Can I Use the Same Gas in My RC Car as I Use in My Regular Car?

Off-road vehicle leaving a cloud of dust
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If you’re just getting into flying non-electric radio-controlled (RC) vehicles, you might wonder if you can use the same gasoline you use in your regular automobile to power your mini car.

The answer? It depends.

Types of non-Electric RC Vehicles

The most common non-electric radio-controlled vehicles have what’s called glow or nitro engines. The word “glow” refers to the special type of plug that ignites a nitro engine. There are also some RCs that use gas-powered engines with a spark plug, which operate much like regular gas-powered automobiles. These two non-electric RCs do not use the same kind of fuel.

Does it Glow? Use Nitro

Before you fuel up, you need to know what kind of engine your RC vehicle has. If you bought a vehicle from a hobby shop that is a 1:8, 1:10, 1:12, or 1:18 scale model, there’s a good chance that it has a glow engine that uses nitro fuel, not gasoline. Even if, as is often the case, it is referred to as a “gas” RC, it likely is not. If in doubt, refer to the manufacturer's instructions or talk to your local hobby shop personnel or local RC club members.

Not All Nitro Fuel is the Same

Nitro fuel is made of methanol, nitromethane, and oil, and it is readily available by the can or bottle in hobby shops. But the percentage of nitromethane in the fuel will differ, from between about 10 percent to 40 percent (20 percent is typical), depending on the type of vehicle you have. Check the manual that came with your purchase to see what percentage the manufacturer recommends.

Castor oil or synthetic oil is added to the fuel to provide lubrication and cooling. The type and amount of oil in the nitro fuel is what determines whether it is better suited to RC cars and trucks or RC aircraft.

No Glow? Use Gas

True gas-powered RCs are usually 1:5 in scale or larger, have spark plugs instead of glow plugs, and run on gasoline mixed with motor oil, just like a regular automobile. You can also buy RC vehicles that are diesel-powered or ones that feature high-end jet-turbine engines. These are specialty radio-controlled models, often built from scratch, and not the kind most often sold in hobby shops. If you have a true gas-powered RC you probably have been in the RC hobby for a while and know what kind of fuel to use.