One of the most popular gifts for the holidays and big birthdays alike is the powered ride-on car, truck, or ATV. Over the past decade or so, the prices on these have gone down dramatically, and the quality has gone up. There has also been an influx of new brands on the market, attempting to compete with the biggest player in this market: Power Wheels, which is made by Fisher-Price. In most cases, the less expensive and newer brand names suffer in quality, but there are some instances where you can save a bunch of cash and still get a quality product. We include some of those options in this review.
What to Look For
When purchasing a powered ride-on toy, there are a ton of options and some important things you should be looking for.
- First, many parents overlook whether it is a one-seater or two-seater. The one-seaters tend to be a bit cheaper than the two-seaters, but they also are only fun for a single kid! This can be unfortunate when the neighborhood kids all want a ride: your child will appreciate giving others a ride in a passenger seat more than giving up control to their new gift! It's also nice that you can turn this traditionally-independent toy into a social experience for two.
- Second, you want to find a ride-on toy that has both forward and reverse, and at least 2 forward speeds. Reverse helps get kids out of a bind quickly, and having more than one forward speed is very helpful for when younger kids are first learning how to use the toy. Many brands have a high-speed lockout option, which restricts to the slower speed while your kid learns, and can be turned off when you think they're ready to go faster.
- Third, traction matters! When the grass is dry during the hot summer months, or wet during the spring, you'll find that the tires will spin a lot and not get any traction. This is for a few reasons. First, most ride-on toys don't have great tread on the hard plastic tires. Second, they tend to be very lightweight, as does your kid, so there isn't much weight to help those back tires get traction. Third, ride-on toys tend not to accelerate slowly; instead, they are basically on (pedal pressed) or off (pedal not pressed). So they start spinning the wheels the same speed as they spin at max speed, making starting a bit difficult on slippery surfaces. Our advice is to try to read reviews carefully and look at the tread pattern on the tires. We did that work for you. But if you still have issues, you can also do what many parents do, which is to modify the tires, like placing rubber tread around it (by cutting up a bicycle tire or something similar).
- Fourth, reliability matters, and this is true on several fronts. What usually goes bad first on a ride-on toy? The battery. Improper charging sequences or just a cheap, poor quality battery, result in an upset kid when the battery is weakened after the first year, slowing them down and dying after a few minutes of use. This especially happens if you don't follow the specific charging instructions. To make charging easier and not void the warranty, we strongly suggest using a count-down timer on your outlet, such as this one from Amazon. Also, reliability of steering components and the motor are important, and these can only really be evaluated with the test of time. We've pulled together reviews from over a dozen parents who own various ride-on toys, and scoured reviews all over the internet, and have gotten a good handle on reliability.
What we Found
Well, after several months of hands-on testing, asking parents in our community who own powered ride-on toys, and filtering through thousands of online reviews, we have arrived at a set of best powered ride-on toys. Of the ones we tested, only 2 made it onto this list. Of the ones fellow parents owned, only 1 made it onto this list. We were picky, so you don't need to be!
Here are this year's best!
