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Power Wheels remain a popular toy for young children, and as you probably know, they are operated with a battery. Since the battery powering a Power Wheels toy is such a major component, many questions surround it – specifically how to tell if the battery is healthy, charging correctly, and when it needs to be replaced.
Generally, a Power Wheels toy less than 3 years old will have a relatively healthy battery, although keep in mind that the older the toy is and the more frequently it gets used and charged up, the faster the battery's life will end. So, how to tell if the Power Wheels battery is charging?
I will be going over all things regarding the battery that powers Power Wheels ride-on toys so you can ensure that you and your child are getting the most out of the product. If you would like to learn more, I encourage you to keep on reading!
An Overview of the Batteries Used in Power Wheels
Power Wheels have existed since the '80s, fueling childhoods for many generations and generating a cycle of kids growing up with Power Wheels eventually buying one for their own children.
They are great fun for kids within the recommended age range of one to seven years old. But before buying one of these fun toys, knowing about the batteries that power them is vital to ensure you are getting the most out of the product while ensuring you aren't accidentally causing a safety hazard.
First, it's very important to know the type of battery these toys use. Unlike your smartphone, which uses a lithium-ion battery, Power Wheels by default come with a lead-acid battery, which is an important distinction for one reason. Unlike Lithium-Ion batteries, lead-acid batteries can be overcharged.
Leaving a lead-acid battery on the charger for too long causes it to overheat and form oxygen and hydrogen gasses, which in turn causes pressure inside the battery.
Power Wheels come equipped with a 12v battery, which is good for 2-4 hours on a charge and takes up to 18 hours to fully charge back up (more on this later in the article). They do drain much faster than they can charge, and thus it is highly advised to charge it after every single use, so it is ready to go when your child wants to use it.
History of Recalls
You might be wondering if Power Wheels have ever had a recall for battery issues. While the toys are indeed safe, there has been a blunder in the past. However, not for the batteries themselves, as many are led to believe.
From Impact Battery:
“In 1991, the 18-volt Porsche riding automobile was the first recall for the company. When a child would press the foot (gas) pedal, it would trip a switch and propel the toy forward. The initial surge of electricity coming through the contact points, in some cases would fuse the thin wires together, leaving the toy in motion and unable to stop.”
In a nutshell, the Porsche model from 1991 suffered an issue where the pedal would become “stuck” obviously; this is quite a problem given that a child could wander into the street. Luckily, these toys are not fast at all. An adult (or older sibling) can usually physically stop them in time, hence why supervision is highly encouraged if your child is playing with the toy in the front yard or the driveway.
In 1998, Fisher-Price recalled 10 million Power Wheels toys that have been manufactured since 1986 (again, these things have been around for a very long time!) to both replace and strengthen the battery connectors to prevent overheating and turning into a fire hazard. The original Power Wheels models used “S” and “H” connectors that either came in one 6 volt battery or 2 6 volts connected to equal 12 volts.
These units were replaced with “A style connectors which were larger and sturdier overall, and the toys transitioned to using 12-volt batteries that you see today.
If you still have an old Power Wheel toy that uses the old “S” or “H” connectors, you may be able to get an upgrade or convert the battery to an “A” style yourself. And considering that some of the older models can be quite valuable nowadays, it is worth preserving these toys for safety and functionality reasons if you plan to allow your child to use an older Power Wheel.
There was also another recall, albeit at a much smaller scale, in 2000 that affected over 218,000 Harley Davidson Power Wheels. This recall over the “gas” pedal literally became stuck, which posed a similar safety hazard as the first recall.
As I stated above, these recalls were not for the batteries themselves, rather the connectors and improper wiring. The batteries are quite safe and are an established technology that has been used for decades. Power Wheels are a safe, fun toy for your child overall.
How Do I Know if My Power Wheels Battery Is Bad?
I established earlier in the article that the batteries for power wheels last approximately 1 to 3 years, depending on how often the toy has been used. But how do you know when the battery needs to be replaced? You'll notice a significant reduction in battery life once the battery has been put through its course.
But it is also possible for the battery to flat-out die before it even reaches its end of the life cycle. In this case, you'll immediately notice when it fails to power on even though it has been sitting on the charger overnight.
