Restoring an old pedal car comes with plenty of challenges. Most pedal cars were handled roughly by generations of kids and often left out in the weather to rust or rot. Other "kiddie cars" were modified by kids or parents. Unlike other antiques, however, pedal cars increase in value once restored. Restorers try to keep as many original parts as possible to boost this worth. Investment potential aside, the restoration of a pedal car has unique rewards, especially when you plan to share your toy with a child.
Identify the manufacturer and date of your pedal car. Check if the hubcaps are metal or plastic. AMF manufactured plastic hubcaps with three spinner bars. Metal hubcaps often had a manufacturer's logo stamped in the center. The letter "M" on a metal hubcap indicates the car is a Murray. In addition, look for steering wheel emblems, logos and model numbers. Without the correct make and model, you end up ordering the wrong parts and losing time and money.
Sketch a diagram of your pedal car with clear labels identifying each part. Online and in-print pedal car resources, like fordpedalcars.com, have printed schematics of some cars. Take inventory and make a note of any obvious missing parts. Look for matching pieces on all four wheels and check the axles, pedals, headlights, hardware and steering mechanism. Start pricing and searching for original or reproduction parts either online or locally.
Take the pedal car apart in a large area where your car has shelter from the weather for the project's duration. As you disassemble the car, label parts as necessary. Make sure you don't cause any damage as you remove rusted bolts, nuts and mounting hardware.
Clean each pedal car part in a gentle dish soap and warm water. Soaking the smaller pieces helps soften years of dirt. Clean metal parts with an appropriate metal cleaner. Steel wool, vinegar, rubbing alcohol and all-purpose cleaner also work well on metal parts.
Set the car's body on a set of sawhorses. Repair the body with the necessary welds, dent removal and sanding on rusted areas. Strip the old paint from the car's body. Sand and and prepare the piece for priming. For best results, hire a local professional to paint the pedal car body in an auto body shop.
Prime the metal with two coats and sand the body again until the surface is smooth. Apply paint outdoors on a clear day with little wind. Wear safety goggles and read the paint manufacturer's directions thoroughly. Use two coats of paint on both the inside and outside of the body. Allow paint to dry completely. Install the replacement parts and re-assemble your pedal car.
Assess the pedal car's body before starting. Metal cars, for instance, are easier to restore than plastic cars and often worth more after restoration. Look for a metal body that is reasonably intact and straight. Evaluate how much time the project will consume. If the body has large sections missing because of rust, expect to invest time and money for welding repairs.
If you have difficulties identifying the date and manufacturer of your pedal car, head to the library. In-print and online resources offer guidelines for identifying old pedal cars. Look for the "Pedal Car Restoration and Price Guide" by Andrew Gurka or the reference series "Evolution of the Pedal Car" by Neil Wood.
Don't attempt to re-plate chrome pieces yourself. The process of chrome plating involves the use of acid and other toxic chemicals. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires that all waste from the plating industry be disposed of under strict regulations.