RC Car Battery Guide
Here you’ll learn the different types of RC batteries available and how to handle them for daily and long term use. Welcome to the everything-rc-cars absolute rc car battery guide!
Common RC Battery Types and Handling Info
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RC Car Batteries come in a range of types, styles, and voltages – not to mention their chemical compositions.
As battery technology has evolved, one focus has been on making a rechargeable energy source capable of holding that charge until required, that’s safe to store and to handle, and that has a deep cycle that allows for extended use.
That would be great in a perfect world, and we have come a long way since the first “silver zinc voltaic pile” battery invented some 200 years ago. In fact, some of the earliest ones were lead acid batteries. These were somewhat dangerous at the time and were limited to stationary applications for fear of spilling the acid.
In today’s arena, however, the advances that rc car battery technology have made in recent years are a god sent to the RC car industry. This article will look at the different types of rc truck & car batteries, and provide some vital information on how to handle them.
NiCad ( Nickel Cadmium )
On most of today’s RC car models you will see NiCad ( Nickel Cadmium ) batteries powering both the radios and your model of choice. NiCad batteries are soldered together to make a package depending on voltage required and the application.
Each rc battery has a nominal voltage of 1.2V, regardless of capacity. There seems to be one inherent condition though in that these batteries are said to have a “memory”. This means that this type of rc battery, if it is not fully discharged each time before recharging, may retain some ghost voltage and not allow a full charge.In short, you should fully discharge the rc car battery the first time you use it to ensure the batteries will always fully charge.
If you’re not sure on how to discharge a battery, you’ll need an actual battery discharger. You can learn to build your very own battery discharger here.
Also, as long as you “cycle” the batteries under a controlled condition, you should have no problem. You can purchase battery cyclers from your rc hobby store and they should be a part of this set-up.
NiCads are not as widely used anymore, however, as there are some dangers associated with the fact there is cadmium in the make-up. There are both environmental and health concerns involved with cadmium, so be sure be cautious with your NiCads, and if they start to leak – dispose of them carefully.
NiMH ( Nickel Metal Hydride )
Another popular battery is the NiMH ( Nickel Metal Hydride ) which are similar to the NiCad. They come in the same nominal voltage and size, and the battery packs are also created by soldering them in series. A drawback to this unit, for the most part, is its lifespan.
NiMHs can handle up to a 4 to 5 year run, which is good at a first glance. But, these rc batteries do not have as many charge/discharge usage cycles as its cousin, the NiCad.
Depending on the application, you could see a 50% decrease in usable life, perhaps more. Although not as bad as the NiCad, it is said these too can hold a small amount of memory, so it’s important to fully discharge the rc battery when you first use it and in continued use. A big plus of these rc batteries is that these have a decently long life cycle, good storage characteristics and are environmentally friendly, unlike the NiCads.
Li-Po cells or Lithium Ion cells are the next generation of batteries and are slowly making their way into the RC world. You may notice these same batteries are now available to power some of your cordless tools in the garage. These newcomers are powerful, full of torque, light weight and are sure to make an impact on the rc battery market. HPI Racing and Traxxas RC cars are developing some of the best rc car batteries on the market today.
Lipo Rc Batteries
Li-Po cells are the preferred configuration as these cells are a polymer soaked with gelled electrolyte which makes them into a moldable package and are able to sustain a lot of abuse without causing an explosion or a fire – perfect for RC nitro cars!
The price point for these units are still quite high due to the current manufacturing cost unfortunately, but as they become more mainstream you should see prices come down. One factor with Lithium Ions is that they need to have a matching charging system. You cannot use your old NiCd or NiMH chargers on these as they require a precise measurement and must be used with compatible equipment or serious injury could result. These rc batteries can also be dangerous when overcharged or overheated, so be careful! If properly taken care of and stored at room temperature they should give you between one and two years of life, which isn’t too bad when you also factor in their durability.
Sealed Lead Acid
Finally we have the sealed lead acid rc battery. These can be produced at much lower costs, but come with another price. They are much heavier, and therefore are not super-attractive for the RC hobbyist.
Also, the lead that is used in the construction also presents an environmental concern and need to be cautiously disposed of. Lead acid rc car batteries are found more commonly in golf carts, cars and other people-movers. Field boxes may have these or some form of non-seal lead acid, and care should also be taken when charging and handling. The preferred method of charging is an overnight charge on a trickle charger and should not be used with other “fast chargers”. Some have caps which need to be opened so the battery can vent. All in all, these aren’t the best for those looking to put some power into their Remote control cars without the weight.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Just to be safe, make sure you always check with the manual that came with your battery or check with the manufacturer for the recommended use and handling of batteries before connecting any loads or flicking the switch.
Storage and Safety (Ni-Cd/Ni-Mh)
If you’re racing every other week, you won’t have to worry about any storage – but when race season ends, then it’s time to cool down the RC car until next year. If you have ever opened a battery compartment of some other device only to notice that there is goop leaking all over, you know the importance of battery care. RC models are no different, so be sure to remove all the rc batteries that are used in your setup. This also includes the batteries used in your radio and the receiver. This will be the one time that charging will not be an issue.
No sense charging these before storage as they will soon discharge anyway. It is better to discharge your batteries and store them “dead”. Even a fully discharged pack will retain about a 1v charge throughout the storage. One recommendation is to store them in the fridge, but NOT the freezer. This will prevent failure due to excess temperatures, especially those higher than 74 F (24 C), which makes the insulating part of the battery oxidize and in turn shorts the rc battery out. Batteries that are close to failure will be exposed next season, and batteries that are potentially in poor condition will completely drain and short out. Who wants to find that out the first day back at the rc race track? Sounds tricky, but if you keep them cool, it won’t happen – and you won’t have to worry about it!
If you follow these refrigeration steps, when next season comes around, all you need to do is charge them. And be sure your rc car charger is compatible with your specific type of battery setup. A quick check of the voltage should reveal about 1.0v even after long storage periods before you hook up the charger. If you get a reading of zero volts, then that’s a good indication your battery may fail. Do not try and revive it as it’s not worth the effort.
Cut it out of that pack and replace it, you’ll be glad you did. Once fully charged, you should have a minimum of 80% capacity, and anything less is suspect. So whatever your pick, get that battery going and rev it up!
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