Test the Battery With a Voltmeter
Digital voltmeters are used to test whether something has power, and they are incredibly useful when troubleshooting various problems. In this case, a voltmeter can help you tell if the battery is actually dead. You can pick one up on Amazon for relatively cheap such as this AstroAI Digital Multimeter.
To test the battery using a voltmeter, the first step you need to do is ensure that the battery has been on the charger long enough to where it should power on. Remember, Power Wheels take a long time to charge – up to 18 hours in many cases.
If you have confirmed it has been plugged in for an appropriate amount of time, you can follow these steps to test the battery with your multimeter:
- Have access to the two battery prongs – positive and negative.
- Take out your multimeter and set the dial to 20 to allow you to capture voltages between 0 – 20 precisely.
- Put the positive (red) probe onto the “plus” prong and the negative (black) probe onto the “minus” prong.
- If the probes are touching the prongs solidly, you should get results if the battery is functioning.
What are these “results” we are looking for? We are essentially looking for a reading that tells us the battery isn't functioning at less than 11.8 volts. That indicates that the battery should be swapped out as it is either aging or faulty, with the former being far more likely since, as I stated above, the batteries used in Power Wheels don't last for a very long time.
Additionally, if you can, try charging the battery with a smart charger (they are pricey, so see if you can borrow one from a friend); often, this can breathe new life into a Power Wheels battery.
Should You Buy a New Power Wheel or Replace the Battery?
Like with many products, there is often that question of “is it even worth repairing?” with power wheels? However, the answer is often “yes” in regards to replacing the battery.
In general, Power Wheels cost around $250 – $300 depending on where you buy it and what the model is. It's no secret that this is a large sum of money to drop on a toy, considering that an Amazon Fire tablet can cost as little as around $50 and offer plenty of fun for children. So we'd recommend getting the most out of the product you already have if the only issue is a dying battery.
Replacing the battery is a relatively affordable affair, with a 12-volt battery costing less than $70 usually. Now, whether or not you would like to get your child, or perhaps a younger child who has grown enough to operate a Power Wheel, a new ride-on toy is entirely up to you. There are many models to choose from in various editions that represent a specific character, franchise, or brand.
You could also look into buying a used Power Wheel; many parents try to “get rid” of old Power wheels since kids oftentimes outgrow them by the time the batteries die out. Thus you could score yourself a Power Wheel at a good price – and make sure it IS at a good price because you will likely have to replace the battery anyways.
How Do I Know When My Power Wheels Battery Is Charged?
It's important to remember, as I stated earlier, that Power Wheels take a long time to charge in comparison to most of your other battery-operated devices, such as your smartphone.
To charge a Power Wheel from the dead to full, it's going to take approximately 14 – 18 hours, which, as you know, is almost an entire day that spans both day and night.
This is an important fact to keep in mind to avoid making the mistake of plugging in the toy for 3 hours and letting your child play with it to find out that the battery dies within 15 minutes. The amount of time it takes to charge a power wheel is simply a “quirk” of the battery itself and not a product defect.
Also, you need to avoid overcharging the battery as lead-acid batteries can be overcharged, unlike lithium-ion batteries, which can pretty much be left on a charger indefinitely (it's why “desktop replacement” laptops and the Nintendo Switch can be left on the charger without harm).
However, don't panic if you don't immediately unplug the Power Wheel past 18 hours. Fisher-Price encourages you to never charge the toy for more than 30 hours at a time, which will allow you breathing room if you forget to unplug the toy after a day.
But how do you know that your Power Wheels battery is charged? Well, simply put, you want to leave it on the charger for the recommended amount of time, using the default charger it came with.
But a Power Wheel isn't ALWAYS going to be used until the battery is dead; a child may use it for 15 – 30 minutes and hop out, at which case you should still hook the toy onto a charger, but for how long?
If the toy has been charged fully and used for 15 minutes, you'll want to put it back onto the charger for at least 5 – 7 hours to ensure it is topped off but not overcharging. Remember, these toys drain their batteries much faster than they charge back up, and so 5 – 7 hours after a quick session isn't unreasonable.
