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Every child loves a toy car. Little ones spend hours rolling their toys over the carpet and pretending to travel across worlds in their room. As they get older, they see the appeal in remote-controlled cars that provide more functions and better designs. Those that get hooked on RC cars may then decide they want to build one.
Can I build my own RC car?
There are lots of ways to get into the hobby of building RC cars. You can work completely from scratch, which requires a lot of skill and expertise, or you can get a kit. That is what this guide is for. I have compiled some of the best kits with the right tools and features for children of different ages.
What do you need to build an RC car?
The best DIY RC car kits should have everything that you need. This includes all the hardware for the car itself – the body, wheels, axles, suspension, etc – and the electronics for the steering and other features. You should then get a motor so that it can run, a battery to supply the power, and the controller for all those remote commands. The contents can vary greatly in these kits, however, so read the specifications carefully.
How much does it cost to build an RC car?
Again, costs can vary depending on what RC car build kit you get. There are some affordable kits out there that provide everything you need to get started all in one box. These could be anywhere between $50 and $150 depending on the quality, the features provided, and the intended use.
But, some kits will require additional purchases and may not have a battery or controller with them. Be aware of this when budgeting for a build your own remote-controlled car.
What should you look out for when choosing the best build your own radio controlled car kit?
1) What parts are available in the kit?
The complexity of these kits can vary greatly between brands and models. On one end of the spectrum, you have the basic kits with standard components and very little to do. Some of these also require additional purchases or other elements from your collection.
On the other end, there are the kits that provide absolutely everything in one box – including batteries, controllers, and finishing touches. While these can seem overwhelming at first, they are often a lot more engaging and rewarding.
With this in mind, it is better to choose a kit with a rechargeable battery and a built-in USB charging point. These are just like charging any other device.
While you do have to wait a little while before you can drive again, it is better than keeping up with a constant need for AA batteries.
2) What are the age rating and difficulty of the kit?
Many products will have a recommended age on the box. This can be quite broad as it is difficult to know how kids will handle the project.
You might have a smart 8-year-old with a mind for STEM applications that finds something easy while their 12-year-old sibling struggles. It is better to go with your gut and provide the right amount of guidance where you can.
3) How well does the finished car handle?
It doesn’t really matter how good the building process was if the finished car doesn’t handle as expected. The best RC car kits should have a strong connection between the controls and electronics in the vehicle.
This, in turn, should also for better responsiveness around corners and obstacles. Sharp turns, reversing capabilities, and other “tricks” all help.
4) Is it going to look good when it’s finished?
Looks are important as your teen wants something they can show off to their friends at the end of the build. Some models go for classic, professional looks or for sportier racing car themes. Others are more visually engaging because of their colors or alternative features – such as robots and tanks.
5) Does it have any special features to set it apart from other models?
Some kits rely on their looks or a few high-quality components to get by. This is fine for collectors looking for specific models and specifications. Others, especially for children and teens, need to go a little further. That is why some of the STEM and 3-in-1 builds are more interesting.
The best DIY RC kits around right now.
If you are buying a kit for your child, you must start with something age-appropriate and fun. You want them to enjoy the process as well as the fun of playing with the finished car.
You will find that there are lots of guides on the subject of these kits that go into great detail about the components, the potential for upgrades, and more complex points about the hobby. But, this could all be too much too soon for teens, especially with their first model.
The products below do fall into a few different categories. I have included a couple that is a bit more advanced and high-end. This is to show you what is out there if you decide to move forward with the hobby with older teens.
But, the majority are for younger audiences, including some fun STEM robot options, LEGO, Meccano, and other complete kits.
What I like most about this product is that this is a 3-in-1 set with a focus on STEM education. This gives the product an edge over others that are more about the playtime after completion. This is best recommended for ages 8-14 because it is such a time-consuming project for those that like problem-solving.
The three models to build make good use of the various parts and look great. The main build is a tank-like vehicle with large treads. This seems to have great maneuverability with easy turns. There there are options for a smaller Spin Car with larger wheels and a little Tumbler Robot.
The only downside here is that you will need to take your time and handle any problems as they arise. For some kids, this could be a little frustrating for a while as they decipher all the instructions.
But, they should get a great feeling of satisfaction at the end. Occasionally, however, those issues are down to bad connections and parts.
The appeal of this model lies mostly in the design. This one stood out to me because it looks so nice when finished, and more professional. To be fair, it should look like that for the price paid. The design is a dune buggy with a sporty feel, which could make it more suitable for off-road applications.
There is a streamlined shape to the body, complete with numbers and racing stripes, and independents suspension systems for each axle. The kit also comes with a 380 type motor, a secure gearbox, and an electronic speed controller.
The problem is that while this is a beautiful, well-made machine that is pretty easy to put together, there is a lot that isn’t included. The kit requires a 7.2 battery and charger, as well as a 2-channel radio.
It seems that this is more for the parents and keen hobbyists that have this equipment rather than for kids.
What I like here is that you get a LEGO set, which kids are immediately familiar with, but then some additional technical elements. This turns what could have been a static car into something a whole lot more interesting. Furthermore, this is a 2-in-1 option where you can turn the car into an off-road truck.
There are 370 pieces to fit together to build the vehicle, including the tread, all the right gears, and the motor and battery box. Once complete, you can race it around via the controller.
