Getting into the hobby

Alright there are really two parts to this section. Getting into the hobby of R/C cars is different than deciding to start collecting or restoring a vintage R/C unit. The first requires significantly less cash than the second.

Getting into R/C

If you're looking at buying your first radio controlled car for play or racing, then this is a fairly easy thing to do. You can get started for under $150 for a full setup including radio, battery and charger. If you've never owned a R/C before, or if you've only purchased Radio Shack style toys, then a new Tamiya will be a eye-opening experience.

First off, you have to build your new Tamiya. This gives you a distinct advantage when it comes time to repair work or tuning. Second, you'll find that the cars have a wealth of upgrades or modification parts available. Stuff to make it go faster, look more scale or more durable. Don't like the BMW body? No problem, change it to a Subaru rally winner! It's that simple.

So let's break it down to the individual components and some recommendations for them.

The Car

Tamiya has a fairly extensive lineup of on-road cars which are based on a few common chassis. These are in no particular order and this listing is not complete. If you don't see your chassis mentioned (especially off-road) I'll eventually get to it:

Tamiya Chassis or Car Advantages Disadvantages Notes
TL01 - The most basic 4WD touring enclosed center box chassis Tamiya has. Shaft driven 4 wheel drive with independent coil spring suspension. Flexible suspension can be configured for both on-road touring and rally car setups. This car is suitable for entry level use as the chassis is relatively inexpensive and come in a variety of configurations/body styles. Reasonable handling characteristics and good durability. Low parts count ensure ease of building. No ball bearings, no oil damped shocks, upper link nonadjustable. Basically nothing is tunable on this car. All tuning requires the purchase of "hopup" parts from Tamiya. Thus, this car is not suitable for racing and making it suitable would be monstrously expensive. It's very inexpensive and is pretty easy to build and start running. Upgrading to oil-filled shocks is recommended.  Tamiya also offers these cars fully built with radios installed.  Labelled the "XB" series, they're good for someone not interested in building their vehicles.
TA03 - Sophisticated touring car tub chassis which is suitable for occasional racing. Belt driven 4WD drive with independent oil-damped suspension system. Chassis comes in both an "F" (front engine) and "R" (mid engine) series. Good handling characteristics exhibited in stock form. The "F" model being a bit easier for beginners to drive than the "R" series. Car is capable of racing, but the older chassis design will not keep up with purebred race cars. Large number of aftermarket parts available. Much more complicated to build than TL01. Requires regular maintenance and cleaning for optimal performance. Limited tuning options in stock format, but out of the box, car handles well. This older chassis is being phased out of the Tamiya lineup of cars and parts will become harder to find as time progresses. If you know you're going to do weekend racing, try to purchase the "TRF" or "Pro" edition of the cars as they have many performance parts included. Short wheelbase version is also available.
TA02 - This is an older style tub chassis but is still available as old stock from some hobby stores. Shaft drive 4WD drive touring chassis with independent oil-filled shock suspension system. Flexible suspension can be configured for touring and rally purposes. Good handling characteristics and shaft drive offers the advantage of lower maintenance efforts. Comes with oil-filled shocks, which when factored into the price puts in on par with a TL01 car. A multitude of aftermarket parts available for the car from different manufacturers. Chassis has been discontinued by Tamiya, parts availability will begin to thin very shortly. '02 is not sophisticated enough for racing purposes, shaft drive is inefficient and saps top end speed. Assembly is more complicated than the TL01. This is an older chassis that has been phased out. Although some spare parts are available, they will stop making parts very shortly for this vehicle. Comes in a variety of flavors including a "W" wide version, "S" short wheelbase and "SW" for short wheelbase, wide stance. "Pro" model is also available which features FRP chassis.
TA01 - No longer available for touring cars, the TA01 chassis is still utilized in the Tamiya Hummer. Very similar to the TA02, the '01 features shaft driven 4wd with a tub chassis. Suspension is fully independent oil-filled dampers covered with coil springs. Good handling characteristics and shaft drive offers the advantage of lower maintenance efforts. Comes with oil-filled shocks. And in the case of the Hummer, a very realistic plastic body. Also available as a off-road car in the Blazing Star and Dirt Thrasher kits. Hummer - while exhibiting excellent realism - suffers from a top heavy design. Not a great handling car, it is neither meant for true off road or on road. Dirt Thrasher and Blazing Star offer reasonable dirt road performance but cannot be expected to handle true off-road conditions. One of the older chassis in the Tamiya lineup, parts are still in production and available via Tamiya. Hopup parts are hard to come by now, but car performs well in stock form.
FF - Virtually identical to the TA02 design, the FF chassis deletes the rear gearbox and drive shaft to alter the car into a front wheel drive vehicle. Fully independent oil-damped suspension system is standard. Note - do not confuse this chassis with the FF02 which is completely different. Benign handling makes it easy for beginnings to drive. Lower parts count helps during assembly process. Suspension system works reasonable well and most hop-up parts intended for the TA02 work with the FF model. Excellent scale realism if you really want to know how a front wheel drive car handles at the extreme! Cost wise, it's about the same as a TA02 car and the '02 provides better performance. FF design can be squirrelly on low traction surfaces. 16 turn or lower motors can't get enough traction to be effective. Tires must be rotated for maximum life. The FF chassis is no longer made by Tamiya and it means that new kits are something of a collector's item. Especially popular are the Volvo 850 and Honda Civic kits.
TA04 - Latest chassis design from Tamiya. Intended to be their high-end car. Twin belt driven 4WD drive tub chassis. Fully independent suspension with oil-damped shocks all around. Available in a standard plastic tub format and as a "Pro" model with FRP upper and lower decks. New chassis offers nimble handling with excellent turn-in capability. New gearbox designs front and rear offer much less rolling resistance than TA03 model. The latest offering from Tamiya comes with excellent aftermarket support for hop-up parts. Complicated assembly and high parts count can be difficult for beginner. Responsive chassis can be frustrating for a novice driver. Low ground clearance restricts the car to smooth surfaces only. Open belt design draws debris into the gearboxes causing them to seize. This chassis was designed to get Tamiya cars back into racing circles. As such, it looks and drives very similar to other competitors cars such as HPI and Kawada. Plus the car requires a high level of maintenance to perform at 100%.
TB01& TB02 - Based on their successful TGX gas car design, the TB01 offers a rugged design suitable for both rally and on road cars. Shaft driven 4WD drive with fully independent suspension system and oil-filled dampers. Extremely rugged design, suitable for handling very hot motors with no noticeable problems. Handling characteristics are excellent. Lower maintenance requirements. Hop up parts are available as is a "TRF" version from Tamiya. Rally versions have completely sealed chassis which guard against dirt and dust. Currently an expensive car. Mid engine design offers neutral handling, but may be tougher for beginners to learn. Completely new electric chassis design means that few aftermarket companies have parts. For playing purposes, purchase the rally version as it has steel gears instead of plastic (touring version). Although there are ride height differences, this can be easily adjusted without the need to purchase parts.
M01 & M02 - These are Tamiya's first "mini" chassis and I've grouped them together because there is so little difference between the two. Front and rear are mirror images and enable the car to be deployed in front & rear wheel drive configuration. Mono-shock with friction damping on both ends. The car can also be configured for a variety of wheelbases Low parts count mean that they are fairly easy to put together. Front wheel drive versions are easy to drive. Their diminutive size lends itself well to a variety of body designs that have great nostalgic appeal. "Mini" racing has grown in popularity and so hop up parts are widely available. Chassis is older and has been superceded by the M04 chassis so parts might become difficult to source in the future. Rear wheel drive versions are difficult to drive for beginners. Mono-shocked suspension is not the best for handling. Models can be very expensive once fully hopped up with options. Front suspension and gearbox design have proven fragile if used for racing. A lot of these cars sold because of Tamiya's superb lexan bodies that were included with the kits. The chassis itself is unspectacular in performance and engineering prowess. Although their small size makes for easier storage and a certain "cuteness" factor.


