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This article forms part of my series on CAR SYSTEMS , and gives some additional information to help you get started.

Whatever system you end up using, the basics are pretty much the same, and it is probably good to know what your options are.

Attention is given to the following:

  • Road Systems
  • Vehicles
  • Manual Control
  • Computer Control

Road Systems

You essentially have a choice between three types of “road systems”:

  • Faller Contact Wire
  • DC-CAR Magnetic Tape
  • Mader Magnetic Tape

Keep in mind that while there are other systems available (such as Faller’s new V3 system, that uses Ultrasonic sensors to determine the position and send commands to vehicles in real time), the most common, practical and cost-effective method available to the modeler -at this point in time- is still the basic guide-wire approach..

My advise -if you are new to car systems, or have limited experience with electronics- is to rather stick to known technologies that are available and supported- bearing in mind that there are those of us who will always tinker and try to push the envelope and spend countless hours (possibly mostly in  frustration)
trying out new ideas, technologies. the point being that you have to decide if you want a working, no fuss system, or a system that sounds promising, but probably only works experimentally – ok, lets agree to move on,
as we can debate this point endlessly..

Please refer to my Road Construction Article for more detail about each type of road system, as well as some practical advise to get started.

Here’s what you need t know:

  • Each of the systems uses a slightly different guide wire, requiring a different type of magnet, and that the correct magnet needs to be fitted to a vehicle for proper operation.
  • You can build your own streets using just guide wire, or purchase prefabricated roads (Faller Laser Street, Street System)

Guide Wire

Guide Wire

Faller’s Guide wire is widely available and relatively cheap. However, the vehicles will follow anything magnetic (i.e. made of steel) such as steel rails, steel wire, 24 gauge piano wire, and even some stainless steel welding wires. You can use anything, as long as it has decent magnetism properties.. use a magnet to test !

Guide wire in Road

Vehicles follow the road (guidewire imbedded in the road surface) by means of a small magnet, attached to the vehicles steering arm.

There are a few options for placing or embedding the guide wire into the layout, with Faller’s method of cutting grooves into the base board still being pretty straightforward.

The picture to the right shows how easy it is to create a decent roadway. In this way, it is easy to make changes before covering and painting road surfaces.

Note:  Keep in mind that the various types of guide wires do have slight differences, that may seem trivial, but that, if not taken into consideration, you may want to re-read this as a reminder when you vehicles start misbehaving!

In short,  There are 3 types of wire available:

1. 3mm (W) x 1mm (T) x 1000mm (L) – used by the Faller Car System
2. 3mm (W) x 3mm (T) x 200 mm (L) – alternative Car system
3. 6mm (W) x 3mm (T) x 200 mm) (L) – used by the Mader Magnet Truck cars

Faller Magnetic tape

A quick note:  Somewhat confusing is the fact that Faller also refers to their product as “Contact Wire” and then also as “magnetic tape”. I have found that the Faller wire is not magnetic, although it does seem to become magnetic over time.

Magnetic road tape


  • The tape is 1 mm thick and 3 mm wide and typically sold in 1m length very flexible.
  • It can be inserted into a machined groove or placed on top of the roadway.
  • The tape provides a better guidance of the vehicles than the wire.
  • It does not affect reed switches – because it is not magnetic!
  • A thin road surface up to 1 mm is possible
  • The steering lever can be lifted up a small piece, therefore the lever is not dragging on the roadway
  • Vehicles seem to drive longer as there seems to be less “grab” between the wire and magnet

Generic Magnetic Tape for Car System vehicles

magnetic Tape


  • The magnetic strip is 3 mm thick and 3 mm wide and flexible.
  • It can be inserted into a machined groove or laid under a thin road.
  • The magnetic strip provides better management of vehicles than the wire.
  • A road surface up to 2 mm is possible if the tape is laid out below the road surface.
  • laid on the surface it can cause Faller vehicles to malfunction (ie accidental activation of Reed switches, causing vehicle to stop)
  • For Mader magnet truck the tape is too weak

Mader : Magnetic Tape


  • The magnetic strip is 3 mm thick and 6 mm wide and flexible.
  • It can be inserted into a machined groove or laid under the road.
  • The magnetic strip provides better management of vehicles than the wire.
  • A road surface up to 3 mm is possible if the tape is laid out below the roadface.
  • For Mader-Magnet-Trucks it has to be laid at the surface so that the Mader-reed switch is activated.
  • On such a road with no junctions and crossings Faller vehicles can not be used.
  • Small cars get stuck on the road.