1. Power Wheels Camo Dune Racer, in several colors. This was the ultimate winner, with some fantastic features, reliability ratings, and pure fun for kids from about 3 to 7 years old! This two-seater dune racer is low to the ground, making it really easy to get in and out of, giving kids a comfortable relaxed seating position, and importantly making it less likely to topple over due having a nice low center of gravity. Because it fits two, there is room for a friend or sibling to join in on the fun, and it can support up to about 130 pounds of combined weight. It comes in a bunch of fun colors and patterns, including pink, camouflage, lava red & black, and green, so there's something to suit every kid's tastes. We also found a super cool Batman style version that seems to be limited edition. This dune racer has two speeds: 2.5 and 5.0 mph, and the ability to lock out the higher speed until your kid has mastered controlling it. It also has reverse at 2.5 mph, making it easier to negotiate tighter spaces. Like most powered ride-on toys, it uses automatic braking, which means that when your foot is not on the gas, the vehicle automatically starts braking. Much safer than separate gas and brake pedals to figure out (your shins will thank Fisher-Price for this feature). There is a tiny storage compartment on the back, which is a cool place for stashing toys that you want to bring on your journey. We found that this dune racer also has pretty good traction, with actual tire treads in the center of the tire to prevent spinning on slippery surfaces. The battery is 12V and is easy to plug in and charge. In our tests, at the lower speed it lasted for nearly 3 hours of continuous use, which is excellent. At the higher speed, we expect it would last for about 2 hours of continuous use. Finally, being part of the Power Wheels line up of awesome powered ride-on toys, this has excellent reliability and reviews. Note that it is very important to follow the charging instructions for this vehicle: after each use, charge for at least 14 hours but never for longer than 30 hours. Many parents do this by using a charging timer on their outlet that they can set to charge for a specific amount of time and then turn off, like this one on Amazon. If you don't follow those instructions, it will void your warranty (and ruin your battery). Overall, this is an excellent choice, satisfying all of our criteria and all but guaranteeing years of fun! Price varies based on color and pattern selection, but usually ranges from about $250 up to $400.
2. Power Wheels Jeep Wrangler, in several colors. This is another excellent option. The primary differences between our #1 and #2 selections are: the Jeep sits a bit higher off the ground, the seats felt a bit more cramped for space when 2 kids were in it, and the tires don't have quite as good of tread on them, especially in the center of the tire. But for someone looking for the classic and distinctive look of a Jeep, this is definitely the way to go! All of the other features are very similar to the Dune Racer. It has two speeds, 2.5 and 5.0 mph, and the ability to lock out the higher speed until your kid is read to go a bit faster. It also has reverse to help get out of tight situations, which is really helpful when first learning how to use it, or even when backing out of the garage! Like the Dune Racer, it also has a 130 pound combined weight limit, but it does have generally more storage area in the back (behind the seats), where you can stash larger toys to go along for the journey. Out of the box, this option did take some time to assemble (about 1.5 hours); the roll bar, windshield, etc, all come as a bunch of pieces and screws. So be sure to leave yourself some time! But once it's all put together, there's so much awesome fun to be had in this Jeep. Outside of that, the battery, hours of use, charging, and automatic braking, all are the same as with the Dune Racer. There are a few different colors and styles of this Jeep: we found the red one (pictured), a cool Disney Frozen style that has a little radio that plays Frozen songs (!), a blue one, and a Barbie one. Depending on which color and style you're interested in, prices range from about $250 to $400.
3. Peg Perego John Deere or Case Tractor with Trailer. This is one of two options made by Peg Perego on our list, and they really did a fantastic job with this tractor! Not only does it look really cool and authentic, but it also does a really great job entertaining children for hours. Parents loved the detachable trailer on the back, which is awesome for loading up with equipment, toys, and in some cases other kids (though we don't recommend that!). It has a couple other cool features, like an FM radio, flip-up arm rests, and it's made in the USA, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The tractor doesn't go quite as fast as the Power Wheels options, with two speeds, one at 2.25 mph and the other at 4.5 mph, but there is the lockout for the higher speed that you can use, and it also has reverse (at 2.25 mph). Of course, using reverse with a trailer is quite difficult and it's likely your kid will "jack-knife" it the first few times they try, before getting the hang of it! To be honest, we didn't really notice any speed difference between this tractor and the Power Wheels options, since a 0.25 mph difference is really negligible when it comes to this type of toy. Load up the Power Wheels with two kids and it's going to be slower than this tractor will be with one passenger. And that brings up the primary limitation here: there is only one seat. So this is an independent-rider type of toy. You can't really bring a friend along, unless you put them into the trailer, which the manufacturer doesn't suggest! In our testing, we found out a few things worth knowing. First, the John Deere version has a better battery compartment cover than the Case model, so we suggest doing with the John Deere. By the way, there is also a pink Case model for those interested. Second, the battery life isn't quite as long as with the Power Wheels options. Not certain why, could be the amperage of the 12V battery, or any other number of variables (gear ratios, drivetrain, weight, motor amperage, etc). If you love the tractor style and the trailer functionality, this is a definite best-bet for an adventurous kid who wants to load and unload just like you see on the farm! Good price too, usually under $250. If you're looking for a less expensive option, with pedal power instead of an electric motor, check out the Peg Perego pedal-power Case tractor.
