this thing's incredible

My Toddler (And His Playground Pals) Won’t Stop Playing With These Friction-Powered Cars

Photo-Illustration: retailer

Like most toddlers I know, my 21-month-old, Augie, is obsessed with cars. Or rather, with anything that rolls on wheels, because our rolling luggage and wheeled laundry hamper also delight him to no end. But perhaps his absolute favorite plaything is a set of toy construction vehicles that he first saw other kids using at the playground. He liked them so much his nanny surprised him with a set of his very own a couple of months ago.

The set includes a dump truck, a cement mixer, a bulldozer, and a farm tractor that comes with a hitch-along wagon. Each is about four inches long, making all of them perfectly sized for a toddler’s hands. They’re kind of adorable — the toys have cute details, like smiling drivers wearing hard hats (the farmer wears a newsboy cap, which I find hilarious) — and are well made, with moving parts like the bulldozer’s blade and an excavator that can go up and down. They appear to be indestructible, too, having withstood lots of accidental drops and plenty of more forceful tantrum-induced chucks onto the floor.

But the coolest thing about the vehicles by far is how they move. Unlike a lot of toy cars that use a pullback-and-release mechanism, the ones in this set are powered by a so-called push-and-go friction motor that propels them farther than any of his other toy vehicles. To rev one up, you simply push it forward several times on the floor while applying a little pressure, then let it go. The more times you do this, the farther the toys will travel. While it took Augie a few tries before he mastered the push-forward-and-release technique, he can now do it with ease. In addition to propelling them for longer stretches, the friction motors make the toys much better at navigating bumps and uneven surfaces. When they hit a wall or another obstacle, for example, they’ll somehow automatically change direction or spin around, leaving Augie cackling with glee.

After spending as much time around the cars as I have, I noticed that Augie and the neighborhood buddy who introduced them to him aren’t their only fans. It seems everyone at the playground in our Brooklyn neighborhood owns a set, and I even spotted the toys at another playground on the Upper East Side this past weekend. While I don’t know how the other kids (or their parents or caretakers) got wind of them, it’s easy enough to see why they’re a hit, especially this time of year, as they make a perfect gift for the automobile obsessed, whether given as a set or split among stockings. Just be careful: If you take them to the playground, your child may go home with one that isn’t theirs.

One quick note for those who like to shop around: You may notice at least half a dozen brands selling what looks to be the same set of cars on Amazon and at other retailers. I did a little sleuthing and my hunch is that one manufacturer, Huile Toys, makes them, and all the other brands are just white-label distributors. Augie’s cars, which came from a brand called Liberty Imports, are now on back order — but they look identical to the above ones from Wolson, and each of his is imprinted with the Huile name, which supports my hunch. So if you find another brand selling cars that look identical to these, chances are they’re the same ones.

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My Toddler Loves Playing With These Friction-Powered Cars