How Do Friction Toy Cars Work?

By Peg Robinson

Spring Driven Friction Toys

Friction toys, a class of toys both antique and collectible and modern and disposable, are driven by springs. The power needed to drive the toy is gathered in the spring and released in a variety of ways as the spring unwinds.

How The Spring Is Wound

The drive spring of a friction-driven toy car is wound when the back wheels of the car are pushed backwards against a high-friction surface. Carpet, or even a wood floor, can work very well as a friction source, spinning the wheels backward and winding the spring. Glass or a wet surface work less well, failing to provide enough friction to move the wheels. In essence, the wheels and axle of a spring-driven friction toy car are being used in the same way as a winder for an old mechanical clock.

No Cogs Needed

While many spring driven toys require a cog or series of cogs to change the direction of the force of the winder or the force of the spring, a simple friction toy car seldom needs any cogs. The axle serves as a spool to wind the spring; the backward friction rotates the axle to wind the spring. When the car is released, the spring unwinds again, spinning the axle forward and propelling the car. This use of a spring lacks elegance and control but is delightfully easy to understand.

About the Author

Peg Robinson's first sale was in Pocket Books' 1999 "Strange New Worlds." Her credits include award-winning "Helixsf," and "Cicada Magazine." Her novela, "Tonino and the Incubus," qualified for the 2007 Nebulas. She graduated with honors in religious studies from UCSB. She's currently in an M.A./Ph.D. program in mythological studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute.