The Complete Guide to Buying a Petrol Radio-Controlled Car

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The Complete Guide to Buying a Petrol Radio-Controlled Car

Remote-controlled vehicles are loved across generations. They’re popular both with kids and with adult hobbyists who take part in frequent races and other events organised by the wider community of radio-control (RC) enthusiasts. More often than not, the cars used at these events are built by the owners themselves, and, with the cost of radio-controlled cars decreasing, buying, racing and maintaining a RC car is more accessible than ever. Any beginner looking to get into RC cars as a hobby should take a look at this guide for what to look out for when buying a petrol radio-controlled car. The guide can also serve as a great information resource for more experienced RC enthusiasts.

Radio-Controlled vs. Remote-Controlled

There are two main kinds of RC vehicles: remote-controlled and radio-controlled. The former is usually marketed as a toy, aimed primarily at children. They can be found at relatively low prices on eBay. The latter is the type of vehicle used by serious RC hobbyists. Radio-controlled vehicles can cost significantly more than their remote-controlled counterparts, although a good way to keep the costs down is to shop for them on eBay. They often come as an unconstructed kit that has to be put together by the owner, but they can also be bought pre-built as “ready to run” (RTR) RC cars.

Anyone keen to start a radio-control hobby should bear in mind that cars are not the only option. RC planes, helicopters and boats, among other kinds of vehicle, are also very popular, and can be found online on eBay.

Radio-Controlled Car Power Types

There are three main types of RC car engine: petrol, nitro, and electric. The type selected depends on the driver’s requirements and experience, with petrol engines usually preferred by more experienced RC hobbyists and racers for their high-power performance. For more casual RC hobbyists, the other less-powerful engine types may be more suitable.

Petrol-Powered Cars

Serious RC enthusiasts often opt for petrol-powered cars. RC vehicles with petrol engines are typically the biggest on the market, usually built at around 1/5th of the scale of a real car - they can be about a metre long and are often very heavy. The petrol engines are equivalent to those found in some lawnmowers and chainsaws.

Constructing and maintaining a car with a petrol engine is a major undertaking, but, when done properly, it can provide a great driving and handling experience on all surfaces. Petrol RC cars are much more powerful than cars running with other types of motor.

Petrol-powered cars can be expensive to buy, but their operating costs are generally much lower than cars with nitro engines because less engine maintenance is required, engine replacements are needed less frequently, and fuel prices are comparatively low. The “petrol” used for these cars is a mixture of one part regular unleaded petrol from any petrol station and one part two-stroke oil, combined in a specially designed mixing bottle.

Electric Cars

Electric cars come in a variety of shapes and sizes but are generally no bigger than 1/10th scale - and often much smaller. These cars can zoom around nicely on small tracks with flat surfaces and have the advantage of being easy to operate and maintain. Electric cars are the only kind of RC vehicles that can be run indoors as there are no emissions, while their electric motors are virtually silent. One disadvantage is that their batteries have to be frequently recharged, given that they normally last no more than about ten minutes. As they are small, these cars cannot reach the same high speeds as more powerful petrol cars.

Nitro-Powered Cars

The next step up from an electric car is a nitro RC kit - “nitro” refers to a special type of fuel that is commonly used for mid-sized RC vehicles at about 1/8th scale or less. The slightly larger size gives them better handling on rough surfaces than electric cars, and there are more options for assembly and customisation - but not as much as for their even larger, petrol-powered counterparts. Because of their mid-level scale and lower maintenance, nitro cars remain one of the most popular RC options, especially for those who are keen to race but are unable to commit as much time to their car as they would like.

Anyone planning to pursue an RC hobby with children should be aware that the use of nitro and petrol cars can be dangerous – children around them should be supervised by an adult at all times. For this reason, electric cars are by far the most popular among kids, and all toy RC cars run on electricity.

