At a Hobby Shop or Online, Stretch Your Budget by Buying Used


At a hobby shop or online, stretch your budget by buying used.


The staff at your favorite local hobby shop would probably be the first to admit that buying, maintaining, and upgrading remote control cars and trucks can put a bit of stress on the wallet. When you get your first RC car, for example, you also need at least a few other accessories before you can make it go — such as a radio, batteries, or charger. Then you discover it’s so much fun that you want to get deeper and deeper into the hobby. Before long, you’re heading to the hobby shop every weekend to look for upgrade parts and more powerful motors and batteries. Those, too, don’t come cheap.

As most RC hobby enthusiasts gain experience, they really don’t want to be seen running anything that even slightly resembles those low-cost, department store RC toys meant for children. They want big, sturdy RC racers and bashers made for grownups! They want their RCs to be decked out from bumper to bumper with high-tech upgrades and enhancements. That’s the kind of remote control car you can take to the track with pride.

Not everyone has the means to purchase an RC car like that straight off of a hobby shop shelf. But there’s an alternative. Even if you can’t afford a new, tricked out RC racer, you might be able to “upcycle” the RC car you already own into the one that you really want. To begin, ask your hobby shop if it sells inexpensive, previously owned parts.

How can a hobby shop help me upcycle?

It’s very common for perfectly good used RC cars, used RC car parts, and used RC car accessories to wind up in a sale bin at a hobby shop. You’ll also often find them listed for auction on eBay, Craig’s List, and similar internet sites.

RC car enthusiasts might part with their hobby equipment for reasons that have nothing at all to do with how well it works. Sometimes they just want to have more room available to store the new RC products they plan to buy. Or they need to downsize their RC car collection to accommodate a move. They may have shifted their interests to a different RC category, or simply aren’t as enthralled by a particular RC car as they expected to be, even though it runs just fine. In any of these situations, their local hobby shop is often happy to buy the used items from them for resale.

No experienced RC driver will look down on you for buying used hobby equipment. They know better than anyone else how much effort and expense goes into boosting the capabilities of an RC car. In fact, creating “upcycled” builds — in other words, improving your RC car’s performance by installing parts taken from retired vehicles — isn’t just a good way to save money. It demonstrates your skill as a builder and technician, something every hobbyist will admire.

Here are a few things to consider as you shop for used RC car parts at a hobby shop or online. With a little caution and patience, you can upgrade to improved performance at a lower cost than you might expect. What’s more, you’ll help to reduce the amount of discarded RC gear that ends up in the waste stream.

Digging deeper into the hobby shop used parts bin.

Not everything you’ll find for sale in the hobby shop “used” bins has been donated by or purchased from customers. You may have wondered, for example, what happens to the demonstration and display models that a hobby shop uses to advertise a manufacturer’s latest release. They can’t be sold as new, so the hobby shop will offer them at a discount — just like full-size auto dealers do with their floor models.

Ordinarily, used merchandise that the hobby shop plans to sell is first cleaned up and serviced to make sure it’s still in good working order. Any RC cars that are beyond repair will be broken down so that the salvageable parts can be sold individually. Used part bins are sometimes the answer when you need a single part for a repair or upgrade but the car manufacturer has never offered it separately. Any reputable hobby shop will be careful not to buy stolen merchandise or used RC cars that have been so thoroughly bashed, they can’t even provide any functional parts.

Don’t worry too much about getting a bad deal buying used. The RC car lovers and hobby shops that sell used equipment are usually tickled to see bits and pieces of their junked cars enjoy a second life on the track in another hobbyist’s upcycled build.

What to look out for when buying used RC parts.

Risk-wise, buying used RC merchandise from a hobby shop or online is not much different from buying a used car from a private owner or dealership. It’s ultimately an “as is” transaction with no guarantees. If you’re not already familiar with the seller and want to proceed on more than faith, read their reviews on ratings sites and listen to the advice of other customers.

Of course, inspect used RC vehicles and parts closely before you buy. Look for signs of water damage. The screws on any RC model will begin to rust within the first couple of runs, so also pay attention to other areas, such as the turnbuckles. If there’s rust there, chances are the vehicle has been driven through water and mud repeatedly without being cleaned afterwards. If so, the bearings are probably shot. When examining plastic parts, look for any scrapes or cracks that might indicate abuse.

If you’re collecting used parts with a specific rebuild project in mind, make sure you can get everything you’ll need. Confirm that your local hobby shop stocks new parts that will let you complete the project if you’re unable to find them all from used sources.

Also make sure you don’t wind up paying for more than you really want. Used RC cars and parts are sometimes sold in packages that contain items you aren’t going to use. Naturally, the price includes all those extra goodies. But do you need that old battery charger that they’re “throwing in” for only $50? How about the used radio system? If you already have one (or more), then why would you pay for another one? Don’t pay for extra fluff. Only pay what you’re willing to spend for the parts you want, and if the price can’t be negotiated, then accept that buying used in this case won’t help you save.

Shop smart, be patient, and have fun creating your upcycled build!

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