Electric and nitro engines both have advantages and disadvantages. Deciding which power system to run is a personal preference, although electric motors are generally recommended for beginners. Electric motors get better every year, and are becoming capable of higher speeds than nitro RC cars. However, many feel that electric motors do not provide the realism or fun factor of nitro motors.
Nitro RC cars have the distinct advantage of being much cooler than their electric counterparts. Unlike electric cars, which are essentially just platforms with electric motors attached to wheels, nitro RC cars work very similarly to regular cars. Like real cars, nitro RC cars have carburetors and cam shafts and cylinders. They even have glow plugs, which are the RC equivalent of spark plugs.
Nitro RC cars provide a more realistic experience than electric cars. They give off smoke, burn fuel, expel exhaust and make a lot of noise. Those who are mechanically inclined or know a lot about how combustion engines work should have a lot of fun with nitro RC cars. They also have different tuning options, such as fuel-air mixture.
Another benefit to running a nitro engine is the amount of run time available. With an electric motor as soon as the battery dies, the car is done. Even with a quick charger it will take a half hour at the very least before the battery is recharged again. With a nitro engine one simply adds more fuel and keeps going.
The reason electric motors are generally recommended for beginners has to do with ease of operation. Electric RC cars, for example, turn on by flipping a switch. With a nitro engine the user must set the correct air/fuel mixture, add fuel, get it to the carburetor, ignite the glow plugs and start the flywheel spinning. After running a nitro car the fuel must be drained, air filter cleaned and after-burn oil added. This is all much more complicated and time consuming than running an electric RC vehicle.
When it comes to performance the two power systems are very similar. Electric cars nowadays actually go faster than nitro ones. However, they require many upgrades to get to that point and a nitro RC car will most likely be faster out of the box. Also, electric vehicles have a lower center of gravity than nitro vehicles, and weigh less. This helps with handling.
Electric RC cars definitely win over nitro in the cost department. Although upgrades can be expensive, running the vehicle is cheaper over the long term. Unlike fuel, batteries are a one-time purchase. Fuel for nitro engines is not particularly expensive, but over the months or years it will add up. Nitro RC cars also require the user to purchase after-burn oil and a tool for warming the glow plugs.
One last consideration to make is where the car will be run and stored. Electric RC cars are generally more accepted in more places. Nitro RC cars are loud and may bother the neighbors. They are also messy and need a decent-sized space to be stored in. Electric vehicles can also be run inside, whereas nitro vehicles cannot.
Because the performance and price of both power systems is similar, which one to go for really comes down to personal choice. Those completely new to the world of RC cars may find electric vehicles easier to handle. However, those who know the workings of an internal combustion engine and enjoy working on cars will probably find nitro more challenging and enjoyable. Whatever choice is made, maintain the vehicle well and it will provide years of reliable service. And remember to have fun.