The best LiPo charger is as important as the lithium polymer (LiPo) batteries for your radio-controlled model vehicles (R/C cars).
Sony introduced the first prototype cylinder Li-on battery in 1991. After several years of testing, the LiPo battery with pouch technology was produced and marketed.
One of the first battery-user segments to recognize the advantage of the new battery was the radio controlled crowd. With a longer charge life and more power, the LiPo battery was a dream come true.
NiMH vs LiPo
Before LiPo technology, all of the R/C vehicles ran on dry cell batteries — nickel metal hydride (NiMH) and nickel cadmium (NiCd) batteries.
The new polymer electrolyte batteries (LiPo) use a liquid electrolyte contained in a pouch. They generate a higher capacity and discharge rates than NiMH, allowing longer electrical output — i.e., more power and punch when the battery is charged..
LiPo batteries are also lighter, with the possibility to be made in different shapes and sizes.
This innovation revolutionized the R/C model vehicle market.
Selecting the best LiPo battery charger for the money
When selecting a good LiPo battery charger that best fits your needs, check the following criteria to analyze the pros and cons of each charger.
But first, you should ask yourself the following questions and be able to answer them before purchasing a good charger.
- What is your budget?
- What is the largest battery (mAh and cell count) you will charge (currently and in the future).
- Will you at a rate greater than 1C?
- Will you parallel charge multiple batteries?
Price: Prices range from models like the Duratrax Onyx 230 for around $80 to upwards to the Hyperion 615i Duo for nearly $250. It’s easy to spend a lot on a vehicle, but remember there are accessories such as a charger you will need, too. Budget accordingly. There are good LiPo battery chargers under $100 on the market.
Multi-chemistry charger: If you have LiPo, NiMH, NiCd, and LiFe batteries, you might be better off buying a charger that can charge the different battery types. Otherwise, you end up with four different chargers, which an be cumbersome.
Heat sensors: Heat sensors are a safety mechanism that monitors your battery pack while it’s being charged.
You can set the temperature point where you want the charger to off to prevent overheating and damage to the battery. This is a nice feature, so check the chargers you are looking at to see if it’s included.
Charging speed: The charging speed is important to a lot of R/C operators. Check the speed specifications to see how long it takes to charge your battery pack.
A ‘fast charge’ mode on LiPo chargers sometimes accentuate speed over accuracy and balancing, leaving the battery not fully charged. Many operators chose to ignore that setting because they want fully charged packed.
Multi-pack charging: It’s convenient to be able to charge more than one battery pack at a time.
It’s especially nice to have the multi-pack charge options when you are running vehicles with two 2S or 3S packs and not having to have multiple chargers to handle your battery recharges.
Model memory: This is one of those features that is nice to have but not high on the importance list.
Most LiPo charging have units 10 or more model memories built in. Any extra memory beyond that is a bonus, but if it increases the price, it’s not worth the extra money.
Discharge mode: Being able to discharge a battery pack before packing up and going home is a nice feature, especially since you’re doing it in a controlled setting. This mode is also good for testing packs, and cycling batteries. Check it off as “must have.”
Charge AMPS: Many battery companies claim their batteries have no problem charging them at 5C rates.
A lot of people worry about pushing that high a charge into their packs, but many experienced operators feel that 10 amps on a 5000mah pack is now the norm. If you are using 4S packs, or your high quality pack can charge at a high rate, the AMPS numbers are important.
Balancer and AC/DC: All chargers should be able to allow the balancing of the packs/cells. Some do this with an additional interface box you buy and add on while others have an interface cable built into the charger. In either case, it’s good practice to use a balancer after several runs to make sure everything is in check.
The AC/DC ability of your charger is important. Without the ability to run the charger off a AC interface wall plug, you’re stuck without a power supply.
Visual interface: As technology advances faster and further, operating R/C vehicles can get more complex.
An efficient and easy-use operator interface can make controlling the vehicles much easier. If the LiPo charger you are looking at promises the moon but is difficult and frustrating to use, lose some of the extras to make running your R/C vehicles more fun and easier.
One way to gauge this is to see if you can operate the charger without having to constantly refer to the instructional manual.
The interface use is a very important part of selecting a proper battery charger for your R/C needs. You want your R/C experiences to be fun and enjoyable, so look for a charger that is easy to use.
All charged up: Ready to choose a lithium polymer charger?
People who revel in the recreational use of model R/C/ vehicles are always looking for new gadgets to enhance the experience.
An efficient, easy-to-use charger that keeps batteries fully charged at full power should be high on that list of valued accessories.