The Battery

Rule of thumb: if you don't plan to race competitively, buy multiple inexpensive battery packs to use as opposed to a single or few expensive high end packs. You'll get more enjoyment out of them.

There are two factors that influence the cost of battery packs; their storage capacity and their discharge voltage. The greater the storage capacity, the greater the run time. The higher the discharge voltage, the faster your motor will run. Both factors are important to racers because they allow them to use a "hotter" motor to run faster for the 5 minute heats that typical races run.

For the average hobbyist, the battery capacity is the only factor that is important. The greater voltage offered by "matched" or "treated" packs offer marginal increases in speed for a rather hefty bump in price.

The Radio

Rule of thumb: Buy FM radios if your budget allows for it. If not, purchase 27mhz AM before 75mhz.

FM radios offer the advantage of being more resistant to interference and thus you have more reliable control of your R/C car. Because they are expensive, AM radios are the preferred entry level radio system. Of the two transmission bands available, the 27mhz range is more stable purely because of the frequency length. The disadvantage is that on 27mhz, there are only 6 channels of transmission to choose from, whereas 75mhz offers dozens of different channels.

Because radio gear technology hasn't changed a lot in the past decade, radio equipment typically has very good resale value. Your investment into a more upscale unit can be recouped later on when it comes time to sell. So try to invest in a nice unit.

The Charger

Rule of thumb: Always try to purchase a peak charger when possible.

There are two important differences between chargers:

  • Dual or single power supply - That is, AC/DC or just one type.
  • Peak or timed charging - Whether the unit stops when the battery has reached 100% capacity or whether it stops based on a simple timer.

Ideally, the best purchase would be an AC/DC peak charger as they offer the most versatility.