our researchers studied the market’s top RC models to determine which cars deliver the best in terms of features, durability, and price. We’ve created a shortlist of the best five, which you can see in our matrix, above.
At BestReviews, we never accept “free” manufacturer samples. We buy products off of store shelves just as you do, and we scrutinize them for quality. Our mission is to arm our readers with the information needed to make the best use of their money.
To learn more about RC cars and how to make an educated purchase, please read our product shopping guide, below.
Not every RC car can handle every kind of terrain. In fact, the environment in which you intend to drive greatly impacts which type of car you should buy.
Ask yourself the following questions before making a purchase:
If you’ll be driving primarily on concrete and asphalt, chances are your tires and undercarriage won’t sustain a lot of damage.
What you will see in the long run, however, is a slow wear-down of the tire’s tread. Much like automobile tires smooth out and lose their grip after years of road use, so do RC car tires.
If you’ll be driving on this type of pavement, a smooth-surface car would be your best bet. We suggest a model like the Redcat Shockwave Nitro Buggy.
Be mindful of road debris, and avoid them as much as possible. These obstacles, though small, could cause issues with your car’s functionality. Usually there’s a small section of information on the box that will tell you if you can take the car “off road” or not.
If you live in a suburban home with a front and backyard, chances are your car will eventually find its way onto the lawn. Any wood chips, grass, rocks, or twigs on your lawn could potentially damage your car’s tires and frame.
The cars in our matrix that would best fit into a suburban buyer’s life would be either the Redcat or Illu Okey, as they can take on slightly denser terrain without many problems. But when you start hitting thicker grass, you may lose traction, so it’s best to limit your path to lawns that are regularly trimmed.
An RC car is 1/10 or 1/16 the size of a regular vehicle. As such, a small twig in an RC car’s path is the equivalent of a large tree branch in the path of a full-sized automobile.
If you’re more of an explorer and don’t really care what’s in your path, consider an all-terrain RC car that can withstand anything you decide to drive it into. These cars are designed to take on whatever they may encounter — with the exception of anything that would be like driving a real car into a wall! This includes sand, snow, puddles, thick shrubbery, leaf piles, and so on. The Axial brand on our shortlist appears to be the best equipped to handle everything, including mud, and it includes some customizable parts to aid in the adventure.
Of course, all-terrain RC cars aren’t impervious to everything. You couldn’t drive one through a river or up a tree log. “All-terrain” doesn’t mean “indestructible.”
Modern video gaming is such that a five-year-old can operate a character with two joysticks and accomplish whatever the game’s mission may be. But playing a videogame and handling an RC car call for two very different control schemes. If you buy someone an RC car they can’t grasp right off the bat, they’ll become frustrated and most likely lose interest in the car.
Most modern RC cars feature a trigger-operated joystick. You hold the remote with one hand and press the trigger button to power the back tires. You use your other hand to control the dial on top of the stick, which turns the front tires.
This simple configuration allows younger kids (who may not be used to a gamer-like system) to control the car with ease and enjoy their experience.
Many RC cars nowadays come with remotes that can be used on other cars. This can be helpful in case the RC car is damaged and you either build or buy a new one, but are used to your older remote.
A dual joystick somewhat resembles the control system a gamer might use, but it’s a bit more complicated, and it works on a 2D plane as opposed to a 3D plane. As such, there is a backward learning curve that might frustrate some kids and adults.
One joystick controls forward and backward movement. (This is an advantage over a single joystick, which only moves forward.) The other controls the tires. The degree to which you push the first control determines your speed in either direction.
Over the years, we’ve come to expect that we can control everything via remote from a single location. But with RC cars, you must keep moving with the car if you decide to push it past a certain range. Few cars contain remote technology that would stretch beyond 300 feet. That might not seem like much, but bear in mind that you must always keep your eye on the car while driving.
Make sure your car has a radio system of at least 2.4Ghz installed. A system of this strength will find your car in spite of walls and other objects that might get in its way.
Modern RC cars that run on standard, store-bought batteries alone are few and far between. You’ll either have a charging station for both the car and remote, or you’ll have a remote that runs on AA batteries and a built-in car battery that charges in the wall.
A standard NiMH battery can last you a long time, but if used or allowed to sit in the sun for too long, the battery could die out. (Remember, they’re basically sitting in a black plastic case that attracts heat.)
These batteries are also susceptible to water damage. They can resist some water, but these cars are not waterproof. We advise users to remember this before driving an RC car through a giant puddle after a storm — tempting though it may be.
To make the most of your battery life, recharge the car until it’s full. During long periods of inactivity, the car should still be charged once per week.
You never know when a company will discontinue a specific line of products or batteries. Purchasing backup batteries is a wise idea in case the day comes when your battery dies and you can’t find a replacement in store or online.
Depending on the car you buy, the remote may add the ability to do extra things like honk a horn, light up, or even talk back to you. These are the bells and whistles you might have seen advertised during old Saturday morning cartoons to hype you on a new toy. They sound cool, but in the grand scheme of things, they don’t really add much to the experience.
Don’t be fooled by simple “additions” that could drain the battery faster because they’re constantly on standby. In many cases, they’re marketing additions and nothing more.
Whenever you take your RC car out for a spin, you run the risk of a devastating crash. There’s no way around it: toys break sometimes. Most people want to buy the most durable RC car possible in order to minimize this chance.
The key to buying a hearty car is finding one with a sturdy chassis and durable body. Follow these tips:
The “look” of an RC car is an aesthetic and personal choice that ultimately matters only to the owner of the car. If you’re buying this as a gift, keep the recipient’s color preferences in mind. Fortunately, many RC cars come in a variety of color schemes.
When it comes to the price of an RC car, there really is no standard “middle ground” where everything you want will be covered at an adequate price. Either you shell out over $200 for a top-of-the-line vehicle, or you aim for a lower price and settle for a car that does the trick “to a certain degree.” You’re not getting cheated per se; it’s simply a matter of getting what you pay for.
But that being said, the priciest RC cars aren’t always the best.
If all you want is a decent RC car that will give you or your kids hours of driving fun, anything between $40 and $80 should do fine. The only reason to go higher is if you want a deluxe car that does everything — including going anywhere you want it to go and having a horn that sounds like a ringtone.
In general, the best advice when it comes to RC car prices is to buy what you need, not what you want.
One of the biggest hurdles for kids to overcome is the Three Month Test — especially when it comes to RC cars. If you’re a parent who’s hoping to make an investment that will pass the test, we offer these tips:
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.