What are the Different Ways to Start a Nitro Engine?

A nitro engine

 Chris Phutully/Flickr/CC By 2.0

To start a nitro RC, you need to turn on the transmitter switch then receiver switch, add fuel, prime the engine (get fuel to the carburetor), ignite the glow plug, then start the engine by rotating the flywheel using one of three methods.

The three main ways to start the nitro engine: pull start, bump start, electric start.

Pull Start

Much like the pull start mechanism on a lawnmower, a pull cord is attached to the nitro engine, and you pull the T-handle attached to the starter cord assembly to spin the flywheel and start the engine.

Also called a recoil starter, the pull start mechanism causes the engine to sit slightly higher, affecting the center of gravity—a possible concern in RC racing.

Tamiya provides several MPEG movies that show how to use a recoil starter.

Bump Start (Starter Box)

RCs without a pull start system have an opening in the chassis that provides access to the flywheel. The RC is placed on top of a starter box that has an electric-powered spinning rubber disk sticking out of it that makes contact with the vehicle's flywheel and rotates it to start the engine. This is known as a bump start system because the flywheel is bumped against the disk in the starter box to get the engine started.

There may be a slight weight advantage (lighter) for a non-pull start engine because it doesn't have the extra weight of the pull start mechanism. However, with the non-pull start engine, you'll need to carry around the starter box and have access to a power source for the box.

Electric Start

  • Shaft starter. In place of the pull start mechanism, a shaft starter electric start RC has a special gearbox into which a shaft on the end of a small handheld electric motor (much like a cordless drill or rotary tool) is inserted. With the push of a button, it spins the engine to get it started. Some nitro RCs come equipped with an electric start system while other RC models can be retrofitted with one. The Losi Spin Start Handheld Starter and the HPI Roto Start Electric Start System are examples of this shaft starter type of electric starter.
  • Onboard starter. An onboard style of an electric starter, such as the Traxxas EZ-Start, places the small motor for the electric start system on the RC then uses a battery-powered handheld tool to power it and to ignite the glow plug at the same time automatically.

Some nitro models with an electric start system may also be configured to work with a starter box to provide an alternate starting method. When using the alternate bump start, the automatic glow plug igniter (if equipped) can't be used so you'll also need a glow starter.

As with the bump start method, having a non-pull start engine means carrying extra equipment—the electric starter as well as its batteries and charger. The onboard components of an electric start system also add a little bit of extra weight—a concern primarily in serious RC racing.

Traxxas provides several Engine FAQs that cover their EZ-Start system including how to install the EZ-Start system and which engines will support it.