Tips for Repairing Radio Controlled Toys

man checking RC toy airplane
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Toy-grade RCs are generally not as durable or long-lasting as hobby-grade models. Toy stores don't usually offer repair services and parts are hard to come by as well. So, what can you do when a sentimental favorite toy RC goes on the fritz? Here are the steps you should take.

First, Is It Really Broken?

Always check the obvious first:

  • Fresh batteries?
  • Batteries installed correctly?
  • Both RC and transmitter turned on?
  • Antenna fully extended?
  • If the toy has a channel selection option, is both the vehicle and the transmitter set to the same channel?
  • Correct transmitter? If you have more than one toy with the same transmitter, make sure you're using the right one. A 27MHz transmitter will not worth on a 49MHz vehicle.

Still not working properly, then you may need to do some deeper searches for the problem.

Contact the Toy RC Manufacturer

If replacing the RC is out of the question you can first try contacting the manufacturer for replacement or repair. For new vehicles, they may offer replacement parts for items that are known to break or wear out easily. For most toy RCs it's unlikely that you'll find an extensive catalog of replacement parts and they probably won't be available more than a year or so after the RC was manufactured.

If you are buying a new RC and there are special batteries, replacement parts, or upgrades available it's a good idea to pick some up right then. This is especially important with toys because unlike hobby-grade RCs, there usually aren't a lot of extras available and when they are, it's for a limited time.

Troubleshoot Your Electrical Connections

You may be able to inspect some connections without completely opening up the RC. If any wires have come loose on the internal circuit board, then you're going to have to get inside and probably do a little soldering. Once you have access to the circuit board, trace all the wires from your servo, motor, and battery back to their connections on the board looking for breaks, disconnections, or exposed wires that may have short-circuited.

Troubleshoot Your Motor and Drivetrain

You may be able to replace a bad motor (or reconnect connections that have broken), realign gears, or replace stripped gears. But to know if that's what's needed you'll have to get to the motor and gears which, on toy RCs, may require opening it up almost completely.

Repair a Toy RC With Parts From Another RC

You can replace some parts with a similar piece from another RC. Search your toy box for old RCs. Look online on eBay or Craigslist for the same or similar RCs that you could salvage parts from.

The RC guys at hobby stores don't usually tackle repairs on toy RCs, but you can always ask. Or find a friend or family member who knows their way around small electronics.

Generally, toy RCs are not designed to be worked on by the consumer. Getting to the internal parts such as motor, drivetrain, steering, and circuit boards can be difficult. But if you know what you're doing and have patience, it is possible to get inside and change out a dead motor or servo or replace stripped gears or re-solder broken connections on the circuit board.

Replace a Lost Transmitter

Check the frequency of your RC (usually 27MHz or 49MHz in the U.S. and typically printed on the bottom) and buy another similar toy RC car or truck at your local discount toy store. Its controller will usually work with other toys that use the same frequency but no guarantees. Or check your own RC collection for another transmitter of the same frequency.

While there are up to 6 channels within both the 27MHz and 49MHz frequency ranges, most toys use just one of those channels. For 27MHz toys, it is usually the 27.145MHz, Channel 4. For 49MHz, 49.36MHz Channel 3 is a common one. However, the manufacturer rarely specifies specific channels (about the only way to be sure is to find the crystal on the circuit board inside the transmitter).

Replace Missing Tires on a Toy RC

On RC toys the tires usually push or snap on. Pull same size tires off a salvage RC and try pushing them on to your RC. Front tires may be a little harder to remove than back tires. On some toys, the tires are glued on while others may be bolted or screwed on. With front tires, you might have to find a way to attach the steering arm to the replacement tire.

Repair a Toy RC With Broken Steering

If the RC wobbles or won't turn properly you may have broken a steering arm. Look under and inside for a long strip of plastic (like the tie rods on a real car) near the front wheels. It might be a metal wire.

If the steering rod is broken or has become detached from the servo, you may be able to see and fix that without completely opening up the RC. It just depends on how it's put together and how much access you have without taking things apart. You may be able to fix a broken steering rod with glue, wire, or another piece of plastic.

Fix Body Damage on a Toy RC

Super glue and a little paint will do wonders. In fact, broken plastic internal parts can sometimes be fixed with a drop of glue. And if the damage is purely cosmetic, covering up with paint or decals can give an old RC new life.

For a complete overhaul, remove the body. Scrub it down. Remove any decals. Give it a whole new paint job.

Overhaul a Toy RC With Hobby Parts

When the internal components are beyond salvaging but the body is still looking good you could replace the inner workings. This option would probably cost a lot more than the toy RC is worth but if you want to do it, get yourself a new hobby-grade transmitter. It comes with servos, receiver, and other needed parts. Also, purchase an electronic speed control.

If you have no idea what to do with all these parts, you're probably better off buying an entirely new RC.