1. Will I be able to use the usb com port through the Arduino IDE?
That is highly variable and dependent on many factors. You might consider implementing a transmitter 'heartbeat' protocol and having your car stop if it can't hear the transmitter.2. Is there an appreciable lag at the fringes of communication range?
3. The range of XBee is stated to be more than 100' and the max as 300', but what is a realistic effective range? (i.e., if I program the car wrong and it goes driving away from me, how fast will I need to react to send it a stop signal?)
The modules themselves are relatively robust. Points of failure are more likely to be connectors. If you search the forums, there are a couple of threads regarding ruggedizing electronics for automotive applications.4. How durable are Xbee units? The one in the car will be subject to physical shocks, vibrations, and dust.
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