Buying Used RC Helicopters 
Risks, what to look for & how much to pay.

by John Salt Last updated February 2022

Purchasing used RC helicopters for some is a very good money saving option when getting into this hobby or been involved for some time.

The problem is you have to know what you are doing and looking for or you could end up with a huge headache that will cost more to get working right than a new RC helicopter would have cost in the first place.

This write-up will hopefully give you some insight what to look for & be aware of. Basically covering if USED may be a good choice for you.

I sometime sell my used RC stuff as well. If interested, here's a link to my used RC equipment page.


USED RC HELICOPTERS ARE SIMPLY PRE-FLOWN HELICOPTERS. 

Let's get this out of the way right now. Used RC helicopters can be wonderful machines - if you get good ones.

The best example I have would be the Bergen RC Intrepid Turbine I purchased used direct from Chris Bergen over 10 years ago. It's one of my all time favorite RC helicopters! The sound, smell and experience of flying a big turbine powered RC helicopter is after all what many of us work toward.  

It's flying as well today as it was when brand new; even better since it was converted to flybarless. Getting it used saved me about 25% over new pricing and on a costly turbine, that equates to a couple thousand dollars in savings.

Used Turbine RC Helicopter saves about 30% over new pricing.Getting a lightly used RC heli is what made economical sense for me when getting into a turbine powered model.

Many used helicopters have also had upgrades to them, and the seller might also be including all the accessories and spare parts along with the sale, adding even more value.

Most people will recommend that an RC helicopter newbie not even consider getting a used helicopter because they don’t know what to look for. I totally agree with that - but hey, you have been doing your research here at www.rchelicopterfun.com and are learning all about RC helicopters.

You will be in a much better position to purchase a pre-flown heli and used RC equipment because you are informed. Remember, I want to promote this hobby; if your budget right now doesn’t allow you to purchase a new helicopter or equipment; a good used one is a very viable option as long as you understand used heli expectations, risks & how to avoid them. 

Before you start searching the "RC Helicopter For Sale" section of the RC forums, eBay, craigslist, kijiji, etc. you have to consider many factors first. If you consider purchasing a used RC helicopter, you must take into account all the items we have already discussed in the Best RC Helicopter section.

You should be asking yourself these questions:

  • Does this helicopter have all the features I am looking for?
  • Is it the right size I am looking for?
  • Can I easily get replacement parts?
  • Is it a very old model that you can’t get parts for any more?
  • Is it a good deal - could I get a new one for not much more?
  • Does it come with a receiver I can use with my radio?
  • Finally – does it fly?

That last question is a big one!

Used RC helicopter flying.Does your used heli actually fly?

If you have spent any time on this website, you know there is a fair amount of discussion on why people give up on this hobby.

They simply didn’t realize the many aspects of the hobby and the commitment required to succeed.

They didn’t choose the best RC helicopter for them. They instead ended up buying the best RC helicopter that had the most attractive marketing, looks or perhaps price or sales pitch.

What happens with all these unwanted and usually damaged helicopters? Yup – they end up in the RC Helicopter For Sale section of forums, your clubs classifieds, e-Bay, kijiji etc.

I should point out that if a helicopter has crashed, that is not a reason to walk away as long as it has been correctly repaired.

Almost every RC helicopter out there has had a kiss with the ground. That is the best thing about RC helicopters. You simply replace all the broken or damaged parts after a crash and the heli is good as new!

So how do you know if it has been repaired correctly? 

Well, if you are fortunate enough to live fairly close to the seller, he/she may offer a demo flight. If however, you can't see it fly in person, maybe they will send you a video of it flying recently. If that is not possible, then you need to ask lots of good open ended questions. 

If the seller doesn't seem to know much about the heli they are selling when you ask them some intelligent yet common questions such as "when was the last crash", "where do you get parts", "how long are flight times", "what flying style do you do", "why are you selling", "what electronics are in it", "how long have you owned it", etc.; that should raise red flags.

Open ended questions that require more than a yes no answer in other words. If something seems odd, fishy, too good to be true, I personally would be leery of the purchase.

An honest seller will be totally opposite. They will love to talk about their helicopter and share all that info. Many people simply sell their RC helicopter because they are getting a newer, larger, or more advanced heli. They may just want a change with a different heli. This is the perfect person to get a used heli from. 

Typical good used RC Helicopter with extra parts, batteries & upgrades.Typical used RC Helicopter: Well maintained in good flying condition with extra parts, batteries & upgrades.

How much should you pay for used RC helicopters? 

I get this question a lot. Not only from people who are thinking of getting a used RC helicopter, but just as many who want to sell their used RC helicopter and don't know what price to list it at. 

Well, there are no absolutes here because things such as condition, age, model, brand, and additional items included in the sale will all impact price. Turbine powered models for example will always command higher used pricing because you are paying a lot for the engine. With that said, expect to pay about 50% to 65% of new retail value for most electric & nitro powered helis. Yes, a substantial savings!

Older discontinued models that no longer have parts available will generally be in the 40% & lower range because they are simply less desirable. 

When I sell my used RC helicopters, I always list them in these ranges (provided they are in good working order). I rarely sell non working helicopters. When I do, I make sure they are listed as such (for parts only) and heavily discounted - even free (buyer pays shipping). 

Extra parts or upgrades that are included with the used RC helicopter will rarely fetch more money for the sale. Most potential buyers really don't care what extra parts are included and upgrades are subjective. For some, they are actually downgrades based on flying style & expectations. 

However, extra included parts or upgrades certainly add interest and make your used RC helicopter more attractive. 

Shown in the photo below is a used Tarot 450 Pro I sold with many spare parts included. I didn't get a cent more for all these parts. This used RC heli package did however get lots of interest when I posted it for sale on my site, which resulted in a very quick sale & happy new owner - his first 450 size bird :)

Used RC Helicopter with lots of spare parts.My used Tarot 450 Pro RC Helicopter with many spare parts sold quickly. The new owner was very happy with this "package" deal!

What is (if any) the value of used LiPo battery packs with a used RC helicopter sale? 

This is a hard one to answer.

RC LiPo packs as you know are a consumable item and their value deteriorates with usage and age. The problem is there is really no way to know what the condition is without testing them yourself. Even then, testing won't always show how or if the pack was abused and how much of its life & performance has been compromised. It only shows the "right now" condition.

Unlike a used well maintained RC helicopter that can be good as new after hundreds of flights with new parts, a used LiPo battery is always in a state of irreversible decline.

My used mSRx sold with several used LiPo's. They were freebees for the new owner because they are seen as worthless.

As shown above, the smaller the LiPo pack/s, the less value it has because tiny packs are often abused, neglected, and don't have long life spans regardless.

In other words, don't expect to get much money, if any, from your used LiPo packs if you are selling them with your used RC heli. It would be better to just hang on to them in my opinion unless you know for a fact you'll have no future use for them or you know they are getting tired. Be upfront and let the buyer know that fact. Toss them in as a bonus. 

On the flip side of the transaction, if you are looking at a used heli and LiPo packs are included in the sale, unless they are new in box and have never been used, you really have no way to know their condition and shouldn't be paying much for them. Just presume you'll be getting new LiPo's regardless or using your existing ones if they fit your new used bird. If the ones that come with the used RC helicopter do work - bonus! 

There are of course exceptions - big expensive LiPo's for example.

Big Used LiPo Battery Included With Big Used RC Helicopter has value.Big Used LiPo Included With Big Used Heli has value.

If a big bird is being sold with expensive LiPo pack/s - they certainly have value.

These larger packs are over $100 to $400 each when new after all, so don't expect to get them for free with a used heli if they still work. 

I would personally pay upwards of 40 to 50% new value for larger quality LiPo pack/s included with a used RC helicopter sale; provided the trustworthy owner states the pack is healthy and not showing any physical signs of puffing in the photos.

Even better if he/she show the pack hooked up to a good charger with internal resistance values of the cells.


Used RC Helicopter Inspection Time!

Used RC helicopter Inspection Time

So, you just picked up your used RC helicopter and want to go flying ASAP. Hold on partner! Even the most experienced RC heli guru can’t tell by sight alone if everything on a used helicopter is okay.

It doesn’t matter if you are purchasing your first used helicopter or your fiftieth – if you are getting a used RC heli once you get it home - partially take it apart to thoroughly inspect it. 

This serves two important functions. First, it will teach you a great deal about the workings of the heli just as if you were building it from a new kit yourself.

Second, and most important, this is the only way to guarantee the heli is in 100% good shape and safe to fly.

There are a number of hidden wear and tear parts on every RC helicopter. Taking it apart or partially apart, is the only way to access some of these items to see if they are worn past their service limit, or are in need of adjustment or service, they include:

  • Bearings
  • Thrust bearing lubrication
  • Loose or stripped fasteners
  • Blade grip dampener condition
  • Loose/sloppy ball links
  • Noisy/weak servos
  • Chafed or damaged wiring
  • Burnt/corroded connectors
  • Bent shaft/s
  • Gear wear & lash adjustment
  • Belt wear & adjustment
  • Clutch & clutch liner wear
  • Hidden cracks or wear
  • Dried up fuel tubing or fuel tank clunk tubing
  • Clogged fuel filter or fuel tank clunk
  • Fuel residue/contamination in fuel tank

I've never purchased a used RC helicopter myself that has not had at least one of the above items not needing attention with bearings at the top of the list.  

Bearings are the single most important items to check on any use RC helicopter in my experience. 

You may even come across a part that has some stress fractures or actually be damaged or bent. Better to find out now on the bench then when you are 100 feet in the air. The tear-down will also ensure any parts that need to be lubricated are cleaned and lubed upon re-assembly and any loose bolts, nuts, or set screws will get tightened with new thread locker in place.

This "tear-down" procedure is not just for used RC helicopters of course. You will be doing it to all of your birds every now and then (usually once a year) to ensure they are always in 100% working order.

Just the same as in the full sized aviation world when certain components, by law, have to be torn-down at specific intervals (usually based on hours of operation) for service, inspection and replacement. 


New Is Obviously The Safest Way To Go

If you decide there is just too much risk involved in getting a used RC helicopter or you can’t find one that meets your requirements - used is certainly not going to be the best RC helicopter choice for you.

I actually do recommend that the Heli Newbie who has no one to help them, purchase a new RC helicopter for your first RC helicopter. 

I had to cover used RC helicopters however as a possible best RC helicopter. For many, that choice will simply make the most economical sense.

With cost savings averaging 40% to 50% or so, you can get some great birds for less, and even more of a bonus if they come with a nice assortment of spare parts & packs.


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