Ride-on toys – play vehicles for children – have been popular with kids since they first retailed in the mid-20th century. These days, there’s a pretty impressive amount of choice for anyone shopping for a child’s play car (or truck, or bike): whether your little one wants to drive Lightning McQueen from hit Disney movie Cars, or wants to zip around the back garden in a pint-sized replica of mum or dad’s ride, there are toymakers out there who have got you covered. What’s more, as the technology improves, ride-on toys are better-performing and safer than they ever have been: even battery-powered ride-on toys, which put (a small amount of) pedal power at your children’s feet, meet rigorous safety standards and can be enjoyed by children across a range of ages. With summer on the horizon and everyone spending more time outdoors, it’s a great time to buy if you’ve been thinking about treating your family to a battery-powered ride-on toy. There’s a lot of variety across a breadth of price points, so you’ll be sure to find something to delight the little ones in your life: as with any consumer decision, do your homework to get a good idea of what you’re looking for and you’re much likelier to be happy with your purchase.
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A ride-on toy is simply a children’s toy that can be ridden: while this technically includes toys such as rocking horses, what is most often meant by the term is a children’s vehicle, either pedal-powered or motorized. The earliest ride-on toys in this style were entirely pedal-powered, but an increasing number on the market today are motorized: these provide enough power for a child to ‘drive’ using a one-touch operating pedal, helping the child to roleplay driving and enabling them to take charge (even if only in their imagination!) Most commonly, motorized ride-on toys have an electric motor and are battery-powered, although there are also junior quad bikes which work in much the same way while being gas-powered. Most ride-on children’s vehicles are 4-wheelers (cars, quad bikes, trucks), but 2-wheeler (bikes) and 3-wheeler (trikes) toys are also available.
Battery-powered ride-on toys are available for children across a range of ages, with the design choices taken by the manufacturer generally reflecting the recommended age rating of the product. Those ride-on vehicles designed for the youngest children – those who are 2 years old or less – will typically not feature a pedal control on the toy itself, so that the responsibility of ‘driving’ the vehicle remains with an adult who has a one-touch remote control for that purpose. Battery-powered ride-on toys which have been designed for especially young children will also have a low maximum speed (comfortably less than 5mph) and will usually be built for indoor use, with tires which will do fine on carpet and hard surfaces but may struggle with rough or muddy terrain.
Most battery-powered ride-on toys are marketed towards children aged 3-6 years: these vehicles will have maximum speeds up to around 6mph, and are most often controlled by a foot pedal on the toy itself. This pedal will usually be a one-touch control, making rapid acceleration impossible and so enhancing the vehicle’s safety. These ride-on toys are steered using an attached steering wheel or handlebars, although remote controls may also be included to give parents and carers the option of stopping the vehicle at a distance. The battery-powered ride-on toys in this age range also boast the widest variety of styles: TV and movie vehicles are plentiful, as are emergency services-style vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks; while there are plenty of road vehicle replicas for any infant petrol-heads.
The battery-powered ride-on toys targeted at older children – those who are 6 years old or more – see an increasing number of road vehicle replicas, and relatively few TV and movie vehicles. You’re as likely to see gas-powered junior quad bikes as you are electric ride-on toys at this end of the scale – with all the safety concerns and increase price that go along with them – but there are still plenty of options out there for older children. If you’re shopping for an older child in particular, keep an eye out for features like dual gears, which tend to come with an increased maximum speed and add a further layer of realism to the child’s driving experience.
Battery-powered ride-on toys are a great recreational, learning and confidence-building tool for kids, and they can either encourage a child’s interest in the outdoors or nurture an interest that’s already there. At its most basic level, a ride-on toy is just that – a toy – which can be great fun for kids and entertaining for the adults that watch them. It’s more than that, though: ‘driving’ a ride-on toy by oneself can be a hugely important developmental milestone, offering children the chance to take responsibility for themselves and achieve something (getting from A to B) under their own steam and without direct parental instruction. If your child is very confident, being given the freedom to ride on their own can help them express that while learning about risk management – if your child is not that brave yet, a vehicle to drive and the freedom to drive it can be a great step towards taking charge for themselves.
Of course, there’s little sense buying a child something you know they won’t like; but if you’ve read this far, it’s safe to assume you know a child who’d be pleased to get their hands on a ride-on toy. The benefits aren’t only for the kids, though: ride-on toys are fun and exciting confidence builders, but they’re also fundamentally safe – more so than you might think. Almost all battery-powered ride-on toys have a low maximum speed, usually not more than 5mph, and many of them come packaged with a remote control, which allows you to stop or turn off the vehicle at a distance if your little one is getting into trouble. Put simply, they’re a great way to introduce kids to responsibility and risk-taking without exposing them to too much danger; and they’re also a fun toy that actually looks good in the home, and isn’t just messy clutter.
Battery-powered ride-on toys are well-loved by children, and with the colourful variety of styles on offer you’re sure to be able to find something that appeals to even the most reluctant road-user. What’s more, thanks to the breadth of competition in the toy marketplace, they’re cheaper than they’ve ever been and could well be a lot cheaper than you’d think. If you have more than one young child, or are planning on adding to the family further down the line, it’s also worth thinking about your value for money over the long term: if you buy a quality product and take care of it, there’s no reason your battery-powered ride-on toy can’t bring joy to the family for many years to come.
If you’ve decided to lay down some hard-earned cash to get a battery-powered ride-on toy for the children in your life, there are a few things worth considering before you put your money on the line: