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What Are The Differences Between RC Batteries?

Article by Hunter Wick

Ten years ago, nitro was all the rage. Now some hobbyists will still tell you that nitro is where it's at, but in all reality there has been a huge move to go electric in the RC world over the past couple of years. This is due mainly to the advancement of battery technology and chemistry as well as the use of much more powerful brushless motors.

All this advancement in battery technology is great for those who know how to take advantage of it, but for those who do not it can just add up to one big headache. We will go through each of the four main types of batteries available to RC hobbyists in this article.

So, let's start with the basics. What types of batteries are available on the radio controlled market? Well, there are a lot, but the most commonly used types can be counted on one hand. These include LiPo, NiMH, NiCd, and LiFe. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages, but all provide your RC vehicle with the power it needs to race.

LiPo Batteries

lipo batteryWhat is a LiPo battery? They may also be called Lipoly batteries, or by their full name, lithium polymer batteries. Don't let all these different names confuse you; they all describe the same type of battery. LiPo batteries are the most recent innovation in battery technology, and provide the best performance of any of the battery chemistries. But every battery chemistry has its own advantages and disadvantages and LiPo is no exception. Lipos have a reputation for blowing up, or burning people's houses down. While some of these internet stories may be slightly exaggerated, lipos are no joke. They can start a dangerous chemical-fueled fire, possibly hurting someone, not to mention the damage to property. However, if properly used, the chance of this happening is very minimal. To prevent any kind of catastrophe from occurring, always be sure to follow manufacturer's instructions when using LiPo batteries. The other negative to LiPo batteries is that they are generally more expensive than batteries that utilize older technology. Regardless, the power they can provide can be astonishing, so it is well worth the extra cash and risk in the end. LiPo batteries can store a lot of power and have a high discharge capability, so racing with them can be very advantageous when compared to other battery types. Read our full LiPo battery article here.

NiMH Batteries

nimh batteryThe second type of rechargeable battery we are going to discuss is the NiMH, which is still the most common type used in RC. NiMH (or nickel-metal hydride) is the most commonly used battery by beginner hobbyists because of its relatively low danger level and lower price point. Most RTR (ready-to-run) RC vehicles that come with batteries are equipped with NiMHs. Up until a few years ago, these were the most powerful type of battery available. For beginners NiMH can be a much safer alternative and still provide plenty of punch to satisfy the most power-demanding brushless systems. Generally, NiMHs are cheaper than other battery chemistries, making them perfect for the casual weekend hobbyist. Really the only downside to using NiMH, is their voltage drop. As the battery continues to drain, the voltage will steadily drop, unlike lithium batteries. I advise any serious hobbyist who feels responsible enough to use LiPo batteries over NiMH simply because the power you get from LiPos is more consistent and predictable. Young RCers who are just getting into the hobby can also benefit from NiMH batteries over LiPo because NiMH carries less risk and is a safer battery type.

NiCd Batteries

nicd batteryThe third type of major battery chemistry is NiCd (or nickel-cadmium battery). These are the old-school type of batteries, rarely used in today's RC hobby. While there are still a couple of grey-haired guys running these batteries, there are really no advantages to running these types of packs. Being that they are nickel batteries like NiMH, they have very similar tendencies to that of NiMH. However, they do not perform quite as well, really giving no reason to buy NiCd batteries nowadays. My advice is to stay away from these batteries and just go with NiMH if LiPo is out of the question.

LiFe Batteries

The last major battery chemistry out there currently is LiFe (or lithium iron phosphate), which is the newest type of battery commonly used in RC. Really, LiFe batteries have all the advantages of LiPo batteries, but all the safety of NiMH battery packs. Like LiPos, they can provide astonishing power, but also will not blow up, or catch on fire like LiPos can. This attracts many hobbyists out there who want plenty of power and runtime, but do not feel comfortable with using LiPos. The only disadvantages to these packs are their price point and their odd cell voltages. Generally, LiFe batteries are much more expensive than any of the other chemistries. Their nominal cell voltage is 3.3v, in-between that of NiMH and NiCd (1.2v) and LiPo (3.7v), making LiFe batteries sometimes hard to use.

By using the information provided in this article, hopefully you will be able to pick the battery chemistry that suits your needs best. Now you should be able to choose the right battery and take full advantage of the power your electric system can put out, which can be quite amazing!

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