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Proper RC Engine Break-in Tips

Article by Kenny McCormick

You've just bought a brand new rc engine. Or, perhaps an entire brand new rc car. It's never been run, and you can't wait to rip the cord and carve some donuts. However, before you can commence with the fun, you need to first break your engine in properly. Glow engines are finely machined marvels of engineering with tight tolerances, and as such, they need to be treated right in the first couple of hours if they're going to last. This treatment is called break-in. Of course, if you ask 90 RCers how to break an engine in, you'll get 110 answers. Some will say to let it idle for a few tanks, some say just fuel and go, others say alternate lean and rich. Even the engine manufacturers can't agree on what's best, some advising idling while some advising a more fire-and-forget approach. The method most can agree on, however, is called a heat cycle break in.

The Prep

First things first, you will need some tools. You will, of course, need the rc car, fuel, radio (transmitter), glow ignitor, four way hobby wrench, and a 500cc pit bottle. You'll end up burning about a quart of fuel through this process, so if you bought a quart jug and have a 250cc pit bottle, just screw the nozzle from your pit bottle directly onto the fuel jug and you're good to go. You will also need a small common screwdriver, whatever allen keys you require to adjust your linkages, and some method to keep tabs on engine temperature. A non-contact thermometer works well for exact numbers, but if you're on a budget or yours isn't working you can get away with an eye-dropper full of plain tap water. A syringe full of tap water will also work, but be sure to remove the needle first and thoroughly clean the inside out, for safety's sake. Lastly, you will need a spare glow plug, I recommend an OS 8 or McCoy MC59, but your engine may have differing preferences.

The fuel you use should be the one you plan on running after break-in, you do not need specialist fuels specifically for this. The fuel should be suitable for the engine, you don't want to be running 40% nitro boat fuel on a sport engine, for example. I recommend 20% nitro and 15% oil for most people. The last tool I recommend is a piece of 4x4 wood two feet long. Place the chassis on this piece of wood so the wheels aren't on the ground. If you have a monster truck you will need a bigger block, but for most RCs a 4x4 two feet long is sufficient. If you're using a starter box, some RTR 1/8 buggies and truggies come with these, you may omit the board, as the starter box will serve double duty.

The environment is also important. I advise breaking engines in when the ambient temp is around 65 degrees, but it can be done in any temperature. I've found the engines are the most cooperative when faced with room temperature, however. It needs to be bright enough out that you can clearly see what you're doing, although it doesn't necessarily need to be dry. I do advise against breaking in an engine while it is raining. The location should be a large, flat area with little rolling resistance. Ideally, you'll have a parking lot, outdoor tennis/basketball court, or something similar, but if you must do so on an off-road surface, a baseball diamond will work. There should not be any sandy dirt, mud, or grass present, as these surfaces will be hard on the engine.

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The process will take about an hour and a half or so. Before you do anything, read the manual and find the default carb settings. Adjust the linkages as well, the manual will cover their baseline adjustment. Also, ensure you have the air filter oiled if necessary, fill your pit bottle with the fuel you'll be using, and get everything set up. The manual should cover getting the engine started as well. Just remember, if it's a pull start engine, don't pull it if it's flooded and don't pull it too far. Use your wrist, not your biceps, when cranking the engine, and you'll never pull it too far.

The Nitty Gritty

The engine should now be running! Happy days! The engine, however, is not going to run very well. Right now it's doing everything it can to stop running, and will likely stall frequently. This is because the fail-safe settings you got from the owner's manual are EXTREMELY rich. Some engines, my OS being one of them, flat out refuse to run for more than 15-20 seconds at this setting. To facilitate breaking it in, lean the high-speed needle 1/8 of a turn until it will stay running on it's own, doesn't die the moment you think about touching the throttle, and doesn't have the glow ignitor attached. It's still extremely rich at this point, however, and it should be that way to ensure ample lubrication. So do not lean the high-speed needle any further than it takes to get it to run on it's own.

As soon as it's running, put the car on the ground and start driving in figure eights. Use no more than 1/4 throttle and 1/4 brakes, and when you're on the throttle count to five before lifting off. Brake down to about walking speed for the turns. After about two circuits, bring the car back in, leave it running, and check the engine temp. If you are using a thermometer the engine temps to be around 200-220 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're using the water drop method it should sizzle for three to five seconds if dropped directly onto the glow plug. If the engine isn't warm enough, wrap some of the fins on the cylinder head and/or attach the body, but do take care that it doesn't get too hot. Too hot during break-in is about 250 degrees Fahrenheit or less than three seconds to boil the water off, depending on your method of choice. Do NOT lean the engine further to get temperatures up, you want it as rich as it will tolerate at the moment.