Which one to choose?

This largely depends on the brand of vehicles you intend to run. If you go with Faller, it makes sense to use their wire (but not required), likewise it makes sense to use Maders magnetic tape if you intend running any of the Mader trucks.

My advise: Stick to one type of wire, test run your installation before fixing anything, and make sure vehicles use the same type of magnets appropriate for the type of wire.


Vehicles are probably the most important component of any car-system are the vehicles – after all, this is what you and visitors to your layout want to see..

Vehicles can range from cars, trucks, delivery vans, buses, boats, santa’s slay.. (pretty much anything that can move)! However you will quickly find that, due to a lack of commercially available options, most often you will have to “kitbash” your own.

Chassis, steering, wheels and motor, almost there.

MCC Car decoder installed

Your choice of vehicle is pretty much limited to the following:

  • Faller – range of vehicles available (use as is or adapt/modify to your needs)
  • DIY / Custom built – using 3d printed parts, or components/parts from other projects is common

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Commercially, of-the-shelf-available vehicles are pretty much limited to Faller vehicles
  • a handful of DC-CAR re-sellers offer custom built DC-CAR vehicles (typically based on a Faller chassis)
  • Most people tend to start out with Faller before moving onto the other systems.
  • Faller vehicles are essentially “dumb”, although they can react to start/stop/delay control points.
  • DC-CAR, OPEN-CAR, INFRA-CAR vehicles have an on-board processor thus making the vehicles more intelligent

For specific detail on the various vehicles or vehicle construction, please start by reading the Car-Systems article

Manual Control

With Manual Control, I refer to the control of vehicles by means of a system that does not require connection to a computer or central command station.

In its simplest form, with just a guide wire installed, you can have a car system up and running with very little effort, but the vehicles will probably go around-around..,
so by adding a few components you can have the vehicles start, stop, pull into a car wash, etc – all this without having to connect to a computer, yes you are now running under Automated (but Manual) Control!

Remember that using a DC-CAR equipped vehicle will give you distance control and vehicle collision avoidance out of the box, as this is a function of the chip on board the vehicle.

Every manufacturer has developed add-on components that allow you to build more realistic and interesting roads.

Components are the standard functional elements which you can use to control the Car System traffic on model systems.

Almost every system offers components for the following basic functions:

  • Stopping
    When activated, the stopping point creates a magnetic field. This magnetic field causes the reed sensor in the vehicle to open and the current supply to the motor to be interrupted. The vehicle stops.
  • Junction / Branching (turnout)
    When activated, the magnetic field of the junction diverts a vehicle onto a second, branching contact wire. This is done through the magnets on the vehicle’s steering slider.
  • Parking
    The parking area has a permanent magnet which stops vehicles without electricity, even for a long period of time. When the parking area is activated, an integrated electric coil briefly interferes with this magnetic field. This closes the reed sensor in the vehicle and supplies power to the motor. The vehicle starts moving.

Typically, Sensors embedded in the road are activated by magnets on the vehicles when driven, resulting in the activation of one or more control action/element.

This can also be achieved by means of Infra red signals being sent/received by vehicles as in the case of the DC-CAR and INFRA-CAR systems.

Please refer to each system for more detail of available control modules and methods.

Computer Control

Miniatur Wunderland provides a very impressive example of how a vehicle system ca be controlled via computer.

Every aspect of operation and maintenance is controlled by means of various sensors, feedback modules, and software.

Under Computer control, vehicles automatically go to a re-fueling (charging) station

A tiny glimpse of the thousands of sensors needed for computer control at MiWula

What you need to know

  • Sit back, dream, plan and budget..then decide to what extent you can afford to computerize! No seriously, be realistic!
  • Implementing a computer control system for you vehicles is no more difficult than Automation of model trains
  • Of the various systems on the market, the DC-CAR system probably offers the most Automation options (at this point in time)

Hope you enjoyed reading this introductory article, and that you have a slightly better understanding of the basics of a CAR-System

Article Credit: Stéfan

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