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What is a Pedal Car?

Kate Monteith
Kate Monteith

Most children just can’t wait to get behind the wheel of a car, and that’s why the pedal car was created. Ride-on toys called pedal cars come in all sorts of body designs, from sporty convertibles to fire engines and beyond. Whatever the child’s imagination can envision, there is surely a toy car to fulfill it. There are also several adult versions of the pedal car, usually built for racing.

Pedal cars are powered by the feet and legs of the rider, making them the earliest environmentally-friendly cars. The earliest ride-on toy was probably a wooden pony on wheels, propelled across the floor by scooting the feet. The late 1800s brought a two-seater horse and buggy version, complete with functional pedals and a set of reigns to steer the horse. In 1930, an enclosed bicycle called the Velocar was invented in France, setting a precedent as the first use of a human-powered car as a legitimate form of transportation.

Two young boys
Two young boys

The body style of a pedal car can be almost any kind of vehicle imaginable. Retro toy cars can go back as far as the Model T, complete with a wooden dashboard and spare tire behind the seat. There are a variety of jalopies to choose from, some with flames painted along the sleek side panels. Sophisticated models include a pink or turquoise Thunderbird, and a cherry red Mustang. There is even a sedan big enough for two. Pedal cars can be police cars, taxis, race cars, tow trucks and more. One of the most familiar is the modern plastic version called the Big Wheel.

The design of a pedal car is not limited to an automobile body by any means. There are pedal cars representing tractors and dump trucks to suit the budding farmer or construction worker. There are motorcycles and fire trucks. There are airplane pedal cars with stubby little wings, yet big enough for the soaring imagination of a child. A helicopter-style pedal car might just be the ultimate for a child who dreams of flying. Tugboats, speed boats and cruise ships can also be made into pedal cars.

Vintage toys are a big business with antique collectors and traders. Antique pedal cars can fetch a tidy sum, depending on the style, rarity and condition of the toy. Whether vintage, retro or modern, a pedal car is meant to bring joy to children, and it can also evoke pleasant childhood memories in adults.

Discussion Comments


@whiteplane - What a cool hobby. I also totally believe that he got a good price for these. I love going to estate sales and auctions and I always keep my eye out for pedal cars of any kind.

If you find one in good condition or you have the means to fix one up you can get amazing prices for these cars on the internet. Particularly if they are vintage or have an unusual design. People pay a lot of money for nostalgic toys but there is something about pedal cars that really drives collectors wild.


I used to have a neighbor that made customized pedal cars out of his garage. he was really mechanically handy and had all the tools, welder included, that he needed to build the from the ground up right there at his house.

He could make them any size or shape that you wanted. His real specialty was making customized pedal cars. I remember he made one modeled to look like the bat mobile and he made one based off the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazard. They were really awesome reproductions. From what I understand he got a pretty goo price for those custom cars


Pedal cars were a big part of my childhood. My brother and I must have had at least 4 or 5 of them from the time we were young kids up until our teenage years. As we got older the cars got bigger and more complicated.

Pedal cars were actually an unexpected feature of my college experience too. Someone in my dorm was from the town where the college was and he brought a really nice, essentially adult size pedal car from his parents house. Below the dorm was a series of tunnels connecting all the basements and we would have time trial races using the pedal car.

It was good fun on a restless Friday night. I don't expect pedal cars to make another appearance in my life but at this rate who knows?

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    • Two young boys
      Two young boys