Terrain Types: Off-road vs. On-road Models

A key decision to make when selecting an RC car is choosing where it is likely to be used. Enthusiasts with nitro or petrol cars generally enjoy taking their vehicles out on the weekends to organised race events. There are two main types of races, off-road and on-road - consider going to observe both kinds before deciding which type to concentrate on. Those who eventually decide that they would like to take part in on-road races might be better off opting for non-petrol cars, as on-road petrol-fuelled models are not very common.

A summary of the car types suitable for the different terrains is provided in the table below:


Type of vehicle

Fuel type

Suitable for



Based on real cars

Usually electric or nitro

Flat, smooth road surfaces

Speed, acceleration, handling, drifting


Monster trucks, buggies, and rock crawlers


Uneven terrain - sand, dirt, grass, pebbles

Stability, jumps, tricks

RC enthusiasts that opt for a petrol-powered RC car and are keen to race it will find that there is a smaller pool of competitors than for nitro or electric cars. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, though most serious racing clubs have enough petrol racers to keep things interesting.

Buying a Petrol Car: Ready to Run or Build Your Own?

A side effect of petrol RC cars’ more specialised nature is that there are fewer models to choose from. This isn't necessarily a disadvantage, because manufacturers tend to focus on producing a smaller number of quality vehicles rather than a wider range of options.

Ready to Run (RTR)

Many petrol cars come RTR – that is, they are available to buy pre-assembled and ready to drive straight out of the box. Before purchasing RTR models, it is a good idea to check that they are easy to upgrade, as this can make it simple to future-proof the vehicle. RTR cars can be bought second-hand – as with any purchase of used cars, make sure you know exactly what condition the item is in and if possible test-drive it before purchase. eBay occasionally features auctions for used cars in which excellent bargains can be found. In many cases you will need to collect the car directly from the seller, and if you are not able to see the car in person beforehand, make sure that you ask the seller for photos and pose as many questions as you need to in order to be sure that the item is in the condition you require.

Build Your Own

Build-your-own petrol RC car kits are aimed primarily at more experienced RC car enthusiasts who know what they are doing. When buying petrol cars unassembled, it is important to be sure of what is being offered. This applies as much to brand new cars as to second-hand ones, since different models and manufacturers will include different parts. Kits that cost less often come without important parts, such as radio receivers, which then have to be bought separately. Again, eBay is useful here, as direct communication with sellers is invaluable for making informed online purchasing decisions. Speak to other petrol-engine drivers and to specialist shops about exactly what you will need and what they recommend adding to the components provided. Often the additional parts are also available on eBay, sometimes from the same sellers.

Ultimately, building an RC car from scratch is a more testing and more satisfying experience for many hobbyists, given that it allows for a more in-depth exploration of the car's workings than RTR models, while also offering the chance for greater personalisation.

Buying Petrol Remote-Controlled Cars on eBay

There is a wide range of petrol RC cars available on eBay. With a large selection of both RTR models and unassembled kits, finding the right petrol car online is made simple. There’s also a variety of other fuel-types to be found, in both off- and on-road models, from sellers who offer affordable prices and free shipping (or collection).

When you have decided on the type of car you want, go to eBay, and find the Radio Controlled portal under the Toys and Games heading. Then drill down through the side bar the vehicle type to cars, and specify petrol as the power source.

You can narrow down your search further by entering keywords into the search bar. This will bring up all the listings relevant to what you’re looking for. If you need extra help with how to search using keywords, take a look at eBay’s Search tips page.

If eBay’s many auctions can’t provide you with what you want, try shopping in eBay Stores.


Radio-controlled cars can provide a great hobby for meeting new people, competing in organised race events and developing an interest in cars, without the giant price tags associated with buying real cars. 1/5th scale models with petrol engines are great for off-road driving and are among the most impressive RC cars available. They can become a very enjoyable project for those serious about their RC experience. Newcomers and experienced drivers alike will find that shopping for petrol radio-controlled cars is easy on eBay, thanks to its wide selection and competitive prices.

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