I’ve come across a lot of people new to nitro power and even a number of experienced drivers that don’t understand the composition of nitro fuel and how the individual constituents affect performance, power, and engine life.
However, it’s important to have a good understanding of nitro fuels so you can choose the type that best suits your vehicle and driving style. In this article, I’ll be talking about the two most talked about nitro fuel – nitro fuel 20 and nitro fuel 30.
The difference between nitro 20 and 30 is the percentage of nitromethane in the fuel mixture. As you increase the nitro content in a fuel mixture, there will be increased performance. However, there is also the effect of shorter run times and reduced engine lifespan.
You should know that any fuel you see that comes with a ‘for RC cars’ will work just fine.
But a little nitro knowledge will come in handy when selecting nitro fuel. So what is nitro fuel, what do nitro fuel percentages mean, do these percentages affect performance and power, which one is better, nitro fuel 20 or 30?
I have the answers to all these questions. Keep reading to find them out.
What’s in Nitro Fuel?
Choosing a nitro fuel when browsing the shelves of your local hobby shop can turn out to be a very complicated task.
But you see, every single nitro fuel container you see on the shelf have the same basic ingredients/components. Now the difference between nitro fuel is in the proportion of the components of the fuel.
And this is why it is important for you to choose the mixture that best suits your engine or driving style. All nitro fuels contain the following components:
Sometimes referred to as methyl alcohol, methanol is the main constituent of nitro fuel and is actually what provides most of the combustive properties that power your engine.
Methanol combines with the air that gets mixed in to combust. Also, methanol is one component of nitro fuel that doesn’t require the other constituents before it can combust.
The science geeks already know that methanol is made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. Methanol is also described as ‘hygroscopic’.
What this term means is that the compound has the ability to absorb moisture from atmospheric air. This is the reason why nitro fuels are labelled to be kept in a dry location. Also, the package of nitro fuel is always a sealed container. Should you expose nitro fuel to the air, it’s going to get spoilt.
One of the main reasons why methanol is used in nitro fuel is that it releases more energy per pound of air than gasoline. You can also easily ignite methanol with a glow plug.
This is where the name “nitro” comes from. This compound is made up of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. Nitrogen, as you may know, is the most abundant component of atmospheric air surpassing oxygen by a significant amount. Now, nitromethane is a compound that can easily burn even without oxygen.
However, the burning point of nitromethane is high, very high as it is more than 4,000 F.
Now, the function of nitromethane in nitro fuel is to improve power output. This means that the horsepower got from nitro fuel will increase as you increase the proportion of nitromethane in the fuel. Also, the fuel will burn faster and there will be a higher rpm.
Despite the advantages of nitromethane, its proportion in a mixture of fuel must be controlled.
If not, there will be the production of excessive heat, the engine will be overworked and consequently damaged. This is why nitromethane is only used in small amounts. Since the percentage of nitromethane is critical, it is usually the highest number on the label.
Nitromethane in nitro fuels usually ranges from 10-40%.
Since two-stroke engines, which is the class that RC engines belong to, don’t have oil-filled crankcases, it’s important that the fuel mixture used in such engines have lubricants as part of their components.
Two-stroke engines depend on the lubricants in the fuel mixture to maintain the smooth functioning of the internal components of the engine. Castor oil has always been the preferred choice of lubricant since the early days of fuel-powered models.
The reason for this is that castor oil doesn’t break down at high temperatures. And considering that two-stroke engines have very high internal temperatures, this is a desirable quality. However, there is the issue of castor oil leaving behind a gummy residue.
Manufacturers nowadays use a combination of castor oil and synthetic oils in their nitro fuels. It’s also common to see manufacturers using purely synthetic oils in their fuels.
The percentage of lubricants you’ll find in a nitro fuel is mainly dependent on the purpose of the fuel. It’s common to find a lubricant percentage range of 8-12% in lubricant race cars.
The reason for this for increased power as the lower percentages of lubricants mean more methanol. This will eventually lead to a reduction in the longevity of the engine but racers are more than happy to sacrifice engine life as long as they get better performance.
What Nitro Percent Should I Use?
This is the big question that most hobbyists and experienced drivers ask.
While this can be complicated, a way to simplify the question of the nitro percent to use is for drivers to go for what the manufacturer recommends.
You should know that manufacturers are more concerned about the longevity of their engines.
Long engine life is great for a good brand reputation, right? It is because of this that manufacturers are going to play it safe and recommend a nitro fuel mixture that will help maximize engine life.
The next step is to consider what you’ll be using the engine for and then go for a fuel that will give you your desired performance.
If you are a racer, then you’ll most likely prioritize increased performance above any other thing and that means you need fuel with high nitro content, usually 30%.
If you just want to use your engine for fun running, then you’ll do well to consider fuels with lower nitromethane content and more lubricants, usually 20%.
Nitro 20 vs 30
You should know by now that the difference between nitro 20 and 30 is the percentage of nitromethane. Nitro 20 has 20% nitromethane while nitro 30 has 30% nitromethane. Increasing the percentage of nitromethane in a mixture of fuel comes with a number of consequences.
The most significant impact of increasing the proportion of nitromethane in a fuel mixture is that there will be more combustible matter as well as oxygen in the engine, This makes the fuel to burn a lot faster and generate more power per second. The performance of the engine will significantly increase.
There is however the effect of the production of more heat and the fuel being used up faster leading to a shorter run time.
Also, the greater proportion of nitromethane in the fuel mixture means the fuel will have lesser lubricants and coolants, which are important components that protect the engine from damage.
As a result, the lifespan of the engine will be reduced due to the generation of excessive heat. Nitro 30 is great for racers that need every last ounce of power.
Nitro 20 on the other hand contains a lesser amount of nitromethane. This means that the fuel will have lesser performance as the amount f oxygen and combustible matter are reduced.
There is however the advantage of a faster run time as the fuel will last longer due to a slower rate of combustion. Also, the fuel will contain a greater amount of lubricants and this will help improve the longevity of your engine. Nitro 20 is enough for most hobbyists.
Nitro Fuel 20 vs 30 – pros and cons
Pros of Nitro 20
- Improved engine health and consequently improved engine lifespan.
- Faster run times as the fuel burns at a slower rate.
Cons of Nitro 20
- Reduced engine performance.
Pros of Nitro 30
- Increased engine performance.
- Increase in power generated per second.
Cons of Nitro 30
- Reduction in engine life due to the generation of excessive heat and a lower proportion of lubricants.
- Shorter run times as the fuel is burned up faster.