4. Fisher-Price Power Wheels Kawasaki KFX. The only one-seater all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on our list, this is a truly unique looking and functioning powered ride-on toy! Just like a grown-up ATV, this awesome ride-on uses a twist handlebar grip to switch between the low and high speeds (if you choose to hook it up, otherwise it will stay on the low speed). For throttle, it uses a foot pedal, just like all the other options on this list. For low speed, it goes about 3 mph, and for high speed about 6 mph, making it the fastest option on this list! And it feels like it too, you can really feel the difference between 5 and 6 mph when it comes to one of these ride-on toys. We liked how the tires actually have a decent amount of traction on them for good grip in mixed terrain (grass, dirt, sand, snow). This ATV supports up to 65 pound weight capacity, which is usually around 8 years of age. In our testing, we found that the battery has very good life, outlasting many of the others on this list in our first test, coming in strong at just over 3 hours of use. That brings up a little con about charging: you have to remove the battery entirely from the ATV to plug it in and charge, which can be a bit of a pain. Another con in that it's just a one-seater and there really isn't any room on the back for a second kid to ride, plus the weight capacity wouldn't really support that (and they might end up doing wheelies if they tried). So it's a one-person toy, which can be frustrating for friends around the neighborhood, siblings, visiting relatives, etc, since your kid will need to be OK with sharing! We've always appreciated the two-seater ride-on toys for this reason. One of the cooler things about this ride-on is its looks: aggressive styling up front, chrome colored wheels, and a realistic looking engine on the side, make this thing look really cool! But while it's quite fast relative to others, it doesn't get very good traction from its tires (they are especially very smooth when new), so we tended to spin them quite a bit on pavement, grass, and dirt. Overall, a great option that comes in quite a bit less expensive than the others on the list, usually under $200.
5. Peg Perego Polaris RZR 900 Camo Ride-on. The only two-seater all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on our list, this is an awesome, rugged-looking and highly functional option. There are a couple features that really make this option stand out: it has cup holders for the driver and passenger, seat belts for both, adjustable bucket seats, a working horn, and a large cargo area behind the seats with tie-down straps. That all adds to a very rugged looking package that can comfortably fit two kids with a combined weight limit of 130 pounds. In our testing, we found that the seat belts aren't really for safety as much as they are for the look-and-feel of a real off-road vehicle. We do not think they really keep a child strapped into the vehicle safely, especially around corners in a vehicle without doors. We learned this the hard way when our neighbor fell out of the passenger side around a corner; luckily he fell into the grass and was completely fine (in fact he thought it was fun), but it demonstrated to us that those seat belts aren't really effective as a safety device. We were also a little disappointed that the roll bar lights and headlights are just there for decoration and don't actually work. Same goes for the coil suspension, which is just cosmetic. We also thought the windshield was a bit of an odd design: with shorter kids who can't yet see over the top of the windshield, it's awkward to try to look through the black plastic web holes. Again, it all looks cool, but the functionality doesn't seem well thought-out. Let's back to some basic information: it has two speeds, 2.5 mph and 5 mph, with the optional lockout of the higher speed. Also has reverse like the others. In our testing, a fully charged battery lasted just under 2 hours at the higher speed with two 4 year old kids riding inside. Not bad, but not great when the charging time is about 18 hours. We suggest getting an extra back-up battery (like this one) to keep the fun going! Overall, this is a reasonably good option but with some drawbacks. It's also quite a bit more expensive than others on this list, coming in at around $350-400, bringing it down to the last spot.