How To Travel With RC Vehicles: The Ultimate Guide

Nobody said that you should restrict yourself to using your RC vehicle in your backyard only. 

In fact, people will often travel to new places and race events with their RC cars.

But traveling with an RC vehicle can prove to be trickier than expected, which is why many people will have many different questions regarding that topic.

Although some people can travel by land, many will have to deal with traveling by air, which, coincidently, is the most problematic, and, in this article, I will cover it in detail, as well.

So let’s take an in-depth look at everything you should know about traveling with your RC vehicle.

How To Travel With an RC Vehicle

In most areas, there are no particular restrictions regarding bringing your RC car with you when traveling by train, bus, car, (or even boat). 

Of course, depending on where you live, there may be different regulations, so checking up with the transportation company in advance is strongly recommended.

When it comes to what you need to pack, things are very straightforward. Generally, you should bring

  • your RC car and charger
  • radio transmitter 
  • spare batteries
  • shock and differential oil, wd-40, and cleaners
  • spare parts, screws, washers, shocks, differentials, linkages, rags, small brushes, cable ties, and other bits and bobs
  • wrenches, screwdrivers, shock pliers, scissors, pliers, flush cutters, camber gauge, hobby knife, power driver, and any other power tools that you may need
  • setup board, pit mat, and car stand.

There are a few general guidelines when it comes to travelling with an RC vehicle.

  • Bring only what is necessary and what you will need. You don’t need to bring everything you have with you. Over time it will be easier for you to plan ahead and know what the true essentials that you will need are.
  • Ensure your RC vehicle and gear are security packed, and everything is well organized. Use utility boxes to organize most of the accessories and equipment. Secure everything in the bags. Use bubble wrap to prevent any movement and protect your gear from bumps, vibrations, and shocks while traveling. Pay special attention to the batteries. Keep all extra batteries properly packed and secured from damage and accidental short circuits.
  • Ensure all oils, aerosols, and cleaners are closed tightly to prevent any spills during travel.
  • Keep the lithium-ion batteries away from direct sunlight exposure and heat sources.
  • Whenever possible, ship all your gear to the place where you will be staying or where the event will be.
  • Although you will be allowed to bring batteries with you, nitro fuel, in most cases, is typically not allowed on public buses, trains, boats, or planes.

Overall, packing for travelling with an RC vehicle does not have to be that difficult—especially if you are travelling by car. 

If you are traveling by bus, train, or boat, you may have to do some preparations and research about what you are allowed to bring with you.

When you travel by plane, however, things are a bit more complicated. This brings us nicely to the next topic, which is of the biggest concern to most people—travelling with an RC vehicle by plane.

How to Air Travel With an RC Vehicle

While traveling by land will not bring up too many unexpected difficulties traveling by air—and getting an RC vehicle on a plane—is a lot trickier. This will often bring up a lot of confusion as to what is allowed and what isn’t allowed on a plane.

Can You Bring an RC Vehicle on a Plane?

Before we continue, let’s establish whether or not RC vehicles are even allowed on a plane.

RC cars, RC planes, RC helicopters, and RC boats are generally allowed on airplanes. A passenger can bring an RC model with them on an airplane as long as some safety precautions are followed. Nitro RC cars, however, are generally not allowed on airplanes as they pose a fire hazard.

Of course, some exceptions and different rules may apply depending on where you are located and where you are flying to. However, the different regulatory bodies have reached a consensus about remote-controlled vehicles that will apply to most people and airlines.

You can generally bring most consumer electronic devices on an airplane in either the carry-on or checked bags. Examples of such devices are laptops, smartphones, tablets, cameras, electronic games, smartwatches, calculators, and so much more.

Most electric RC cars can be categorized as electronic devices, too, because they are typically battery-powered.

According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), remote-controlled cars are allowed in both carry-on and checked baggage.

The carry-on bag is the bag that you can bring with you inside the plane, and the checked bag is the bag that you check at the gate before boarding the plane.

You should switch off the RC vehicle and transmitter completely and pack them in a way that prevents accidental activation during transportation. 

If the RC vehicle activates, it can generate high amounts of heat, which can cause a fire.

The batteries should all be disconnected or removed. They should be protected from damage, and their terminals should be covered in order to prevent short circuits from accidentally occurring.

If a metal object (like keys, coins, pens, etc.) come into contact with both terminals of the battery, they will close the circuit and allow the electricity from the battery to flow through them, which is a serious fire hazard.

It is recommended to keep spare batteries in their original packaging, a suitable battery case, or wrapped in something secure with their terminals taped for added safety.

Pack the batteries in a way that prevents them from moving around too much. Keep them wrapped tightly in a material that will prevent any damage during transportation.

