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Adding R/C to your Powerwheels vehicles? Using R/C parts on your Powerwheels?
By tjenne
My son James has CP (and a laundry list of other diagnoses) due to a hypoxic brain injury at birth. He is almost 18 months old now. He loves to be outside and to bounce around. I came up with the idea to R/C a Power Wheels a while ago. When I started looking into the idea seriously, I came across this forum. Since so many here have done similar projects for their Special Needs children, I figured I would share my project here as well.

Pic of me and the boy:

I'm just getting started with the project. I bought a used Mustang off CraigsList this past weekend. I chose the Mustang because I have owned four of them in my days ('69 Fastback (never actually had it running), '00 6 cyl, '03 GT, '07 GT). My goal is to have it working for him by the spring. I used to race R/C cars when i was younger, so I am comfortable with the basics. I have read several other threads here and have gotten a lot of good ideas. I just need to start accumulating the parts.

I have an old Futaba Magnum AM radio and receiver I am planning on using. Hopefully that will work for this project.

Pic of the car:

What I have so far:

Mustang Power Wheels - $75
Futaba Magunm AM Radio and Receiver- It's 20 years old. Who knows what I paid for it. But it worked as of a couple years ago when i got my Losi truck conversion running again.

What I am planning:
Actually I have not spent too much time on this.
Linear actuator seems to be the way to go for steering. I've read durb69's topic, and will probably go with that one or something similar.
Speed controller seems like I can do pretty much whatever. I have a Novak controller, but since it has no reveres, i probably will get something else.
Seat may be an issue. James has hypotonic CP, which means he has very low muscle tone and he needs to be supported well. May have to go custom to get the right support. I kinda want to keep it a two seater, but that may prove difficult.

I'll update this as the project progresses. Thank you all for the information you have already shared on your projects. I'm sure I will have questions along the way.

User avatar
By durb69
Fantastic! Congrats on being a super awesome dad dude! Glad to see you have looked over my thread. I have seriously thought about starting up a business building RC power wheels, mostly for special needs kids. I get serious attention when we go out in public with my sons car. I was going to build my son the same mustang. I found one on craigslist and could not get the person to get a hold of me. I had a custom paint job lined up for it and everything. My father is a body man and a mustang lover. It would have been a great father son project for my boy. But we ended up just buying a new buggy and customizing that. As for the linear actuator I have got to say that if you plan to go RC this is the way to go! Another guy on this website has built his son with CP a truck and he added and full upper body harness that holds him upright very nicely. I will look for his forum posts and link them here for you just in case you haven't seen them. I was thinking of adding the same thing to my sons car. He holds him self up pretty well though. I decided to only add the harness if it seemed like he needed it. Children with Down syndrome also have very low muscle tone. One idea I had for this was to find an old car seat and remove the harness from it and attach the setup to the car. I think that would work well and look great also. It would almost add a racing seat look to the car while serving as as upper body support! Did you see the custom bench seat that I added to my sons car? You could do something similar with your mustang and then add the harness for support.

You should check out the speed controller that I linked. That one is cheap and does the job very well. The only thing it really lacks is regenerative breaking. That kinda sucks not to have. It makes slowing down quickly a not so fun thing. Slamming the wheels into reverse to slow down is not so cool.

Good luck with your project. Make sure to post progress and if you need any help just let me know. I am more than happy to help you out.
Last edited by durb69 on Mon Dec 23, 2013 12:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
By gtdroptop
I'm sure you've seen it, if you've been browsing the forums, but I recently finished an R/C Mustang build. It should be mechanically identical to your mustang.


Some things to keep in mind:
- It's helpful for your transmitter to have trim settings in case you can't get components easily mounted on-center
- Make sure your ESC can handle the current for a Power Wheels, it's a LOT more than your standard R/C car
- I ended up needing a separate BEC for the Mustang, something also to consider when picking out your ESC

Good luck!
By tjenne
Thanks for the advice.

durb69, how the does actuator do steering on grass? I've seen others use the low speed version of this, which goes up to 150 lbs. Of course there is a speed trade off, which i could see being an issue.

