Since the first model cars and Matchbox vehicles landed in the hands of kids, toy cars have been a childhood staple. It makes sense: the shrunk-down versions of those things that go vroom-vroom make it possible for kids to engage with those big, loud, fast machines called cars that they ride in themselves. The best car toys are also great vessels for creative play (a car must have a destination, after all) and fit seamlessly into the narratives kids create with other toys. But all fun aside, and there’s plenty of fun to be had, they’re also standout developmental toys that, as they’re pushed back and forth by children, encourage the development of gross and fine motor skills.
“Playing with cars is a sensory activity and one that gives children insight into the cognitive concept of cause and effect — as they experiment with a hard push or a soft push, or holding the car with lots of pressure or less pressure, they discover how the car reacts,” says Rebecca Parlakian, the senior director of programs at Zero to Three. “Car play is a form of pretend play, like when kids make beep-beep noises. Adding props like little people to pick up in their toy school bus or setting up buildings made of blocks can enhance this early pretend play. For older babies and toddlers, look for chunky toy cars that are safe to mouth and chew on.”
So, while certainly fun, car toys also bring a slew of developmental benefits to kids that play with them. So what are the best to buy? Here are some of our favorite car toys for toddlers and older kids.
The Best Toy Cars for Toddlers
These colorful, chunky wood cars are great for babies 12 months and older. They roll smoothly, have no sharp or annoying parts, and mimic something from real life. Each is made from blocks of beechwood.
These standout trucks are made from recycled plastic, which is something we can get behind. Sustainability aside, they're also just cool toys. The fire truck has a 360 degree roof ladder and two removable side ladders. The truck, meanwhile, has a flatbed that tilts up to allow the car it's hauling to roll right off.
Not only does this building set teach toddlers to problem-solve, as they learn how certain pieces fit together to achieve the desired result, but it's also modular. It only has 10 pieces, so kids can build the tow truck of their dreams without getting frustrated.
If they truly feel the need for speed, kids can zoom around in this ride-on toy. It has a removable floorboard and a drop-down tailgate, as well as a driver's door that opens and closes. The weight limit is 50 pounds.
The Best Toy Cars for Kids
Kids can tear some serious shit up with this car, which has a pull-back motor that lets the car accelerate, a sizable front bumper, a large rear spoiler, wide black rims with low profile tires and an engine that pops out on impact. With 139 pieces, it's great for kids 7 and up.
This specific line of wood cars is on the larger side, so they’re great for preschool-sized hands to maneuver. And the cars are all mix and match, with each vehicle having multiple interchangeable components. That means that kids work on their motor skills when they put the magnetic pieces together and build the monster truck of their dreams.
Future Elon Musks can build the wheels of their dreams with this 32-piece magnetic tile set. It includes 16 squares, 12 triangles, 2 hexagons, and 2 wheel sets. And it's great for kids 6 and up.
So yes, this is the track and yes, it needs specific cars. But this is the set you need for a truly immersive car-racing experience, because it levels up and never gets boring. Kids 8 and up record every mile covered and every race won, and the more they win, the more power they get. Plus they build and overcome more than 50 challenges with reconfigurable track pieces.
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