We all know that luggage bags can go through a lot of abuse during a flight. Parts of the RC vehicle may get damaged or broken, and in some instances, the battery can even be punctured. Other objects in the bag can also get broken and damage the RC vehicle or battery. Thus, I always keep the RC vehicle sealed off and wrapped in something that provides extra padding.

Hard sided bags will do a better job protecting the RC vehicle and batteries inside, but extra padding and cushioning are still highly recommended.

We all know that people almost always have more than one battery. This is normal but can pose some unexpected problems. Usually, passengers can bring electronic devices on a plane with one battery (the one already installed in the device). 

This means you can bring your RC car on the airplane with the one battery already installed in it. However, the regulations clearly state that passengers should always carry the extra batteries in the carry-on bag as extra batteries are not permitted in the checked bag. In other words, all batteries should be with you in the carry-on bag.

The regulations even specify that extra batteries should be taken out of the carry-on bag and kept with the passenger at all times for safety purposes.

The main problem with bringing an RC vehicle on a plane is not the vehicle itself but the power source. In the case of electric RC vehicles, you need to know what the regulations regarding batteries say.

And the regulations vary slightly depending on the type of battery. Airline companies recognize several different types of batteries.

  • Dry cell alkaline
  • Dry cell rechargeable
  • Lithium-ion
  • Lithium metal
  • Non spillable wet batteries

Of particular interest to us are the dry cell alkaline, dry cell rechargeable, lithium-ion, and lithium metal batteries.

Dry Cell Alkaline Batteries

The dry cell alkaline (non-rechargeable) batteries include the standard AA, AAA, C, D, 9-volt, and button cells. All of these can be found on some toy RC vehicles.

Dry cell alkaline batteries are allowed in both the carry-on and checked bags. You can also bring spare batteries as long as they are protected from damage and short circuit.

Dry Cell Rechargeable Batteries

Dry cell rechargeable batteries include Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) and Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) batteries. Both of these types of batteries can be found on many RC vehicles.

Dry cell rechargeable batteries are allowed in both the carry-on and the checked bags. Spare dry cell rechargeable batteries are permitted in the carry-on and checked bags as long as they are protected from damage and short circuit.

Lithium Metal Batteries

Lithium-based batteries are typically smaller non-rechargeable batteries often found in most consumer electronics. A good example of such a battery is the CR2032, a popular button cell battery found in many electronics today.

Both the one installed in the device and spares are allowed in the carry-on.

In the checked bag, only the battery installed in the device is allowed; any spares need to go in the carry-on.

Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries include a few different types of lithium-based rechargeable batteries, including the LiPo battery, which is the most widely used type of battery in RC vehicles today.

Lithium-ion batteries are allowed in both the carry-on and checked bags. You can bring one (installed in the RC vehicle) lithium-ion battery in the checked baggage. However, spares are not allowed in the checked bag. You can bring up spare lithium-ion batteries, but they need to be kept in the carry-on bag.

Generally speaking, there are also some limitations on how many spare batteries passengers can carry when it comes to Li-ion batteries—a passenger can carry up to two spare large Li-ion batteries.

But what exactly is considered a large Li-ion battery? 

According to the FAA, a large battery is defined as a battery having between 101 and 160 watt-hours (Wh). It is very easy to find the watt-hours of your Li-ion battery. All you have to do is multiply the Voltage (V) by the Ampere hours (Ah). Since most RC vehicle batteries are listed in milliamp-hours (mAh), you will need to divide the mAh by 1,000 to get the Ampere hours. 

Related post: Where Is It Legal To Use An RC Car? Inc Hobbyists Experiences

For example, a typical 7.4 V battery with a capacity of 5,250 mAh will give us: 7.4 V x 5.25 Ah = 38.85 Wh. Since 38.85 is below 101, this is considered a small battery, and there are no restrictions on how many of these batteries you can bring in your carry-on bag. 

Overall when it comes to smaller spare batteries—below 100 Wh—passengers can usually bring as many as they need in their carry-on bag. And they can have just one in the checked bag as long as it is installed in the RC vehicle.

It is okay to travel with one large LiPo battery installed in your RC vehicle that is above 100 Wh, and you can have it in both the carry-on or checked bag. However, in addition to that, you can carry only two large spare LiPo batteries as long as you carry them in your carry-on bag.

The batteries have to be protected from damage and incidental short circuits, and you need to speak with the airline to get their approval.

Type of batteryCarry-on bag (installed battery)Carry-on bag (spare batteries)Checked bag (installed battery)Checked bag (spare batteries)
Dry alkaline batteriesYesYes*YesYes*
NiMH and NiCadYesYes*YesYes*
LiPo (below 100 Wh)YesYes*YesNo
Lipo (between 101 and 160 Wh)Yes**Yes***Yes**No
Lithium (non-rechargeable)YesYes*YesNo

*Only when protected from short circuit and damage.

