Brushed vs Brushless RC Motors: What’s the Difference?

You’ve probably seen the terms’ brushed’ and ‘brushless’ thrown around if you’re shopping for your first RC car. Often, manufacturers will sell the same RC car with both brushed and brushless motors. 

Judging by the price tag, it’s safe to assume that brushless motors are better, but what’s the difference? 

Are brushless motors always better for RC cars, or are there situations where brushed motors are the right option? 

This article will discuss how brushed and brushless motors work and when you should use each in your RC car. 


Motor Design: Brushed vs. Brushless

It’s hard to believe, but brushed motors have been around for almost 200 years, and the basic principle hasn’t changed that much. 

The DC motor in your RC car, full-size electric car, or power tool creates physical motion from electricity. 

It does this by passing a current through wires wound into coils, magnetizing them. Surrounding the coils are fixed, permanent magnets.

The current reverses polarity several times a second, causing the magnetized coils to push and pull against the fixed magnet. This constant attraction and repulsion from the magnets create physical movement from electrical energy. 

Brushed Motors

Brushed motors get their name from the carbon pads (brushes) that contact something called a commutator. The commutator is the rotating switch that causes the magnetic polarity to switch back and forth. 

The main drawback of a brushed motor is the friction caused by the physical contact of the carbon brushes with the commutator. Not only does this cause the motor to heat up, but these parts will eventually wear out and need to be replaced. 

Brushless Motors

As the name suggests, Brushless motors don’t have these carbon brushes. Instead of the magnetic coil rotating around the fixed brushes, the entire process is flipped on its head. 

In a brushless motor, the entire outer casing rotates around the fixed coils. 

Since no carbon brushes are contacting the motor, there’s very little friction. This makes a brushless motor much more efficient and durable than a brushed motor. 


Brushed vs. Brushless: Maintenance

Both brushed and brushless motors need some regular maintenance. Dirt and sand can accumulate quickly, depending on where you’re running your RC car. 

Brushless motors require very little maintenance, but you should still take the time to regularly clean them. A quick blast of compressed air should do the trick if you can open up the motor and get inside. 

Brushed motors, on the other hand, require some more attention. 

You’ll need to replace the carbon brushes regularly, but this depends on how you use your RC car. 

Higher loads, like hill-climbs, drag-racing, or bashing, wear out the brushes quickly. It’s not unheard of for people to replace their brushes after a few short, hard sessions. Usually, though, you can expect to get around 50 hours of run-time out of a set of brushes. 

If you have a brushed motor that you can’t disassemble, you’ll need to replace the entire motor, not just the worn-out brushes. 


Brushed vs. Brushless RC Motors: Which Should You Use?

Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, there are plenty of brushed or brushless motors to choose from at just about every price point. 

So what’s the difference?

A brushless motor will be faster than an equivalent brushed motor because there’s less friction inside it. A brushless motor is the way to go whenever you have high-speed applications, like drag racing, drifting, getting super-high jumps while you’re bashing. 

A brushless motor’s better efficiency will also mean longer run times. That can mean running longer or using a smaller battery to get the same amount of time on the track. 

Similarly, because there are fewer moving parts, you can usually get the same power in a smaller brushless motor as you can from a larger brushed motor. 

By contrast, a brushed motor will have better low-speed control because of that internal friction. This makes brushed motors ideal for crawlers. 

They’re also considerably less expensive, making them ideal for beginners and many RTR RC cars. 

In general, anything designed to go fast, or run a long time, absolutely needs a brushless motor. 


Brushless RC Cars Improve More Than Just the Motor

All that said, when you’re choosing between a brushed and a brushless RC car, there’s usually more involved than just the motor. 

For example, my Traxxas Rustler VXL has a lot of additional upgrades over my Rustler XL5 2WD. 

In addition to the brushless motor and ESC, it also has ball bearings all around, a high-torque servo, adjustable camber links in the front and rear, and a wheelie bar. Traxxas also includes an upgraded transmitter that works with their Traxxas Link wireless module. 

Arma does something similar with their Granite 4×4 truck. So do most other major RC car makers. 


FAQ

Can you upgrade from Brushed to Brushless?

Yes, but it’s not as easy as just replacing the motor itself. You also need to upgrade your ESC to accommodate a brushless motor. Unfortunately, you cannot use a brushless ESC with a brushed motor, either. 

Why are there three wires on a Brushless motor?

Brushless motors with three wires have three phases, one for each wire. Each phase controls whether the wire is powered, grounded, or sensed. Two of the wires provide power at any time and the third acts as a sensor. 

Do Brushless Motors Wear Out?

Eventually, brushless motors will wear out. However, because there are fewer consumable parts (the brushes and commutator), they last significantly longer than brushed motors. Expect a brushless motor to last tens of thousands of hours with minor maintenance. 

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