Winter can be a pretty troublesome time for RC vehicles. Cold and wet are not their favourite conditions, as careless owners have often found out to their dismay when problems arise or damage is caused by the winter weather. But you can easily avoid the pitfalls of winter operating with some simple advice that will keep your vehicle happy and healthy – whatever the season! Read on for solutions that will keep you and your vehicle at the top of your game, even in the face of winter adversity.
The first main difficulty for RC vehicles in this tricky season is the damp – or actively wet – conditions, which can cause rusting and even serious damage to sensitive electronic parts. Mud, snow and rain are serious dangers, but even foggy days can be on the unhealthy side for your beloved vehicle. Getting your hands on a moisture-inhibiting spray such as WD-40 will give you peace of mind on those borderline days, especially if your vehicle is being returned to a mildly damp garage at the end of it. Owners of models with non-waterproof electronic parts should definitely invest in this, but such products are useful rust-preventors for all RC models.
If you’ve got more than just damp to worry about – for example a muddy or puddle-ridden track – then you really need to check out the waterproof status of your vehicle. Battery-powered vehicles are actually the most likely to be safe for running in these conditions; most hobby-grade vehicles are waterproofed so that mud and snow will not leak into the servos, electronic speed control, receiver etc. It is, however, absolutely essential that this is the case if you are going to be exposing your vehicle to that kind of moisture. Any water leaking into the ESC or similar will cause these sensitive circuits to short out in no time, leaving you with a hefty repairs bill.
Nitro and gas-powered models have a little bit more to worry about in terms of rust; many of the crucial engine and drivetrain parts will not react well to prolonged moisture exposure. So, owners of these vehicles, if you run them in properly wet conditions then you’ll want to pay extra attention to how you clean them and store them afterwards (although any vehicle type needs a good clean and dry after a winter run).
And if you don’t have waterproofed electronics? (Nitro users should check the receiver batteries too.) Well, in that case, you need to proceed with caution. DIY waterproofing can be done using balloons, freezer bags and the like, but you’ll need to really trust your handiwork! Take care and, as always, never run your vehicle in water, mud or snow that is too deep.
What if the cold is your biggest problem instead? Yep, simple cold temperatures can be a hazard for RC vehicles, namely by causing any plastic (and sometimes even metal) parts to become more brittle and therefore more likely to fracture or break. Running your vehicle over a tough track or performing high-impact stunts in temperatures below 8 degrees Celsius is a big no-no. The cold can also cause nitro fuel to thicken up in extreme cases, becoming gel-like in a way that is damaging to the engine; in fact, nitro vehicle specialists Traxxas don’t recommend running a nitro model at all in temperatures of 2-3 degrees Celsius or less. Killjoys? Maybe, but it’s for your car’s own good!
But less extreme cold can still cause problems for nitro or gas-powered vehicles. Getting the engine to start is trickier when it’s colder and you may find that you have to take your nitro or gas vehicle inside to warm it up before you will be able to get the engine to start (just remember to remove the fuel first). This can also help the batteries that power the receiver to function properly. Once heated to room temperature, however, the vehicle should be willing to start. If not, it isn’t the cold that’s wrong with it!
The final issue – again for nitro and gas-powered models – is to do with breaking in a new vehicle. As any experienced liquid fuel fan will be able to tell you, the break-in of a nitro or gas model is crucial for its performance throughout its lifespan and is something that you don’t want to get wrong. Unfortunately, the cold can cause problems for this process, preventing the engine’s piston and sleeve from expanding properly and finding their optimum fit. This can lead to excessive wear as well as reduced vehicle performance, and users may need the components replaced far sooner than would otherwise be the case. The proper temperature for a good engine break in is 90-1005 degrees Celsius, and anyone considering breaking in a vehicle in cold conditions should be using a temperature probe to monitor this carefully. Inexperienced players will want to avoid attempting this altogether.
If you’re absolutely desperate to get going in freezing conditions, there are a couple of things you can do to raise the engine temperature to that 200 degree mark. You can, for example, wrap a paper towel or rag around the cooling head to inhibit the cooling fins, and adjust the amount of coverage to regulate the temperature. Some people also find that using an uncut body on the model is a good way of insulating the engine by reducing the airflow over it. The one thing that you absolutely must not do, however, is lean out the engine tuning to achieve a hotter running temperature. You need the lubrication that the richer mix provides to prevent engine damage, so just don’t do it!
If you stick to all of this advice, you shouldn’t have too many worries keeping your RC vehicle healthy over the winter. As always, just be sensible, use your judgement, get out there and have some fun!