Gas VS Nitro RC Cars

Gas VS Nitro RC Cars

Thinking about which you should buy? Gas vs Nitro RC Cars, but you’re not sure which one is the best? This can be a difficult thing to figure out. For those who are new to gas powered RC cars and trucks, knowing what to look for may be the first thing to you should figure out.

There are many things to consider such as the added complexity, cost, and weight of an ignition system. Generally, when your RC vehicle is around 10 lbs or larger it becomes more economical to use a gasoline engine due to the cost of fuel.

Deciding between which type of engine to use can be a daunting task. Let’s talk about some of the components that RC gas engines have that make them different from Nitro or glow engines.

Gas Ignition System

Gas engines use spark plugs whereas nitro engines use glow plugs to ignite the fuel/air mixture. For this reason, RC gas engines require onboard ignition systems which provide electricity to the spark plug at precisely the correct time.

This added weight and complexity to your RC vehicle need to be taken into consideration. There are two types of electronic ignition systems used with gas engines.

  • Magnetos

RC Gas Engine Ignition Magneto

A magneto uses magnets attached to the rotating crankshaft to create electrical pulses for the spark plug at precisely the right time. This eliminates the need for an onboard battery.

Your weed-wacker and push mower use a magneto to fire the spark plug. Magnetos are very reliable but also add weight to the engine.

Since the magneto doesn’t produce electric for the spark plug unless the engine is turning, an engine with a magneto ignition system must be started with an electric starter just as a nitro engine does.  

  • Electronic Ignition

RC Gas Engine Electronic Ignition

Most RC gas engines available today use an electronic ignition system. This system uses a separate battery to provide electricity to the spark plug. This allows the engine to be hand started.

The timing of the spark is critical for maximizing the power from the engine. As the speed of the engine changes, the precise time that the spark plug should fire for optimal performance changes. An electronic ignition system accounts for this and adjusts the timing depending on the engine’s RPM’s.

Gasoline vs Glow Fuel

RC Nitro Fuel

It takes a slightly larger gas engine to produce the same amount of power as a nitro powered engine. This is because the methanol/air mixture produces more energy than gasoline/air mixture during combustion. So you’re adding more weight to your vehicle for the same amount of power.

However, a gas engine only consumes about half as much fuel as a nitro powered engine. Nitro fuel costs roughly three times more per gallon than gasoline and you get only half the run time. So you can see why most large scale vehicles are gas powered instead of nitro!

Fuel System

RC Gas Engine Fuel Pump

RC gas engines have built-in fuel pumps. With having a built-in fuel pump it is not necessary to have a vent line connected to the exhaust, like what is required for a nitro engine. With an RC gas engine, you have the freedom to move the fuel tank anywhere you want within the fuselage.

Gas Engines Need Cool Air

A nitro engine utilizes methane in the fuel as a coolant. When the fuel is pulled into the carburetor, the methanol vaporizes. It requires a significant amount of energy to vaporize the methanol.

This energy comes from pulling heat from the engine. This is why gasoline engines require more air across the cooling fins than nitro engines.

If you go with a gasoline engine you’re probably going to have to add more holes in the cowling for cooling the engine than you would have to with a glow engine.

Pros and Cons of Gasoline Engines

RC Gas Engine


  • Cheaper to buy fuel for RC gas engines than it is for glow engines.
  • Gas engines don’t slime your vehicle with an oily mess.
  • Gass engines are easier to tune, and there are no glow plugs to deal with.
  • Gas engines are generally more reliable than nitro engines.
  • Gas engines have built-in fuel pumps.


  • Gas powered RC vehicles are more prone to radio interference.
  • Lower power-to-weight ratio than nitro engines.
  • Two batteries are needed for the vehicle. One battery for the electronic ignition and one for the receiver.
  • RC gas engines require more cooling than nitro engines.

Final Thought

Gasoline is better than nitro because gas engines hold tunes more consistently and the needle changes are usually really minor, also Gasoline is cheaper and Gas engines are more efficient, consuming half that of nitro. The downside to gas engines is that they are super expensive initially, They are heavier than nitro engines, and that they only come in larger scale cars.

2 thoughts on “Gas VS Nitro RC Cars

  1. Even though I run electric cars and have not ran a gasoline RC yet. I have run nitro and I know they can be a real chore to keep running. I believe that gasoline is the way to go.


    1. Mark,
      I agree, gasoline powered RCs are the right choice. The gas engines run longer than nitro on a single tank of gas. You can spend more time running and less time tuning your RC engine. They will hold there tune as well once they are set, nitros need more constant tuning.


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