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RC Transmitter and Receiver Troubleshooting

What to do when your RC won't respond to the transmitter

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RC vehicles communicate through radio signals between the receiver in the RC vehicle and a hand-held transmitter. When an RC won't respond to signals from the transmitter there is often an easy solution. Before declaring the RC defective, try these first seven steps. If it still won't work, you may have to resort to returning the RC or attempting more extensive repairs.

1. Check Your On/Off Switches.

Turn it on
Photo by J. James
It might seem obvious, but the RC and transmitter must be switched on before they'll work. It can be easy to forget. Check the switches on both the RC itself and on the transmitter.

2. Check Your Frequency.

A few examples of toy-grade RC frequencies
Photo by M. James
Make sure you have the right transmitter at the right frequency for the vehicle. If you purchased the vehicle and transmitter separately and you're using your original receiver you might not have the same frequency crystal in the vehicles's receiver as you have in the transmitter. Get a matched set. It's possible that there was a mix-up at the manufacturer and the wrong transmitter was put in the box or the RC was damaged during shipping. You may need to take it back for an exchange.

With toy RCs you generally have fixed frequencies and no crystals. The most common 27MHz channel for toys is 27.145MHz but if you are using a toy RC with selectable channels (or bands), be sure both the controller and the vehicle are set to the same channel.

3. Check Your Batteries.

An RC battery pack
Photo by M. James
Put good, fresh batteries in the RC and in the transmitter. Doublecheck that you installed the batteries correctly -- installed backwards and the RC won't work. Even nitro RCs need a battery pack to run the internal electronics. Make sure it is fully charged. If this is an RC you've used previously but it's been sitting unused for a while, check the battery compartment for corrosion. It's always a good idea to remove batteries from an RC or its transmitter when it's going to sit on a shelf or in storage for more than a few days.

4. Check Your Antenna.

Antennas on RC and transmitter
Photo by M. James
The signals between the receiver in the RC and the transmitter travel between the antennas. If you have a telescoping antenna on your transmitter, make sure it is fully extended. Make sure the receiver antenna on your RC is properly installed, not twisted or broken, not touching metal parts inside the RC, and not dragging on the ground.

5. Try Your Transmitter With Another RC.

Assortment of RCs
Photo by M.James
If you have another RC of the same frequency as your transmitter, try using the transmitter with that RC to see if the problem is in your RC itself or in the transmitter. If it works, the problem may be in the original RCs receiver. In the case of toy-grade RCs, most 27MHz transmitters use the yellow 27.145MHz band so chances are that one toy transmitter will work as well as another.

6. Try Your RC With Another Transmitter.

Assortment of transmitters
Photo by M. James
If you have another transmitter of the same frequency as your RC, try using it with your RC to see if the problem is in your RC or in the original transmitter. If it works, the problem is probably in your original transmitter.

7. Check Your Servos.

Servo in an RC
Photo by M. James
The problem might not be in the radio system at all. It could be that one or more of your servos have stopped working. One sign that the problem is in your servos is if the RC responds only to some commands from the transmitter but not others -- for example the wheels will turn but it won't move forward. Try unplugging your servos from the receiver and plugging them into a receiver that you know is working (be sure to match the frequency of the receiver and transmitter). If the RC still doesn't respond then your servos, not the receiver or transmitter, may need repair or replacement.

In the case of toy-grade RCs, you may have to desolder and solder wires from the servo to the circuit board.

8. Return Your RC.

Put it back in the box
Photo by M. James
If the RC doesn't work right out of the box and you've checked the frequency, batteries, and antenna then pack it up and return it. It's possible that there was a problem during manufacturing or it was damaged during shipping.

9. Repair Your RC.

Take it apart and fix it
Photo by M. James
If returning the RC isn't an option you can try more extensive repairs and troubleshooting. Replacing the receiver inside the RC is one possibility. Attempt these repairs with the understanding that it will cost more money and you still might not be able to fix what is wrong.

With the higher cost of hobby-grade RCs, it may be worthwhile to track down and fix the problem. With toy-grade RCs, the cost of repairs may be a lot more than the value of the RC. Although the process of troubleshooting and repairing any RC can provide valuable knowledge and experience.

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