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A Guide to Collecting Toy Cars for Kids

By Joe McCollough

Children have been collecting toy cars since cars themselves took to the roads. Many of these children kept their collections and continued adding to them, even as adults! Collecting toy cars runs the risk of becoming an adult-focused activity. After all, many toy cars are really expensive. Some cost as much or more than actual cars! Some people use their toy collections as investments. Kids still love cars, though, and the adults in their lives should encourage them. Cars can be a great way to introduce kids to STEM topics.

The History of Toy Cars

The first toy cars used diecast techniques to create mini cars. Some of these early pioneers were Corgi Toys, Dinky Toys, and Meccano. By the 1920s, toy cars big enough for kids to ride in were being made and these medal pedal cars were popular for decades. More and more types of toy cars were introduced, including models that kids could build and personalize to their own liking. Diecast cars remained popular and over the decades giving rise to popular brands like Hot Wheels and Matchbox.

How to Begin a Collection

Most collectors begin with a few Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars. Some kids will really enjoy building their own model cars, others might prefer radio-controlled cars, and serious collectors will delve into vintage toy cars. The vintage market for toy cars offers lots of interesting choices of materials and models that are no longer made. New collectors need to learn more about what kind of toys are out there to decide what they're interested in collecting. Some people really enjoy only collecting one brand of toy cars, meaning some kids might only want Matchbox while other kids develop a strong interest in old Corgi toy cars. It's also important for all collectors to learn how to properly store their toy cars by investing in cases and learning how to clean them.

Popular Models to Collect

Many collectors never move away from collecting Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars. They are small, most are affordable, and it's easy to find them. However, some models from both manufacturers are incredibly valuable and hard to find. Promotional cars made by car makers are enduringly popular. Vintage slot cars are another interest held by many kid and adult collectors. Toy cars made to look like race cars are popular with people who collect toy cars and with fans of the sport of racing or with specific racers Model cars are also prized by some collectors. Some collectors want the kits still in the original box never assembled while others collect models that kids from previous generations assembled!

Where to Get Them From

Basic toy cars are available at big box stores like Target and large websites like Amazon. As kids develop more specialized interests, they will want to start visiting hobby shops and specialty stores that focus only on toy cars. Some websites carry specialized lines of hard-to-find toy cars. Online auction sites can be a great source of both newer and vintage toy cars at a fair price. People interested in vintage toy vehicles should invest some time in learning about how to identify the toys by maker marks and other details, and they should also learn how to properly evaluate the condition of the toy. Toys that are still in the original packaging and have never been played with are always more valuable than a toy that was well-loved and is missing its packaging or one of its parts. Vintage toy cars can be found at estate sales and also online and in some brick-and-mortar specialty stores.

Toy Car Museums to Visit

Visiting toy car museums is a great way for everyone to see a wide variety of toy cars from a variety of manufacturers and decades. Some museums only focus on one brand, like Matchbox, but most exhibits devoted to the topic have a wide range of toys to look at. Seeing the cars like this lets collectors see how the toys have changed over the years, and how they've stayed the same! Many a collector develops an interest in a specific type of toy car after first seeing it at a museum or exhibit of toy vehicles. The Museum of American Speed has an amazing collection of pedal cars of many brands and types, the third floor has a vast array of different pedal cars to view.