The seat will need quite a bit of head support. Just the harness will not be enough. I have considered using a car seat, and may still go that way, but then I lose the ability to keep it a two seater. I'm sure I will figure something out.

gtdroptop, the ESC you linked has an integrated BEC. Why did you need a additional one?

I never really thought about using a second battery for steering, but I see most recommend it. What would be the implications of using just the standard battery? Would I lose power when I turn, or will it just kill battery life?
Last edited by tjenne on Tue Dec 24, 2013 10:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
By durb69
You could build a custom head support/seat. That's what I would try to shoot for. This way you can keep it a two seater. Maybe if you built a padded head support that attached the the existing seat to extend the height of the seat back? As far as using a second battery goes, it will pay off big time for a few reasons. If you add any other items to the car like, lights and a radio it will not drain your battery that is providing power to the drive motors. My sons car will get 3 hours of driving time on one charge because I use two batteries.

I don't understand the reason to have a superate BEC. That doesn't make any sense to me. I run my system using the built in BEC provided through the ESC. The ESC I use handles the amp draw awesome. It has a built in fan for cooling and never gets hot. The great part about the ESC that gtdroptop suggested is that it is waterproof!! I found out the hard way that having a waterproof ESC is essential. We carry our power wheels with it sticking out of our cars trunk and we got stuck in a flash rain storm and it fried the ESC. It ruined our fun trip to the local fair.
User avatar
By durb69
Forgot to mention that the steering being connected to the drive battery will cause the drive battery to slow during turns. I would imagine that your battery will suffer a very significant loss in its drive time as well.
User avatar
By Jornum1
First off kudos to you guys for doing such great things for your kids.
Just to clarify the bec questions.

Gtdroptop is using a Servo gearbox which can be twitchy and low on power using the esc's bec.
If you want maximum power out of you linear actuator I draw power directly from a 12v source. Your esc's bec is only supplying 5v. Just remember, you have to disconnect your red 5v supply wire from the esc. If not you will back feed 12v into your system and fry your esc. Don't ask how I know that!
Last edited by Jornum1 on Wed Dec 25, 2013 7:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
By durb69
I have an idea for a padded head support. I have to sketch it up. Its 3 pieces of wood held together with metal brackets then wrapped with seat foam and vinyl or another kind of material. Maybe a soft black fabric like used in car seats. I'm thinking that your looking for some rear head support along with a little side head support? Can your son hold his head up OK with some moderate support behind his head? Or does he pretty much need his head held up for him? Because I have some ideas for that as well. If your interested I am more than happy to share them. I can even help make them and ship them to you if you want.
By tjenne
Thanks Jornum1. I missed the obvious... Makes sense now.

durb69, that's pretty much what I had in mind, though I would probably go with bent sheet metal rather than wood. He does need side support, but not so much that I have to clamp his head up tight. I built a cardboard mock up tonight just to see if my idea would even work. Pretty happy with the results.


User avatar
By durb69
That's a great mock up. Exactly what i was thinking for head support. The reason o was thinking to use wood is because then you can simply place padded foam on the wood and then wrap the seat coverimg of choice around the new seat and head rest and then staple it in place. That's how I built my sons bench seat. I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with! Keep us posted.
By gtdroptop
tjenne wrote:gtdroptop, the ESC you linked has an integrated BEC. Why did you need a additional one?
Like jornam1 notes, I needed an additional BEC because the servo wasn't getting enough power on the Mustang. My R/C Mini Cooper runs fine with the integrated BEC, but the steering on the Mustang requires significantly more torque, and the servo couldn't keep up. Adding the external BEC fixed that problem. You could try without the BEC first and see if it works with either the servo or linear accelerator. It's pretty easy to add on after the fact.

