Electronic equipment plays a big part in allowing us RC fanatics to enjoy our hobby. Controlling our cars and trucks depends on electronic equipment in the form of radio transmitters; we charge battery packs with electronic equipment; and so forth. At the same time, anything electronic does take some green from your wallet. So, to get as much life as possible out of these things, it only makes sense to spend a few minutes to ensure a long and reliable timeframe of usage. For this how-to, we'll give you some tricks and tips on how to make your various electronic equipment last longer, which means fewer trips to the shop and more time behind the wheel!
Issue 160 (March 2009) - Words: James Revilla
1. Seal That Deal
Every RC vehicle, from car to truck, on- to off-road, nitro and electric, all have a common feature: servos. These servos are precision equipment that has delicate components inside. A reliable servo can be the difference between a win and a crash, and the difference between pinpoint control and lack thereof. With a small tube of silicone RTV or Shoo Goo, you can easily seal the servo case at the seams to protect your servos against dust, dirt, mud, and even water from getting in there and messing things up. You don't need a giant glob; you can either put a dab of silicone on your finger, running a bead across the joint where both servo halves meet, or you can open up the servo case and run some silicone between the case halves for even more protection. You don't have to go overboard with a 1/2" thick bead.
2. Like Pillows
Your receiver is your link to your vehicle, and without it, you'll have no control. It's also subject to a lot of vibration and impacts (especially in nitro off-road). If you have a vehicle with a dedicated receiver box, give your receiver extra protection by wrapping it in thin foam. When done properly, the foam will surround the receiver at all sides - effectively making it "float" inside the receiver box. This extra amount of cushioning will absorb most of the impacts that occur in RC, keeping your receiver from being damaged.
3. Plead Your Case
If you look, you'll see this a lot at the track: people tossing all their gear into a single, undivided bag - including their transmitter. While this "carry everything in one bag" approach seems convenient, it's not that fun for your electronics when they're bouncing around inside with your tools, fuel, and other stuff. For sensitive equipment like radios and chargers, check your hardware store for some universal carrying cases. Available in different styles and sizes, these cases range from $20-up. Add some easy-to-cut foam to hold items in place, and you now have a dedicated electronics carrier that also offers more protection, as compared to a standard duffle-type pit bag.
4. Cool is Always Cooler
Sure, nitro engines have an operating temperature - but when it comes to your electronics, cooler is always a good thing. One important item you want to keep cool is your ESC. Depending on the chassis or even the body you run, cooling air to the ESC might be limited or obstructed. Also, the body itself acts somewhat like a hot-air balloon, where the temperature under the body is hotter than the outside. With all this potential for heat, a simple addition of a small cooling fan will keep air moving. Some ESCs have a cooling fan option; on others you can use a universal fan, powered off your receiver. Either way works, as the whole point is to keep air moving across and through the ESC's heatsink, regardless of vehicle speed or underbody airflow.
5. Cleaning Blow
Inexpensive canned air (like that used to dust keyboards) can be very handy when maintaining your electronics. There are some places where a rag won't reach, or spraying a motor cleaner isn't suggested; but you can easily hit those same areas with a short burst of canned air and clean them in no time. Canned air can be used to clean dirt from heatsinks, dust from radio switches, lint from charger cooling fans, grime near engine needles, and so forth. It's relatively inexpensive, and costs a lot less than a full-blown air compressor. Plus, you can always keep a can in your pit bag for on-the-spot quick dusting.
6. Ignition Cycle
As simple as a glow igniter may be, it's still an electronic device, and there is some maintenance involved. Inside most quality igniters, you'll find a Ni-CD or Ni-MH cell. This cell can be cycled just like ordinary battery packs. Make yourself a simple charge adaptor that will allow you to connect your igniter to your peak charger (with cycle capability) and run it through like you would regular 6-cell packs (make sure you don't charge/discharge at the same rate as a pack - remember, you're dealing with just ONE cell here). As cycling extends the lifespan of regular stick packs, the same method will also give your igniter more hours of service as a whole.
7. Goo Stick
Shoo Goo or silicone RTV can also be used in other ways besides sealing components. For example, a drop of silicone RTV on your chassis can hold servo wires away from drive belts or shafts. Another idea is to run a small bead along the side of your exposed ESC, servo, or receiver case to act like a protective bumper. You can also dab some silicone where your antenna tube mounts to the chassis, to help keep the tube from getting accidentally yanked out of place.
. Get a Clean Start
Every nitro racer knows that fuel, exhaust oil, and grime tend to accumulate inside a starter box. It can get pretty messy in there, but you can do a simple mod to keep your starter motor and battery clean and grime-free. Just get some thin foam and trim it to the same size as the starter box lid. Cut a hole where the starter wheel is located (cut �" larger than the wheel) and stick the foam on the underside of the starter box lid. This will cover up all the extra openings and holes, and the foam will act as a barrier, keeping fuel, dirt, and grime from dropping into the starter box. If you use servo tape to attach the foam, you can easily replace it with a new foam sheet every two months or so. Regardless, the foam will keep the inside of the starter box nice and clean.
. Faster Soldering If you haven't noticed by now, heat is the enemy of electronic components. The next time you have to solder anything, use a high-wattage iron or one with an adjustable temp dial set to maximum. True, you're using a hotter iron, but because of the higher temperature, you won't have to hold the iron onto electrical contacts or battery bars for as long a time as you would with a low-powered iron. Hotter irons allow you to heat the contact, apply solder, and remove the iron in mere seconds. In the long run, the component being soldered will be exposed to a quick, short burst of heat, as opposed to holding a medium-powered soldering iron onto the contact for a longer amount of time - which will just allow heat to spread past the contacts and through the circuit board or battery cell.
. Venting If mounting a cooling fan is not possible, you can always get cooling air to electronic components mounted to your chassis by cutting simple vents in the body. Using Lexan scissors or an X-Acto knife, you can strategically cut small vents in the body that will allow component-cooling air to flow inside the body, past the ESC. Some bodies are designed with this in mind; for example, a lot of buggy bodies have molded-in cooling vents - why not use them!
Sometimes you might not be able to keep your cool on the driver's stand, but at least with these tips you'll be a little more at ease knowing that your electronics are staying clean and cool. With less heat and less grime, all of your electronic equipment will give you hours and hours more of service.