Radio controlled (or R/Ccars are battery/gas-powered model cars or trucks that can be controlled from a distance using a specialized transmitter or remote. The term "R/C" has been used to mean both "remote controlled" and "radio controlled", where "remote controlled" includes vehicles that are connected to their controller by a wire, but common use of "R/C" today usually refers to vehicles controlled by a radio-frequency link. This article focuses on radio-controlled vehicles only.

Cars are powered by various sources. Electric models are powered by small but powerful electric motors and rechargeable nickel-cadmium, nickel metal hydride, or lithium polymer cells. There are also brushed or brushless electric motors. Most fuel-powered models use glow plug engines, small internal combustion engines fueled by a special mixture of nitromethane, methanol, and oil (in most cases a blend of castor oil and synthetic oil). These are referred to as "nitro" cars. Recently, exceptionally large models have been introduced that are powered by small gasoline engines, similar to string trimmer motors, which use a mix of oil and gasoline. Electric cars are generally considered easier for the novice to work with compared to fuel-driven models, but can be equally as complex at the higher budget and skill levels.

In both of these categories, both on-road and off-road vehicles are available. Off-road models, which are built with fully functional off-road suspensions, and a wide tire selection, can be used on various types of terrain. On-road cars, with a much less robust suspension, are strictly limited to smooth, paved surfaces. In the past decade, advances in "on-road" vehicles have made their suspension as adjustable as many full scale race cars, today.