RC Transmitter and Receiver Troubleshooting

DIY Repairs Are Often Effective

RC vehicles communicate through radio signals between the receiver in the RC vehicle and a hand-held transmitter. When an RC won't respond to signals from the transmitter there is often an easy solution. Before declaring the RC defective, try these first seven steps. If it still won't work, you may have to resort to returning the RC or attempting more extensive repairs.

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Check Your On/Off Switches

Turn it on
Turn it on. Photo by J. James

It might seem obvious, but the RC and transmitter must be switched on before they'll work. It can be easy to forget. Check the switches on both the RC itself and on the transmitter.

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Check Your Frequency

A few examples of toy-grade RC frequencies
A few examples of toy-grade RC frequencies. Photo by M. James

Make sure you have the right transmitter at the right frequency for the vehicle. If you purchased a hobby vehicle and transmitter separately, you might not have the same frequency crystal in the vehicle's receiver as you have in the transmitter. Even if you bought a matched set, it's possible that there was a mix-up at the manufacturer and the wrong transmitter was put in the box. You may need to take it back for an exchange.

Toy RCs generally have fixed frequencies and no crystals. The most common 27MHz channel for toys is 27.145MHz but if you are using a toy RC with selectable channels (or bands), be sure both the controller and the vehicle are set to the same channel.

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Check Your Batteries

An RC battery pack
An RC battery pack. Photo by M. James

Put good, fresh batteries in the RC and in the transmitter. Even nitro RCs need a battery pack to run the internal electronics. Make sure it is fully charged. Doublecheck that you installed the batteries correctly, as even one incorrectly inserted battery can cause problems.

If this is an RC you've used previously but it's been sitting unused for a while, check the battery compartment for corrosion. It's always a good idea to remove batteries from an RC or its transmitter when it's going to sit on a shelf or in storage for more than a few days.

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Check Your Antenna

Antennas on RC and transmitter
Antennas on RC and transmitter. Photo by M. James

The signals between the receiver in the RC and the transmitter travel between the antennas. If you have a telescoping antenna on your transmitter, make sure it is fully extended. Make sure the receiver antenna on your RC is properly installed, not twisted or broken, not touching metal parts inside the RC, and not dragging on the ground.

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Try Your Transmitter With Another RC

Assortment of RCs
Assortment of RCs. Photo by M.James

If you have another RC of the same frequency as your transmitter, try using the transmitter with that RC to see if the problem is in your RC itself or in the transmitter. If it works, the problem may be in the original RCs receiver. In the case of toy-grade RCs, most 27MHz transmitters use the yellow 27.145MHz band so chances are that one toy transmitter will work as well as another.

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Try Your RC With Another Transmitter

Assortment of transmitters
Assortment of transmitters. Photo by M. James

If you have another transmitter of the same frequency as your RC, try using it with your RC to see if the problem is in your RC or in the original transmitter. If it works, the problem is probably in your original transmitter.

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Check Your Servos

Servo in an RC
One type of servo mechanism in an RC. Photo by M. James

The problem might not be in the radio system at all; it could be that one or more of your servos have stopped working. One sign that the problem is in your servos is if the RC responds only to some commands from the transmitter but not others—for example, the wheels will turn but the vehicle won't move forward. Try unplugging your servos from the receiver and plugging them into a receiver that you know is working (be sure to match the frequency of the receiver and transmitter). If the RC still doesn't respond then your servos, not the receiver or transmitter, may need repair or replacement.

In the case of toy-grade RCs, you may have to desolder and solder wires from the servo to the circuit board. This is a somewhat complex job; consider hiring an expert if you're not familiar with soldering.

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Return Your RC.

Put it back in the box
Put it back in the box. Photo by M. James

If the RC doesn't work right out of the box and you've checked the frequency, batteries, and antenna then pack it up and return it. It's possible that there was a problem during manufacturing or it was damaged during shipping.

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Repair Your RC

Take it apart and fix it
Take it apart and fix it. Photo by M. James

If returning the RC isn't an option you can try more extensive repairs and troubleshooting. Only attempt these repairs with the understanding that it will cost more money and you still might not be able to fix what is wrong.

With the higher cost of hobby-grade RCs, it may be worthwhile to track down and fix the problem. With toy-grade RCs, the cost of repairs may be a lot more than the value of the RC. While the process of troubleshooting and repairing any RC can provide valuable knowledge and experience, the time and expense involved is significant.