The biggest issue here seems to be battery life. Unlike our first model in this guide, this one is known to die after 10 minutes. That isn’t a lot of playtimes and if you don’t have spare batteries to hand, this can get frustrating pretty quickly.
I have an appreciation for anything Meccano because you know that this is as much a fun STEM toy as a building project. This RC Speedster is a great example of what you can get when you mix the parts and construction of Meccano with the fun design of the car, this is sure to be something that kids can have a lot of fun with.
The main issue with this model is one that you will see with a lot of these products. These toys require battery power in the mechanics of the car itself and battery power in the controller. In the worst cases, that’s a lot of AAA batteries to have on hand every time the system dies and kids want to keep playing. That is the case here.
I had to include this RC toy in this guide because of the way that it looks. The design of the Race Car is extreme and something that kids in the recommended 6-10 age bracket are going to love.
The back end looks like something you might see on a race track, the front end looks like it belongs on the Batmobile. The lime green and the black paint job are striking too. There is also the option to take this kit apart and turn it into an offroad car.
Again, we have those issues with the batteries. If you are prepared for this to happen and willing to stock up on AAA batteries, this isn’t so much of a problem.
You just have to weigh up whether or not it is worthwhile fr the time kids spend playing with the toy. In the case of this car, that should be quite a long time.
This next option is similar in that you get a sportier race car that is eye-catching for younger children and their friends. Also, there is the same attempt to make this kit a little easier for younger children that aren’t going to handle the bigger projects as well. This one has 421 pieces and a simple controller to turn this from a kit into a working car.
While the orange and black design and sporty look are appealing to some, there isn’t the same finish as on other models. This could be because of the lack of part or cheaper price. There is a blockier feel that makes it look more like LEGO or Meccano.
The front can look a little unfinished. This might not be an issue for older kids that understand the work that goes into these kits. Younger children may prefer something softer with rounded edges.
I want to throw in this option because even though it isn’t exactly your typical DIY RC car, there are lots of the same processes and benefits in choosing this toy. For a start, you get the chance to build the whole tank from scratch with 1276 pieces to figure out.
Then there is the fun of learning how to operate and drive the machine, which runs on treads that are similar to other models in this guide. Then there is the extra edge to the creative play when this attractive tank is complete, with kids able to go off on their own missions and have a lot of fun.
There isn’t that much to say against this model if you are in the market for something with a military theme. The one below is much more problematic in its style. Here, the biggest issue is the same problem with the batteries.
Sticking with Bo-Toys for a moment, this option is somewhere in between the tank and the cars above. This military SUV UAV carrier. This one seems to be less complicated with fewer pieces to deal with, which could make it more suitable for younger players.
Again, there is a lot to enjoy in the finished vehicle, with the 360-degree turret, great movement on the steering, and the chance to pretend to launch the drone.
Personally, I don’t think the design is as nice on this one. The bright green isn’t as engaging for a military toy as the camo colors on the tank. It looks a bit cheaper and less like a vehicle that would actually be in combat.
But, it all depends on what your child thinks. If they love the look, go for it.
Or, how about increasing the scale of the build with a monster truck. This thing is sure to look impressive when complete as it is 14.56 inches long and 8.26 inches high. A lot of that height comes from the massive wheels, which should also be able to handle different terrains.
In fact, the car has a 4WD operation via the included remote control and additional functions to drift and make sharp turns. There is also attention to detail in the multi-colored design on the body and the working LED lights.
A lot is going on to reward builders for their hard work. But, this might also mean that the battery runs out faster than on less complex models. It then takes 3 hours to charge it back up.
Also, ignore the “birthday gifts for boys” tag on this – girls can play too.
Next, we have something that is more about robotics than your standard remote control car. This little robot car focuses on coding and wiring to let kids build a vehicle that will work via an app, rather than a traditional controller.
This is the modern version of RC car and while some older parents and grandparents may prefer to teach kids about the retro side of the hobby, this does open up more STEM skills that could help them out in the future.
The idea is to build and program the cute little car to follow a path, follow objects, and avoid obstacles.
The biggest issue here lies with the instructions and online video. They aren’t good enough for children to follow with ease, and even adults can struggle with them.
Also, you have to question why they offer an instructional CD, a pretty obsolete format, for a modern coding toy?
This final option is similar to the coding car above as it relies on the same sort of modern technology and STEM lessons. What I love about this one is that it looks more like a car than a robot, which just happens to have 4 wheels.
There seems to be more attention to the design and finishing touches for vehicle kids can show off. Then there is the video system on the front. The idea here is that not only can you use the controls to move the car, but you can also film what it sees.
The downside is that you need previous experience and access to the software. This one is a kit for improving a teen’s knowledge of Raspberry Pi and building on their skills. This might be a niche, but it will be a great choice for many teens in this position.
Choosing the best DIY RC Car kits for your children.
In the end, you need to find a model that suits your child best. That means the one that matches their current skill set and level of interest in RC toys. Don’t go too complex too soon and try and focus on fun designs and interesting projects.
That means sticking with products that encourage STEM learning with great visuals and rewards. Take your time to double-check the specifications of any model to see what is on offer.
Show your kids some designs and see what catches their eye between the racing cars, robots, and tanks. The right model is out there.