Also, like durb69 notes, I picked a waterproof ESC that was recommended here on MPW. It was originally intended as an R/C boat ESC, I think, but works great in this application.
By tjenne
Ordered ESC and radio today. I decided to go with the Mamba Max because of the ability to modify the set up. Being able to start up and stop slower will help keep James from jerking around as much. Also decided that for the cost of a new radio, it was not worth relying on 20 year old crystals to keep him from driving into a tree.

Mamba Max Pro - $110.33
Castle Link USB Programming Adapter - $17.74
FlySky FS-GT2B 2.4GHz 3-Channel Transmitter - $39.90

I have a bit of a concern about the noise. I was testing out the PW today and realized the car is very noisy. Obviously I will clean things up, take the rocks out of the wheels, and probably lube up the gear boxes. But has anyone done anything else for sound suppression? I did a quick search on this forum, though I'll admit I didn't look too hard, but didn't find anything. The reason I ask is that James has auditory seizures, which are sparked by loud (or sometimes not so loud) sudden noises. I'm worried that the start up of the motor will set him off. I guess that was the other reason I went with the Mamba. I'm hoping ramping up the speed a little slower will dull the noise spike.
User avatar
By Jornum1
The Mamba is a awesome esc.
I used it when I had a RC scale rock crawler. Many people use different methods to waterproof their esc's. I used to use a large pill bottle and cut a hole in the lid for the wiring, and seal it up with silicone. Worked really well. Obviously you would have to worry about heat though as well if you were really working it. But if your not planning to ride the machine in big puddles or lots of rain I dont think its a concern.

About the noise. You can always use a bicycle tire to wrap around the wheels. These are great for traction, and eliminate the plastic scraping noise on asphalt. You just cut the sidewall off and screw them on. If you want to go farther many use Harbor Freight wheels and mod them to PW's. Do a search, there are a few threads on how to do it with parts from your local hardware store.
As for the motor noise, not sure what you can do with that. you can insulate the motor box, but then heat may become a issue. Maybe if you just insulated under the seat, and vented out the back? I dont have a mustang, so am not familiar with them.

And btw, good choice on the parts. Your going with good reliable equipment. Its worth the $ up front to me to save headaches down the road. I tried some cheaper components before and had failures while out with the machine. Like Durb said, nothing worse then dragging a PW back home with a upset child. Not saying more expensive parts wont fail, but I have yet to have a mamba, or a linear actuator fail on me. I have used several. Worst that happened was the actuator on my 4x4 in my avatar would overheat sometimes and the controller would kill it. I would have to cycle the power and it would be fine. But I was doing some extreme stuff with it. For everyday street and grass riding you will be fine.
By gtdroptop
Jornum1 wrote:About the noise. You can always use a bicycle tire to wrap around the wheels. These are great for traction, and eliminate the plastic scraping noise on asphalt. You just cut the sidewall off and screw them on. If you want to go farther many use Harbor Freight wheels and mod them to PW's.
That will definitely help with the noise and improve handling, but there's a potential downside with your child. Rubber on the wheels will *significantly* increase the grip, which means much faster starts and stops. One of the nice things of the plastic wheels is that you can be going full tilt and hit reverse to get the car to skid safely and gently to a stop. With rubber tires, you won't have an easy way to quickly stop the car without putting your child's face into the windshield. Similarly on starts, rubber wheels can cause a bit of whiplash.
User avatar
By Jornum1
Very true, but that is one of the benefits of the mamba max pro he is using. It has adjustable ramping for acceleration and braking, which gives a soft start and stop effect. What you describe is one of the reasons I decided to go with the mamba myself when I made my first RC PW.
I have that problem with my 4x4. I am using a syren 50a which is a awesome robotics esc, but the controls are very touchy. I fixed this by using a flysky transmitter which also has adjust-ability for both forward and reverse.
I believe TJ is using both, so he can use either to dial in his controls. I may suggest using the flysky since you can adjust on the fly.
User avatar
By durb69
To reduce noise from the gear box you can take it apart and place dynomat ... treme.html to all of the surfaces. Then for added noise reduction you could spray the gear box full of great stuff expanding foam ... 0263923001 then after it dries carve out all the area you need for the gears and re assemble the unit. You can also add dynomat to the outside of the gear box as well and then spray the whole gear box with rubberized undercoating ... 7AodLUsAmA

