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How to choose the best toy car

It’s hard to find a category that contains more subcategories than cars. There are cars to ride on, cars to push and cars to race with remote controllers. Most are made to be played with but some of the most intricately detailed ones are made for displaying. Some are powered by hand, electric motors or friction, and others not at all.

Cars appeal to all ages, but the smallest and biggest kids have different ideas about what is cool and fun to play with.

Ride-on cars

Kids want to drive cars just like adults. Ride-on cars are big enough for one or two kids to drive around. They have one of three power sources.

  • Pushing: Some ride-on cars are made like strollers for little kids to be pushed around in.
  • Pedaling: Some are driven by the kids pedaling them, just as they would a bicycle.
  • Powered: Among the powered ride-ons, most are electric but competition go-karts for kids are powered by internal combustion engines.

Radio controlled cars

These are scale models powered by motors, most of them electric. Simple radio controlled cars that move along at slow speeds appeal to younger children who are still developing their motor skills and eye-hand coordination. As kids get older, they want RC cars that go faster, are more exciting and do tricks and stunts.

RC cars are built to scale, expressed most often as a ratio that confounds people who aren’t modelers because the larger the second number, the smaller the model car.

Model car kits

These appeal to two different groups. One type of model car kit is the kind you assemble from bits of plastic, metal and rubber and proudly display. Another type is the kind you make and then play with actively. These have motors and are fun ways for kids to learn about the STEM subjects, especially engineering and the mechanics of following a plan to create something out of hundreds of small parts.

Another way to look at it: Some kids want kits that are easy to put together, while others like the challenge of building a car from thousands of tiny parts.

The littlest kids

Young children are not interested in exacting detail or accurately scaled models. Many are still learning to grasp things. They’re too young for RC cars and models, but like to play with cars, especially clownish styles.

Best ride-on cars

best Paw Patrol Chase Cruiser Ride-On Car

Paw Patrol Chase Cruiser Ride-On Car

Kids can steer while being pushed or can toddle along behind holding the push bar. There’s a small storage area under the seat.

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best Anpabo Ride-On Dump Truck with Electric Dump Bed

Anpabo Ride-On Dump Truck with Electric Dump Bed

Kids love loading and unloading this dump truck that uses soft-start technology to accelerate gradually instead of jerkily. It’s got a safety belt, lockable doors and a spring suspension.

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best Dakott Lamborghini V12 Gran Turismo Ride-On Sports Car for Kids

Dakott Lamborghini V12 Gran Turismo Ride-On Sports Car for Kids

This nearly 4-foot-long car weighs 51 pounds and has ball-bearing wheels and powerful motors. Kids like to turn up the music on the MP3 player and FM radio and cruise in style.

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Best model car kits

best Gmaophy STEM 2-in-1 Car Model Building Kit

Gmaophy STEM 2-in-1 Car Model Building Kit

Kids learn while playing and play while learning with this 351-piece kit. You can make a race car from modular building blocks by following easy assembly instructions, take it apart and change it into an off-road truck.

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best AMT 1963 Corvette Sting Ray

AMT 1963 Corvette Sting Ray

Kids supply their own paint, glue and modeling tools and use them to customize this classic 1963 split-window Corvette. Modelers make the triple-carburetor version for street use or the blown 454 for all-out drag racing.

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best Lego Volkswagen T2 Camper Van Building Kit

Lego Volkswagen T2 Camper Van Building Kit

This classic pop-up camper model has 2,207 pieces and is a faithful replica with authentic details inside and out. The side door slides, the hood opens and the steering works.

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Best radio controlled cars

best Tecnock 1:18 Scale RC Car

Tecnock 1:18 Scale RC Car

This 9-inch-long all-terrain buggy speeds along at 12 mph for as much as an hour before needing a recharge or battery swap. The remote control has a 100-foot range and the sturdy rubber tires flex to absorb shocks.

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best Deejoy 1:12 Scale RC Stunt Car

Deejoy 1:12 Scale RC Stunt Car

This wild vehicle lights up, plays music and does flips by following your hand gestures on the smart remote control. It’s got a four-wheel drive to handle the roughest terrain and a shock-absorbing body to take the blows.

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best Traxxas 1:6 X-Maxx RC Monster Truck

Traxxas 1:6 X-Maxx RC Monster Truck

This 30-inch-long truck from the biggest name in RC vehicles comes ready to race as soon as you plug the batteries in and turn it on. At 19 pounds, it’s the biggest RC truck Traxxas makes and the fastest, too, reaching speeds up to 50 mph.

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Best cars for little kids

best Zmzs Rattle and Roll Cars for Toddlers

Zmzs Rattle and Roll Cars for Toddlers

These three cartoon cars are friction-powered, charging up when you push and pull them. These aren’t just cars for play, they’re also teething toys made of soft rubber.

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best Likee Animals Toy Friction Powered Cars, 4-Pack

Likee Animals Toy Friction Powered Cars, 4-Pack

These cute little ladybug, bee, dragonfly and tiger cars have threaded gears on the spring-powered rear wheels so you can go forward or back. Their chubby little bodies are low to the ground and made to go on wood floors, tile or carpet.

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best Temi Diecast Cars Activity Mat Play Set

Temi Diecast Cars Activity Mat Play Set

The colorful 32-by-27-inch mat with streets, stores, construction signs and traffic cones is big enough for several kids to play on at once. Included are six colorful cars and a truck carrier.

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