**Only after airline approval.

***Only after airline approval and they have been protected from short circuit and damage.

Can You Bring a Nitro RC Car on a Plane?

Okay, not all RC vehicles are battery-powered. Although a little less popular nowadays, nitro RC models are still being used.

You can bring a nitro RC car on a plane as long as it complies with the airline’s requirements. Generally speaking, you may not be allowed to bring the engine and any parts that have been in contact with nitro fuel, and you cannot bring nitro fuel, too.

Nitro fuel and other oils are not allowed on aeroplanes because they are flammable liquids and a fire hazard.

Some airlines may allow you to bring the nitro engine on the plane if no fuel has ever run through it or if no fuel residues are found anywhere on the RC vehicle, and the nitro RC vehicle has been thoroughly cleaned. Old fuel residues can set off the airport scanners.

That being said, even engines that have never had glow fuel run through them may often not be allowed on the plane, regardless.

Related post: Who Makes The Best Nitro RC Car?

Even if your nitro RC vehicle has no signs of fuel anywhere on it, it is still possible for you to be held at the airport for several hours until the security guards can verify the nitro RC vehicle is indeed safe for air travel.

Overall, flying with a nitro RC vehicle—even when the model has been thoroughly cleaned and prepared—is not recommended.

Because of this, people usually ship their nitro engines, fuel tanks, and some of their gear. They also make the necessary arrangements to buy fuel at their destination since they cannot bring any glow fuel on the airplane.

What Can You Bring in a Carry-on Bag?

Most people typically put their RC vehicle, shocks, wing, spare batteries, radio controller, and other expensive and valuable RC equipment.

That way, you know that the most expensive and fragile parts and equipment are safe with you, and even if the checked baggage gets lost, you will still have your RC vehicle and equipment with you.

The size requirements for carry-on luggage varies between the different airlines. This is why it is recommended to contact your airline and inquire about their specific requirements. 

Below I have included the size requirements for carry-on bags of some of the more popular airlines. (Keep in mind that these numbers include the handle(s) and wheels of the bag):

Below I have included a small table with some of the common carry-on bag size requirements.

AirlineCarry on Size Requirements
Alaska Airlines22″ x 14″ x 9″
Allegiant Air22″ x 14″ x 9″
American Airlines18″ x 14″ x 8″
Delta Air Lines22″ x 14″ x 9″
Frontier Airlines24″ x 16″ x 10″
Hawaiian Airlines22″ x 14″ x 9″
JetBlue22″ x 14″ x 9″
Southwest Airlines24″ x 16″ x 10″
Spirit Airlines22″ x 18″ x 10″
United Airlines22″ x 14″ x 9″

Usually, most airlines do not have a weight limit for the carry-on bag. If your carry-on bag seems particularly big or heavy, you can be asked to put the bag into the checker or lift it above your head. However, in most cases, it is highly unlikely to run into problems.

What Can You Bring in a Personal Item?

Usually, you are allowed to bring one personal item in addition to your carry-on and checked bag. Generally speaking, this personal item can be a backpack, purse, handbag, laptop bag, briefcase, cameras, food containers, or medical items. It is required for the personal item to fit in the compartment under the seat in front of you.

Here are a few examples of how big your personal item can be.

AirlinePersonal Item Size Requirements
Alaska AirlinesN/S
Allegiant Air16″ x 15″ x 7″
American Airlines18″ x 14″ x 8″
Delta Air LinesN/S
Frontier Airlines18″ x 14″ x 8″
Hawaiian AirlinesN/S
JetBlue17″ x 13″ x 8″
Southwest Airlines18.5″ x 13.5″ x 8.5″
Spirit Airlines18″ x 14″ x 8″
United Airlines17″ x 10″ x 9″

Even though some airlines have not specifically stated their size requirements for the personal item, we can see that the personal item should be, on average, smaller than the carry-on bag.

Usually, you can bring the same things you can normally bring in your carry-on bag. The only difference between a carry-on and a personal item is that at least one of these needs to be able to fit underneath your front seat.

What Can You Bring in a Checked Bag?

It is usually best to pack as lightly as possible and bring only spare parts that you know will most likely break. You have to be mindful of the overall weight of the checked bag.

There is a weight limit for the checked baggage, and if you go over the limit, the airline may charge you excess weight fees, which can be very steep.

Make sure to always weigh your checked bag before going to the airport in order to ensure you are staying below the weight limit.

Keep in mind that the RC equipment you typically need to bring (even if you are not flying to a race) can end up being very heavy, often between 30 to 50 pounds, not leaving much space for any personal items.

Since you cannot bring spare batteries in the checked bag, do not forget to pack them in the carry-on bag. If you are travelling with electric power tools, you can keep the power tools in the checked bag, but their batteries should be packed in the carry-on bag, as well.