This is what I would try any way. Perhaps you could add rubber grommets between all of the mounting surfaces of the gear box and the frame of the car also. and if you add dynomat in places along the inner body of the car it will reduce he noise as well.
you can cut the dynomat into strips and place it here and there in the inner body. it will help a lot.
By tjenne
Thanks for the suggestions. Ill see how loud it is when I get it cleaned up and put the seat back on and go from there.

I got the Radio and ESC now. Unfortunately, the actuator is back ordered. Should be available some time later this month. I noticed that the ESC has it's own connectors on the motor connections. Is it important to use the castle connectors, or can I unsolder them and use some regular bullet connectors. I had picked up some 14 ga bullet connectors from Menards the other day. The are rated for 600V, but I didnt see an amp rating.
By tjenne
So I got the ESC wired up today. Once I got the setup correct, I am getting power to the wheels and they are turning the right way, but they just stutter. The battery is charged, but it seems like I am getting less than 1V through the ESC.

I ended up buying some 4mm bullets to make an adaptor to the ESC. But I did not replace the female ends on the ESC. I was told where I bought them that the castle connectors were their own special setup, but since these fit, I thought I would try it as they are. The thing is, if I run the multimeter across the motor leads coming out of the ESC, I am still only getting a little over 1v there. I checked both sides of the connector from the battery to the ESC and am getting over 12V there.

edit: I think I found the issue. The ESC by default is set up for brushless motors. I'll change this later and hopefully this will fix my issue.
Last edited by tjenne on Sun Jan 05, 2014 2:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.
By tjenne
Ok, just want to make sure I am not completely crazy. Even though they told me it was backordered, the actuator showed up today. But I am a little confused. I ordered the FA-SA-35-12-2, which should be the actuator and the LAC. What I received was the FA-PO-35-12-2 actuator and the LAC. Is that correct, or is there something different between the two actuators. The specs are identical, so I tend to think it's correct. Is the FA-SA just an assembly part number containing the two. I guess the only reason I question it is the fact that I paid $220 for the FA-SA, but the FA-PO actuator is $140 and the LAC is $40. So did I spend an extra $40 for nothing?
By MtbMacgyver
tjenne wrote:Ok, just want to make sure I am not completely crazy. Even though they told me it was backordered, the actuator showed up today. But I am a little confused. I ordered the FA-SA-35-12-2, which should be the actuator and the LAC. What I received was the FA-PO-35-12-2 actuator and the LAC. Is that correct, or is there something different between the two actuators. The specs are identical, so I tend to think it's correct. Is the FA-SA just an assembly part number containing the two. I guess the only reason I question it is the fact that I paid $220 for the FA-SA, but the FA-PO actuator is $140 and the LAC is $40. So did I spend an extra $40 for nothing?
I "think" FA-SA-35-12-2 is just an assembly that include a FA-PO-35-12-2 actuator and LAC controller. I ran into the same confusion when investigating actuators. I didn't actually need a controller so I ended up just ordering the bare actuator (FA-PO-35-12-2).

The real confusion seems to stem from the fact that Firgellli Technologies and Firgelli Automations are actually two different companies. Firgelli Automations seems to be a spin off from Firgelli Technologies. As best I can tell, Firgelli Automations doesn't sell the LAC controller separately. So yes, you can buy the LAC from Firgelli Technologies for $40 and you can buy the FA-PO-35-12-2 actuator from Firgelli Automations for $149 and have the same thing as the $220 FA-SA-35-12-2 kit from Firgelli Automations. Not sure if having to pay shipping from two different places would add enough to negate the savings or not.

