I spent years racing Hot Wheels cars in the basement with my cousin. As kids, we didn’t necessarily know why this was, but some Hot Wheels cars were definitely faster than others, even if you compared two examples of the same car. But once you understand why, it’s possible to make a car fast. Here’s how to make Hot Wheels go faster.
The keys to speed generally are reducing friction and increasing weight. Some of these modifications are reversible and others aren’t, but they provide a number of options for increasing the speed of a Hot Wheels car.
How to make Hot Wheels go faster without taking them apart
Let’s cover the things you can do without tools first. There are valid reasons for wanting to take this approach. Perhaps you’re young and don’t have the skills to use power tools yet. Or maybe you don’t want to make permanent modifications to the car. Either of those things are perfectly okay. It’s still possible to have some fun and maybe even learn something.
Lubricating Hot Wheels axles
The first thing you can do that’s completely non-destructive and requires no tools is lubricating the axles. The whole reason why Hot Wheels were faster than earlier diecast cars like Tootsietoy and Matchbox was because Mattel used much thinner axles. But even thin axles still benefit from lubrication.
The best lubricant to use in most cases is graphite, because it doesn’t attract dirt. Graphite is a powdered, dry lubricant that comes in a tube, frequently used to lubricate locks. It’s also used to lubricate axles on Pinewood Derby cars. Just squirt a puff of graphite into each opening and spin the wheel to distribute it. You’ll notice the wheel spins longer afterward.
Most people don’t recommend oil, but you can use oil if you only play with the cars indoors, and especially if you only use them for racing. Some oils react badly with plastic, will gum up over time, and oil has a tendency to attract and hold onto dirt. That’s a pretty long list of reasons to not recommend it. But if you want oil, Labelle 107, designed for medium-scale model railroads, is a good oil to use. It’s synthetic, so it doesn’t gum up and doesn’t react with plastic, and the viscosity is very good for this application. It’s heavy enough to stay in place, but slippery enough to help the wheels spin.
If you can’t get Labelle, oil for fishing reels would be another good option. Fishing reel oil also has to not react to plastic, and stores that carry sporting goods carry it. Even if you don’t have a good hobby shop nearby, you probably have a store nearby that sells sporting goods.
Whatever you do, don’t use original formula WD-40. The original old-fashioned WD-40 has its uses, but it isn’t a very effective lubricant once the carrier evaporates.
You can also spray a little silicone spray right into the gap between where the wheel meets the base. Just a little. The silicone will coat the base and the wheel with a bit of PTFE, a durable and effective lubricant commonly used in non-stick surfaces. Just one tiny squirt is enough, and it lasts years. Adding PTFE to automotive lubricants is one of the reasons real cars last so much longer today than they did in years past. And unlike oil, silicone spray won’t gum up.
The other way to make Hot Wheels go faster is to add weight. This may seem counterintuitive at first. A heavier car will take more force to get going, but a heavier car will tend to keep going once it’s moving. So adding weight will make it go faster.
Adding weight without taking the car apart can be tricky, and keep in mind this will be difficult to reverse. The best way to do it would be to put modeling clay into the interior, through an open window. Add a little bit at a time and press it into the opening. As you add more, it will fill into the gaps in the interior. Clay isn’t as dense as metal, but you can work with it in small amounts and it will conform to whatever space you have available, so it’s good for this application.
You can also glue flat washers to the underside of the car base wherever there’s room, as long as you can do it without obstructing the car’s rolling. Use epoxy, since the surface will be uneven and irregular. Epoxy fills gaps well and holds strong.
How to make Hot Wheels go faster with modifications
If you have the tools, ability and willingness to open up the car and make some minor modifications, you can definitely make the car go faster. Make sure you have help from someone experienced with power tools if you’ve never done this before. It’s possible to injure yourself when working with power tools, even if you’re being careful.
Opening a Hot Wheels car involves either drilling out the rivets, like you would do in a wheel swap, or removing the plastic base with heat. Take some pictures with a phone or digital camera so you’ll be able to see how it goes back together. Usually it’s pretty simple, but it’s better to take pictures and not need them than to be stuck with a car in pieces and not know how it goes back together.
The first thing you usually have to do is remove the wheels so you can inspect the base and work on the axles. Usually the axles are held in place by three tabs. Snip one of the tabs with a set of diagonal cutters. This will allow you to snap the axle out of the base. You’ll still be able to snap the axle back in when you’re done and it will stay in place.
The first thing to do once you open the vehicle is to check the base for burrs near the wheels. The smoother it is, the less friction you have, and the longer and faster the wheels can spin. If you see any burrs, sand them down with progressively finer sandpaper. Start with 60 grit on a metal base, or 200 grit on a plastic base, and progress down to very fine sandpaper, ideally around 2000 grit. Finish it off by polishing the area with metal polish or plastic polish. You can even follow it up with a bit of silicone spray if you like.
Polishing axles isn’t quite as critical as it is on Pinewood Derby cars, but it’s still effective. Slide the wheels out of the way and polish with a bit of metal polish, such as Brasso, on a cotton swab. The shinier the axles, the smoother they will be.
Follow up with a bit of silicone spray to coat the axles with PFTE and make them ever so slightly more slippery.
While you have the car apart, you have lots of options for adding weight. Fishing weights are a popular option, just be careful. Lead is hazardous and the effect is cumulative, so don’t add lead fishing weights to a toy. Tungsten is a denser, less hazardous alternative. But you can even use #6 steel washers. They’re readily available, small enough to work with, and work well.
Just glue the weights into place where they won’t interfere with the reassembly of the car using a bit of epoxy. Epoxy dries quickly, holds strong, and doesn’t present risk of gluing your fingers to the car.
Reassembling the car after you finish can be a little tricky. If you used heat to remove the base, the base will snap back together.
If you drilled the rivets, you’ll have to either glue it back together, or drill and tap the posts to accept screws. I generally use a 6-32 screw. But it’s certainly much easier to glue it back together. You can snap the base back into place, then put a dab of epoxy where the rivet head was, and even round it over and poke a depression in the center with a toothpick to make it look like a rivet head.
How to make Hot Wheels go faster: In conclusion
Modifying Hot Wheels cars is fun, and can go beyond just changing the car’s appearance. If you like racing them like my cousin and I used to do, racing modified cars certainly adds another dimension to it. Racing unmodified cars requires an element of luck. If you modify your cars, you can take a car that didn’t start out fast and make it fast. That can be fun, and the skills from learning to use tools and materials will apply later in life too.