Best Model Car Kits

Updated November 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
163 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best model car kits

If you’re a car lover, there’s a pretty high chance your automotive fandom started with a model car kit. The perfect introduction to the motoring world, model car kits combine arts and crafts, mechanical engineering, automotive design, hand-eye coordination, and problem-solving into a fun exercise for gearheads of all ages.

If you choose the right kit, you can build a miniaturized version of your favorite ride from Hollywood, or perhaps a replica of an iconic race car. Whether it’s a classic Volkswagen Beetle or Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang from Bullitt, the possibilities are endless with models, and they’re usually quite affordable, to boot.

Looking to tinker around with a new kit, buy a gift, or perhaps build one yourself as a first-timer? Break out the hobby knife and let’s get started. In the following guide, we discuss all you need to know when shopping for a model car kit. If you’re stumped for ideas, we also provide a selection of our favorite model car kits for your consideration.

Modeling cement is available in both paste and liquid forms. We recommend paste for first-time modelers as it’s easier to handle. Paste is also available in standard and non-toxic versions, with non-toxic being lighter on fumes but taking about 50 percent longer to cure.

Key considerations

Building materials

Real vehicles are crafted from metal and plastic, and it’s only fitting that model car kits are made from the same materials. Both have their pros and cons here. Plastic (resin) is an extremely common building material for model cars, as it produces tight tolerances and clean lines on parts like the doors and hood. It can be extremely cheap when used in mass-produced molds, but when it’s shaped in a unique cast, it can actually be more expensive and sought-after than metal. Die-cast metal is heavier, more durable, and presents a different feel in your hand. The ruggedness of the materials allows for more moving parts and features, however it does run the risk of deterioration over time.

Kit intricacy

Building model cars can be a casual hobby, a professional occupation, and just about everything in between. That’s why it should be no surprise that kits can take anywhere from 15 minutes to several days to assemble, depending on which one you buy. Attempting your first model car kit? Seek out a product with a smaller number of snap-together parts to ease your way into the hobby. If you’re more experienced than that, there are countless options with hundreds of pieces, elaborate production campaigns, customization options, and more. For the sake of convenience, retailers usually list the age recommendations and approximate assembly times on each product.

Features

Paint and decals

Automotive enthusiasts love making their rides their own, and the same philosophy applies to models. Many models come with pre-painted panels, a small paint set, or decals, and if those give you the look you’re after, run with it. Those are just some of the possibilities though. With customized graphics and a versatile set of paint, you can tweak any model car to look like an iconic race car, a legendary getaway vehicle from a film, or something distinct to you. Embrace your creativity and conceive a moving art piece that speaks to you.

Display cases

Display cases don’t often come with model car kits, but if you’re serious about collecting, we recommend considering one. Whether it’s glass, plastic, backlit, adorned with a plaque, or mounted on a spinning disk, display cases can increase the visual impact of your models while protecting them from dust and damage. Before you know it, you’ll have a full-fledged model car shrine.

Model car kit prices

While there are model car kits that cost hundreds, the majority of products you’ll find online and in hobby shops range between $10 and $50.

Inexpensive: For about $10 to $15, expect to find molded plastic models that have a small number of parts and easily snap together. These versions can still look great, but they won’t have a huge amount of interaction like rolling wheels and opening doors, for example.

Mid-range: From $20 to $50, you’ll find die-cast metal and cast resin model kits with more intricacy, better build quality, and more interaction. Some models come with their own paint in this price range, but many don’t because experienced modelers often prefer to customize.

Expensive: Prices of $100 or more belong almost exclusively to boutique and vintage model car kits that are sought after by collectors. The quality is generally stellar here, but low-volume models may fetch high prices due to rarity rather than pure craftsmanship.

Tips

  • As obvious as it sounds, we strongly recommend reading through your instructions first. You can figure out a lot on your own, but certain things are imperative to do in a particular order. For example, you wouldn’t want to paint the seats after you’ve installed the roof and body.
  • When removing pieces from the tree (sprue), use a hobby knife or small side-cutters. Breaking or twisting them off may lead to excess material or damaged parts. When snipping, confirm that you’re cutting at the designated tab and not removing a portion of the actual part.
  • Before painting plastic, thoroughly clean the parts with soapy water and a toothbrush. This is important because molded parts often have a coating on them or may have grease from your fingers. Then, scuff the parts lightly with 400-grit sandpaper to even out the surface and help paint stick.
  • To cut down on the mess when working with adhesive, use a toothpick, jeweler’s screwdriver, or other narrow item to apply it. Using the tube itself as an applicator can result in smudges and excess glue that is hard to remove.
If you aim to spray paint or airbrush parts of your model car, ventilate your painting room and invest in a dual-cartridge respirator mask. These will safeguard your lungs from damage and can be purchased for less than $20 at your local hardware store.

FAQ

Q. How long does it take to assemble a model car kit?
A.
Model car kits are beloved by people of all ages and experience levels, and assembly times vary greatly as a consequence. For the simplest kits, pieces snap together, require no additional tools, and can be completed in 15 minutes. On the other end of the spectrum, you have hundreds of small parts that may require painting, gluing, and fastening. These versions can take 30 to 40 hours or more to finish, however an average for a moderately difficult set is about two hours. Check the age ratings on any kit before buying, as these can be a solid indication of overall difficulty and building time.   

Q. What tools do I need to build a model car kit?
A.
If you don’t have a basic snap-together model car kit, you may need a variety of tools and materials to complete your task. The most common are tweezers, hobby knives or sprue cutters, white glue, super glue, toothpicks, sandpaper or sticks, masking tape, paint, paint thinner (if using oil-based paint), brushes, and dust masks or respirators. Depending on the job, you might also require additional tweezers of different sizes, putty paint, glue debonders, rubber bands, and painting mounts.

Q. What does scale refer to on a model kit?
A.
The scale of a model refers to how much it has been shrunk relative to the size of the original. The scale numbers are a ratio that tells you how many units of the model (second number) are equal to one unit of the original (first number). For example, if a model is 1:1, it’s full-size. If it’s 1:2, the model is half-size, and so on. Common ratios range from 1:10 to 1:2500, allowing craftspeople to make models of anything from small cars to enormous ships, planes, and buildings.

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