I feel like I did find the LAC controller on the Firgelli Automations web site at one point in time, but then it went away or I'm just not looking in the right place. If anyone knows where it's listed on their website, post the URL.
By tjenne
Got the steering actuator setup. It's still running off the receiver power, and I suspect that battery needs to be charged, so the movement is a little clunky. It has a weird issue when returning to center. It gets most of the way there, then stops, then slowly centers. I'll charge up the battery and see if that helps, but unless that works way better than I expect, I plan on running it off a second battery. (Yeah, I know, cut the red wire...)

Edit: Battery charge didnt do anything ordered 2nd battery. Just need to decide where to mount it.
Last edited by tjenne on Sun Jan 12, 2014 8:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
By tjenne
Thanks for the suggestion. Dead band is set to the smallest setting, speed is all the way up.

It seems like I have a power issue. It will not even turn the wheels just sitting on carpet. I get the second battery on Friday. Hope that takes care of the issue.
By tjenne
I finally figured out how I wanted to do the seat and got it built this weekend. Bought two used car seats from a local resale shop and pulled the straps out of them. I cut slots in two pieces of plywood to mount the belts. I ran the belt through two slots on the back, and put the buckle through a slot on the bottom, much like they are installed in an actual car seat. I covered it in foam and wrapped it in black vinyl. I am by no means a upholsterer, but it looks decent. It does not do a great job of positioning him, but it does the job.

Last edited by tjenne on Sat Apr 12, 2014 5:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
By tjenne
I took James out for a ride today. It's not the best video, but he loved it. I'll try to get a better one the next time we have it out. Had him racing one of the neighborhood kids on his scooter up the road.

I want to say thank you to all of you who have helped me along the way with this project. The smile James had on his face from the moment he started moving made it all worth it, and seeing the other kids chasing him almost overwhelm me.
Last edited by tjenne on Sat Apr 12, 2014 5:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
By M.L.Toys
Is that full speed or are you throttling back for him? If you need to give it more oomph we'd like to build you a custom motor/gearbox that can handle the extra weight of the systems you added. Let me know. Great job!
User avatar
By durb69
Great job! Glad you could get the job done and make such a sweet ride for your son! Excellent job! I just got a great hookup with a local car stereo pro and his partner who is the best in the region at airbrushing! They are going to make him a custom dash with stereo and paint it for free, I just have to pay for materials! I'm so pumped!
By tjenne
My wife was driving at the time, so I am pretty sure she did not have it full throttle. When I was driving, it was fast enough to stay along side of me jogging. Maybe when he gets older I will want something faster, but it's just right for now.
By tjenne
So I cleaned up some of the wiring and got all the components mounted up on the front wall, cut a hole and made a battery box to mount the second battery under the hood and made a cover for the hole where the shifter used to be. When I got it out for the first time since doing all this, the actuator was acting like it was getting almost no power, and then completely locked up. After I picked up the front end I was able to get it to return to center, but was still acting weird. I started looking into and it suddenly snapped back to life. I had no issues with it the rest of the day, so hopefully it was just a bad connection, but I never did find out for sure.

Got a better video today of James and his friend riding around.
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By Trey
I love the sunglasses on James. I am starting an RC mod. for my son Hudson. He has CP. Thanks for sharing the inspiration.
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By DJ Kryptonite
I know this is a little older post now but just want to say it's great seeing your boy James enjoying the Mustang you built him. I have a 4 year old girl a 3 year old boy and a almost 2 year old boy. My youngest has Downs Syndrome along with some associated medical issues but wants to keep up with his brother and sister. This build and some of the other posts on the site have inspired me to get to work for little man. Great job pulling this off so well and making sure your boy gets to enjoy zipping around in a pony...just awesome!


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