Before you buy your first slot car set, there are a few things you might want to think about...
Hold on, it's way too late for that, I've already got my track and my cars, and we're racing!
Of course, and understood. You probably wouldn't be here if you hadn't already had some experience of slot racing, at least enough to know you were interested in finding out more. But we have to start here, for the benefit of anybody who might not have got started yet.
So let's take things right from the very beginning.
Choosing your System
Choosing the right system is an important decision. It's not that you'll be tied to your decision forever, but a little thought before buying can help to avoid expensive mistakes. Fortunately, whatever you choose it will be fun, and the decisions boil down to just a few main areas of choice, which we'll discuss here.
The first is whether to choose a traditional analogue setup, or a modern digital system.
The second is which size or scale of track and cars you want to use.
The third, and final choice we'll discuss here is which manufacturer, or brand to start with.
Analogue or Digital?
So what on earth is analogue slot racing?
Analogue slot racing is, to most of us, just slot racing.
To anybody over the age of thirty, it's the type of slot racing set you probably played with as a child. That strange word that's now been added, analogue (or analog), is a recent addition which is only necessary to distinguish it from digital slot racing. In truth it often goes unsaid, and you can usually assume that unless a car, power base, or controller are specifically labelled as digital, then they will be analogue.
The traditional analogue slot car set up comprises 2 or more separate lanes, and the same number of cars, controllers, and drivers. In other words each driver, has their own separately controlled lane to race on.
In general, analogue cars from any manufacturer can be used on any track system. So, for instance, a Scalextric car can be used on a Carrera, Ninco, or SCX track, and vice versa. In fact there are many manufacturers of slot cars, and most of them should work reasonably well on all of the main track systems.
How is digital slot racing different?
Digital slot racing allows multiple cars on the same lane, and special track pieces allow cars to change from one lane to another. This makes the racing more strategic in nature as drivers can change lanes to overtake, or to block another driver.
Digital racing can also be more complex, as the systems allow pit stops, and can also simulate tyre wear, bad weather, and fuel usage.
In general, digital systems from different manufacturers are not compatible with each other, so your choice of which manufacturer to purchase from becomes an important one. However it is often possible to modify a car from one manufacturer to work on a different digital system, but it isn't always simple.
Some digital systems can also work as a traditional analogue track.
Size and Scale
Slot cars are usually produced in one of four different scales, 1/24, 1/32, 1/43, & HO (1/64). Scale is the ratio of size in a model, with relation to the real thing it represents. So a 1:24 scale model car will be 24 times smaller, in it's length, width and height than the actual car.
Track systems are also said to have a scale, though this is more a reflection of the size of the cars which are suitable for the track, rather than any attempt to model a real track. The scale of the track obviously has a bearing on how much track you can fit into the space you have.
Pros and Cons
1:24 scale is the largest size, and as such allows the greatest potential for realistic models, but needs a larger space for a track.
1:32 scale is the most popular scale and with several major manufacturers involved, is also the scale with the widest range of products available.
1:43 scale allows more compact track layouts, with reasonable model accuracy.
HO, or 1:64 scale is the smallest scale allowing much more track in a space, but makes realistic modelling more difficult.
So how do I decide which scale is best for me?
There are several factors which you should consider when choosing a scale....
Available Track Space
The larger the scale you choose, the more space the track will take up. Carrera's 1:24 scale track is the largest commercially available plastic track, and requires a large space to set up a layout of any complexity. So if your space is limited, think about the smaller scales.
The smaller the scale, the more difficult it becomes to make a realistic model. So HO scale models are not usually as accurate as the larger scales. If model realism is important to you, then you might prefer a larger scale.
The more popular the scale, the more manufacturers are involved in production, and the wider the range of cars, track and accessories that are available. 1:32 scale currently has the widest range of products with Scalextric, Carrera, Policar, SCX, and many more companies involved.
The availability of a particular scale in your local hobby stores, or the use of a particular scale by other racers in your area might also be a factor worth considering.
There are lots of companies that make slot cars, but only a handful that produce a complete system, including the track. So unless you decide to rout your own track (we'll deal with that later), the following are your choices...
Scalextric are probably the most famous and long running slot car brand in the world, and offer three different systems; "Sport", a 1/32 scale analogue system, "Digital", a 1/32 scale digital system which is compatible with "Sport" track, and "Micro" a 1/64 scale analogue system. Scalextric cars are usually well modelled, and detailed, and their track is quite compact.
Carrera are also one of the major players in the slot car world, producing analogue and digital systems in 1/24, 1/32, and 1/43 scales. Carrera cars are well modelled, and solidy built, but probably not the quickest. Their 1/24 scale track (also used for 1/32 cars) is generally regarded as being of a higher quality, but it is also quite large.
Policar are a classic Italian brand, resurrected by Slot.it in the last few years, and currently concentrating on analogue cars and a brand new track system. Their cars are well modelled and have a unique gearing system. Policar track is a fairly recent introduction but is likely to be good quality. Size wise it's halfway in between Scalextric and Carrera track, and has converters to connect to Ninco track.
So which brand is the best?
We'd love to give you a simple, definitive answer to that question, but unfortunately it's not possible. Everyone has their own favourite, and each system has it's advantages.
The more established brands like Scalextric and Carrera are probably safer choices, and are widely available. Carrera 1/24 could work well in a large garage or basement, Scalextric 1/32 would probably be better in a smaller garage or an average room. Their smaller scales, 1/43 and 1/64, might be better in the smallest spaces, but choices in track and cars are more limited.
Policar and Scaleauto are exciting new entries into the plastic track market, and their tracks certainly look very professional. But we'll have to wait and see how they progress.
SCX are another long standing brand, but their track system is similar in size to Scalextric, and their recent problems have perhaps put a question mark against their future.
If you are handy with woodworking tools, then routing your own track has many advantages. But that's a subject in it's own right, so we'll deal with that at a later stage.
Find out more
Slot car manufacturers at Pendle Slot Racing
The SlotRacer Online forum has sections discussing all the scales where you can find out more or ask questions.
1:24 - 1:32 - 1:43 - HO
There are also examples of tracks of various scales in the Show us your Track section.
Show us your Track
The News section of the forum is a good place to keep up with the latest slot car releases.
And we also have a Review section.
Slot car brands on Wikipedia
Slot car brands on Slot Car Wiki