We’ve ranted and raved on just about every page in every magazine that 4WDing is about the experiences rather than what you’re actually doing. It’s this reason we’re massive fans of the new breed of remote control rock crawlers from companies like Axial Racing. They might be scaled down from a full-size 4WD, but the fun is just as big. They’re the perfect camping companion for extended stays in the one spot, are great for getting the kids excited about off-roading, and can provide a serious 4WD fix between trips without leaving the backyard.
We’re such big fans we decided to lay our own cash on the line with a couple of Axial’s joining the Red Dirt stable so we could learn the ins and outs to bring you the beginners guide to everything 1:10. We’re running through what they are, what you can do with them, where to wheel them and what you need to spend to get out on the rocks.
WHAT ARE THEY
We all remember the cheap RC cars we’d get from well-meaning relatives when we were younger. They were expensive, took forever to recharge, generally had absolutely no suspension travel at all, and were useless as soon as you took them onto grass. Kinda frustrating when they looked like monster trucks and had huge tyres covered in fake mud. So what is it that makes the new breed stand head and shoulder above the stuff we used to play with as kids? Well, they’re essentially real 4WDs, just significantly smaller.
They’ve got solid axles front and rear and a ladder chassis, meaning they have suspension that will actually work off-road and not flop at the first sign of a pebble. They’re also fitted with seriously soft sticky tyres, providing huge amounts of grip. With the right battery they can run for up to an hour as well. Although they try to stick to scale as much as possible the end result is a scaled down version of a 4WD fitted with 40” tyres and 500hp with torque available right off the line. Starting to see why these things just flat out work?
WHAT DO I NEED TO SPEND?
Crunch time. RC Crawlers aren’t cheap, you’re not going to find them in the bargain bin at Kmart. But they’re not cheaply built either, and as they’re upgradable you can keep them up and running for years to come. With an old RC car if the motor conks out it’s generally time to bin it, with the new generation if the motor dies you’re up for less than $50 to fit an upgraded unit and get you back into the rocks.
For a beginner’s setup you’re looking at roughly $500 to get you going. Around the price of a cheap Chinese winch, but a whole lot more fun. If you’re looking to start upgrading, or get into the comp scene you can expect to spend north of $1,000 easily. Hey, nothing in life is free.
KIT v RTR
There’s two different kind of people who generally pick up these crawlers. The tinkerers and the drivers. For those who just want to get one and drive it the RTR (ready to race) options are perfect. Pick the box up, decided what battery and charger you want then hit the rocks.
For those who like to tinker or upgrade, a kit is a solid starting point. They’re generally a fair chunk cheaper than an RTR and are basically a box of parts with no electronics. It allows you to build the car up exactly the way you want with a considerable saving if you were planning on upgrading components anyway. It’s worth looking into exactly what comes in each, some kits come with upgraded components right out of the box, while some RTRs come with trick gear like L.E.D. headlights that you won’t get in a kit.
In years gone by the only real upgrades you could make to an RC car was a slap of paint on the outside for the home builder, or if you really knew what you were doing you could jerry rig a more impressive electrical setup under the body. These days, with their construction being much closer to a traditional 4WD with a ladder chassis, transfer case, solid axles, and link suspensions, the upgrade options are almost unlimited.
Straight out of the box most users will upgrade the plastic suspension and steering components to aluminium replacements for a significant strength upgrade. From here there are upgraded motors, larger batteries, stronger diff and transfer case gears, as well as larger wheel and tyre packages. Some owners have even installed or built custom bodies with 6x6 drivetrains. The best part is the upgrades are generally ridiculously cheap. Think less than $80 for a replacement set of aluminium bodied Icon coil overs.
While the comp scene undoubtedly pushes the boundaries of what RC Crawlers are capable of it’s the scale side of things that has seen an explosion in popularity. After all, who wouldn’t want to be able to build up a miniature version of their 4WDs to take rock crawling, just with 40in Nittos, coil over suspension and twin lockers. All for a fraction of the price of even a set of driving lights.
The scale scene has been dominated by the aftermarket with just about every tyre, lighting, or bar work company getting involved with officially licensed gear. But it’s the DIY guys who are really doing impressive work, installing and building gear you sometimes just can’t buy like scale sized hi-lift jacks, canoes and roof top tents for the roof and working driving lights. We’ve even seen crawlers fitted with scale sized camping gear strapped to the back.
If you’re keen to push your crawler and yourself to the next level Australia has a rapidly expanding competition scene for just about every category you can imagine. Jump online and get in touch with the guys and girls from Crawl Australia New Zealand (cANZ) who run regular competitions as well as social runs.
Depending on what style of crawler you’re interested in running there are a variety of classes you can enter. From the Scale end where you’re rewarded points the more stock it is right up to the high-end motor on axle (MOA) setups.