I buy ALL of my hobby-grade RCs on Craigslist. I just don’t see the point in paying full retail for something you constantly work on and upgrade anyway. However, every RC has it’s weak points, and I try to do my research before buying so I know I’m not getting a lemon. That being said, there’s no dedicated vintage Tyco forum where I can go and ask people “what to look for” when buying a used one. So, I learned the hard way!
If you’re not worried about looks you can save a lot of money fixing up rough vehicles, but there’s also a lot to look out for when buying older toy-grade RCs. As a general rule, the most important thing is that the vehicle is complete. You’re gonna have to track down or fabricate any replacement parts, so a missing part is a big deal. Things like battery doors can be overlooked, but bodies, tires, suspension bits, radios, etc. will have to come from another vehicle. The main things I look for in order of importance, and I would say this goes for any vintage RC, are Rubber, Gears, Electronics, and Chassis.
1) Rubber – There are a lot of things you can do to prevent rubber from going bad, but once it’s bad it’s almost impossible to restore to it’s original state. To make matters worse, different types of rubber need to be cared for differently. If the rubber is still soft and pliable, but misshapen, you may be able to heat the tires (I’ve heard of boiling or baking on wax paper) and reform them (spinning them on a dremel or drill gives them a good shape). However, if the rubber is dry, it means that the oils in the rubber are gone. You may be able to invigorate the rubber by scrubbing it clean with mild soap & water and massaging it with olive oil or 100% silicone lubricant, but results vary. Some models had replacement parts available, though they are HARD to find (Tyco Turbo Treads, for example). If you’re not too concerned about preserving the original look, you may be able to use tires from another RC or toy, also.
2) Gears – If your RCs gears are bad, there’s not much you can do. While there are several companies that can make gears, they usually work in bulk orders, and unless us Tyco fans get lucky, the only real option is to find some from another vehicle. To make things worse, you really can’t check for bad gears without taking a vehicle apart, although if you notice any sticking or grinding when you turn the wheels, that’s a bad sign. For most older models, you should be able to spin the drive wheels fairly freely, and you should feel/hear the resistance from the electric motor.
3) Electronics – As a hobbyist, I see electronics as interchangeable, and a minor thing to consider when looking at the total cost of a hobby-grade model. However, while some parts are interchangeable (remotes, motors) toy-grade electronics are typically well-integrated in the vehicle and printed on a single board, so if any component needs replacing, it will either need to come from another car, or you will have to rebuild the vehicle using hobby-grade electronics. Many hobbyists have used hobby-grade electronics in toy-grade RCs simply as an upgrade. It can greatly improve range, speed, control, runtime, etc., but it’s costly and obviously departs from the original design. Even using an old ESC, servo, and radio gear, you could easily spend more on electronics than the car is worth, and the nostalgia of holding that old remote and making jerky movements is gone (for better or worse). Conversion is not always easy, either. Aside from obvious hurdles like finding room for the new parts and battery, controlling heat, and modifying a chassis to accept a servo, many Tyco RCs had custom transmitters that are model-specific, and some had special 3rd channel functions. Models with “tank controls” (Fast Traxx, Rebound, Scorcher, Digger, Triple Wheels) would need a special tank-style radio or a module to mix inputs for use with a modern pistol-grip radio (people have had some success with V-Tail mixers).
4) Chassis – Chassis weak points and repairs are model specific, so I can’t cover all the bases. Though chassis damages are usually fairly obvious and may make the model unusable, they are really the most minor type of repair, and can often be fixed with good epoxy or “plastic soldering”. Of course, these repairs are somewhat unsightly; I wouldn’t want a car where the body was in 5 pieces, but most people wouldn’t even notice some JB Weld on an A-arm. In some cases, I’ve had success with epoxies and glue. However, the “BEST” method is to use a plastic solderer. A plastic solderer is basically a soldering iron with a special tip. It works by melting the 2 pieces of plastic together, and when dry the plastic may even be stronger than in was originally. While I don’t own one (yet), I have had success using an old low wattage soldering iron, although it was rough-looking and stunk up my house.
Ideally, you would want every old RC you buy to be unopened in the original box, but if you don’t have the patience or cash, hopefully this post gives you an idea of what to look for. I am not an expert by any means, I’m just figuring this out as I go, so any suggestions/corrections are welcome.