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Toy Cars

In this activity, students will play with cars to discover how potential and kinetic energy make them move.

Toy cars use a variety of mechanisms to make them go, but they all store up potential energy.

Although the elastic material inside is usually steel and not rubber, the principle is the same. By changing the shape of the material (usually a coil of metal) energy is stored and then released as motion.


  • Explain how stored potential energy can be transferred into kinetic energy.


  • Per Class or Group:
    several types of toy cars (e.g. rat trap cars, fly wheel cars, wind-up cars)

Key Questions

  • What types of energy does each car use to move?
  • What is different about each car?What mechanism does each car use?
  • How does each car store potential energy?
  • Which car goes the farthest?
  • What is the most effective type of car?

What To Do

  1. Set up stations, each with a different types of car and a ramp.
  2. Give students 10 minutes to explore/play with the cars, keeping in mind the questions below. They should run them on a flat surface and also up a ramp.
  3. What is different about each car?
  4. Try racing them up a ramp.


  • Can you design a toy car that you think would go even further?
  • Take apart a toy car to see the mechanism inside.
  • What forces are acting on the car?