Related post: How, Where And When To Store Your RC Trucks

Usually, liquids and aerosols that can be hazardous are regulated, and you may not be allowed to bring them on the plane. That includes spray paint and WD-40, and some oils.

Because of that, you should buy things like simple green, WD-40, and tire sauce at the track or from a hobby store. Those are common items that can be found in most places and are not completely necessary to bring yourself as they can only add more weight to your already heavy bag.

So, how big and how heavy can your checked bag be? Let’s take a look with some examples.

AirlineChecked bag size requirementsChecked bag weight requirements
Alaska Airlines62″50 pounds
Allegiant Air80″40 pounds
American Airlines62″50 to 70 pounds
Delta Air Lines62″50 pounds
Frontier Airlines62″50 pounds
Hawaiian Airlines62″50 pounds
JetBlue62″50 pounds
Southwest Airlines62″50 pounds
Spirit Airlines62″40 pounds
United Airlines62″50 pounds

Most airlines will accept slightly heavier and larger checked bags at an additional charge. Depending on the company and the bag, the excess weight and size fees can range between $30 to $100.

How to Pack an RC Vehicle for Travelling by Plane?

How to Pack Your Personal Item

The most important thing when packing your personal item is to be mindful of its size. You want it to fit underneath the seat.

You can pack your passports, documents, wallet, ID, medications, a change of clothes, tissues and wet wipes, sunglasses, headphones, phone charger, and other valuables and small items in your personal item.

How to Pack Your Carry-on Bag

Depending on the size of your RC vehicle and accessories you want to bring with you in the carry on bag, you may need to do some preparations. As you need to ensure its dimension and size are within the airline’s requirements for the carry-on bag. 

Generally speaking, you want to reduce the space the RC vehicle takes inside your carry on bag. You can leave the battery in the RC vehicle and remove any parts that can reduce the volume the RC vehicle takes inside the bag.

It is recommended to leave the body on as that way it will protect the internal parts of the RC car while in the bag.

For RC cars, you can remove the shocks and wheels and the wing. Keep the shocks empty and clean in order to prevent any pressure build-up during travel. Put the RC vehicle inside the bag and fit the rest of the accessories around it.

Use some bubble packaging to provide cushioning and protect everything from getting accidentally damaged during travel.

If you use any battery-powered power tools, you should remove the batteries and keep them in the carry on bag as well.

When packing your carry on it is recommended to keep the RC vehicle on top of the bag. Sometimes while going through security, you may get asked to take out of the bag any electronic devices that you may have in it, which usually means taking out your RC vehicle, too.

How to Pack Your Checked Bag

In the checked baggage, you can put the rest of your valuables and possessions.

Since you will probably be traveling with some spare parts and accessories, you should try to keep them well-arranged and organized.

  • Store your screws, washers, shocks, linkages, diffs, screwdrivers, wrenches, brushes, power tools, etc., in plastic spare parts boxes—that way, you will keep everything organized.
  • You may also want to bring a setup or pit board, shock and differential oil, charger, leads, power cables, car stand, pit mat, rags, and tires.

Everything should be packed as snugly as possible. You don’t want anything to move around in the checked baggage, and you want to have as much cushioning as possible. This can be achieved by using bubble wrap to ensure everything is well-protected.

Ensure that everything—including the transmitter—is completely shut off, unplugged, and properly protected.

Always double-check the weight of your bags before arriving at the airport. Ideally, you want to do that at home before you leave for the airport.

Make sure to always arrive at the airport at least two hours before your flight so that you have some extra time if something unexpected happens at the security check-ins. And do not forget to always keep the bags with you so that they don’t get lost.

Should You Travel With Your RC Vehicle?

Traveling with your RC car and gear is not exactly an easy task—especially when traveling by plane. The biggest dangers when travelling with your RC vehicles are that it can get damaged during transport or even lost.

However, if the necessary preparations have been taken, the likelihood of that happening is very slim.

Sometimes you may find that you cannot pack all the gear you need, let alone bringing some personal items and clothing with you. So what should you do?

Most people prefer to ship their gear and equipment when they can—especially when it comes to spare tires and wheels, which can take up a lot of space. Shipping your gear may be a lot easier, and you will face a lot fewer difficulties and less hassle with shipping companies compared to airlines.

You may even end up paying less for your airline ticket—an amount that can go towards paying the shipping fees.

You can ship it to a hotel, an LHS, or directly to the race track (in some cases, you may be able to ship it to the event coordinator, too). Remember to ask around. Contact the different places and see if they are willing to accept the package.

Paul Good

This awesome hobby has something for everyone, whether you like to build your RC from scratch and keep modifying till you've got it to just how you want it, to track racing. You might be out with a boat, or perfecting your skills with a plane. Are you taking some cool pics with your drone? I'm sure my site will help you on your journey.

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