The best ride-on toy
One of the most challenging quests many parents face is finding a toy that will keep their toddler or young child engaged for more than a few hours. High on the list of candidates are ride-on toys, such as miniature cars, scooters, and tricycles. These entertaining toys, whether powered by kids, adults, or batteries, cultivate a sense of adventure while also developing important physical and mental skills. Other types of toys may be interesting, but a ride-on toy is a truly immersive experience.
When shopping for a ride-on toy, it is important to consider the age and skill level of the intended user. Some toddlers will enjoy a trip around the yard or neighborhood, as long as the ride is adult-powered. Others may want to drive themselves around in a miniature car or scooter. Older children are often prepared to take command of battery-powered cars.
In this buying guide, we've compiled a shortlist of the best ride-on toys on the market today. Some are entry-level and human-powered, while others have low-speed electric motors for more advanced users. At the top of our list is the Power Wheels Jeep Wrangler, a battery-powered miniature car that is rugged enough for both on-road and off-road duties.
Considerations when choosing ride-on toys
Types of ride-on toys
The one characteristic that all ride-on toys have in common is that the user interacts directly with them, usually as a driver or passenger. The most common types of ride-on toys are manually powered, either by a parent or the child. Some models are pushed from behind, while others are pulled from the front or pedaled by the young driver. A toy wagon or a scooter would fall into this broad category.
Another type of ride-on toy uses a track to create a loop or pathway. The child can push the toy manually or it may have a low-powered electric motor. The Power Wheels train set on our shortlist is an example of a tracked ride-on.
Some ride-on toys depend on a different kind of manual propulsion to move. A set of revolving handles could spin the toy's wheels, while others depend on centrifugal force generated by wiggling or leaning from side to side.
Battery-powered ride-on toys can be expensive, but are very popular and engaging. The passenger can steer and stop the car, while a low-speed electric motor provides the forward (or backward) momentum.
Age and weight limits
Manufacturers routinely put age and weight limits on the packaging of ride-on toys, and parents should respect those limitations. A toddler under three years of age may have the motor skills to push a manual scooter or sit inside a parent-powered mini-car, but battery-powered cars are generally restricted to older children who can control the speed and steer the car responsibly with minimal supervision.
Weight also plays an important role in ride-on toy specifications, because the toys are often designed to sit low to the ground for safety reasons. The support system can fail under too much stress or rough handling.
Ride-on toys require a high safety threshold because users must interact physically with them by design. This is why many manufacturers encourage parents to provide additional safety equipment such as helmets and pads. The upper speed of battery-powered ride-on toys is also strictly controlled. Passengers often sit very low to the ground to prevent falling, and the toys are usually reinforced at critical locations.
The cost of ride-on toys seems to break along a powered/non-powered line. Basic, unpowered scooters for toddlers can cost as little as $30 to $60. More advanced ride-on toys with battery-powered motors can cost as much as $300 or more.
Q. Can my three-year-old child use a battery-powered ride-on car?
A. Manufacturers usually set a recommended age range for their ride-on products, and a number of battery-powered cars are considered safe for toddlers. However, you'll want to evaluate your child's eye-hand coordination, motor skills, and self-control before allowing him to ride without supervision.
Q. I'm buying my child their first ride-on toy. What type should I consider?
A. Very young children will benefit from a ride-on toy that is "parent powered," not motorized. There should be some additional safety features, such as a deep seat, low profile, and a seat belt.
Ride-on toys we recommend
Best of the best: Power Wheels' Jeep Wrangler
Our take: This powered ride-on car is designed to work equally well on or off the road. Very safe and durable.
What we like: Realistic representation of Jeep Wrangler. Performs well on grass and hard surfaces. Generous storage space. Maximum forward speed of five mph, 2.5 mph in reverse.
What we dislike: Some pieces reported missing on arrival. Overall durability can be variable depending on amount of use.
Best bang for your buck: Little Tikes' Cozy Coupe 30th Anniversary Car
Our take: This classic ride-on toy can be "powered" by parents or foot-pedaled by a child. We like the affordable price point, too.
What we like: Floor can be removed for self-pushing. Optional rear handle for parental control. Front wheels rotate 360° for maximum maneuverability. Includes a steering wheel.
What we dislike: Proper assembly can be challenging. Reports of steering wheel failure after extended use.
Choice 3: PlaSmart's Original PlasmaCar
Our take: The PlasmaCar's sleek, no-nonsense design makes it easy for younger children to use, but still generates interest in older riders.
What we like: Very intuitive design for younger riders, minimal learning curve. Exceptionally stable during use. Includes a 12-volt battery and charger. Large enough for older children.
What we dislike: A few reports of missing parts upon arrival. Wheels can damage interior flooring.
Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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