Don’t Forget To Charge the Toy After Unboxing It
I know that this will be very disappointing, especially if your child unwraps their new toy on Christmas or their birthday, but Fisher-Price recommends charging the toy for 18 hours before using it for the first time.
From the manual the toy comes with:
“Before first-time use, charge the battery for at least 18 hours. Never charge the battery longer than 30 hours.
Recharge the battery after each use of your vehicle for at least 14 hours.
Once the battery is charged, remove the charger connector from the battery socket. Unplug the charger from the wall outlet. The battery is now ready to be installed in your vehicle. Please refer to the vehicle Owner's Manual for instructions to install the battery in your vehicle. “
Again, pretty disappointing, as it is essentially saying you have to wait until the next day to use the product, but for the sake of the health of the battery, it is best to follow these instructions. However, if you must use the toy ASAP, you could charge the battery for a couple of hours to take it for a “test drive.”
And as the manual says, ensure you charge the battery after every use, these things take a long time to charge, and you don't want to run into a situation where your child wants to play with their toy only to find out that it is dead 5-minutes into a driving session.
Battery Safety and Why Not To Drain the Battery Completely
Since most people don't read manuals anymore, I thought I'd share more insight into properly treating the battery that powers the Power Wheels toys. Again, from the manual itself:
- “If a battery leak develops, avoid contact with the leaking acid and place the damaged battery in a plastic bag. Please refer to the information on the next page. If acid comes in contact with skin or eyes, flush with cool water for at least 15 minutes and call a physician. If acid is internally ingested, give water, milk of magnesia, or egg whites immediately. Never give emetics or induce vomiting. Call a physician.
- Do not allow the battery to run down completely before charging.
- Charge the battery before storing the vehicle. Charge the battery at least once per month, even if the vehicle has not been used. Leaving the battery in a discharged condition will ruin it.
- Always remove an exhausted battery from the vehicle. Battery leakage and corrosion can damage the vehicle.
- Do not store the battery on a surface (such as kitchen countertops), which could be damaged by the acid contained inside the battery. Take precautions to protect the surface on which you store the battery.
- Do not store the battery in temperatures above 75° F or below -10° F.
- Examine the battery, charger, and connectors for excessive wear or damage each time you charge the battery. If the damage is detected, do not use the charger or the battery until you have replaced the worn or damaged part.”
These are more or fewer instructions on what to do in very specific situations; as I said earlier in the article, Power Wheels are safe, but only adults (or older teenager siblings) should handle the battery if it ever needs to be handled.
One thing to note is that Fisher-Price says to avoid draining the battery completely. This can't always be avoided, but it does point to the fact that draining a lead-acid battery completely is very hard on it. Also, “leaving the battery in a discharged condition will ruin it” is very much true. Once again, charge the toy after each play session to preserve the battery and avoid disappointing the kiddo!
How Do You Know if a Power Wheels Battery Is Charging?
If your AC outlet is functioning, your Power Wheels toy shouldn't have issues charging. The easiest way to test if your AC is properly functioning is to simply try charging your smartphone from it.
Additionally, if the wall outlet is controlled by a switch, ensure it is switched on. Leave the battery on the charger for at least 14 hours to ensure that it is topped up, and if you are having issues with a defective battery, the toy comes with a warranty for this purpose, once again, from the battery instructions that come with the toy:
“This six-month limited warranty covers the Power Wheels® 12-Volt Battery (purchased from Power Wheels®) against defects in materials and workmanship for the original purchaser. This warranty covers normal use and does not cover the Power Wheels® battery if damaged by unreasonable use, neglect, accident, abuse, misuse, improper service, or other causes not arising out of defects in materials or workmanship.
Evidence of any attempt at consumer repair will void this warranty.
THIS WARRANTY DOES NOT COVER, AND IS INTENDED TO EXCLUDE, ANY LIABILITY ON THE PART OF POWER WHEELS®, WHETHER UNDER THIS WARRANTY OR IMPLIED BY LAW FOR ANY INDIRECT OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES FOR BREACH OF WARRANTY. SOME STATES DO NOT ALLOW THE EXCLUSION OR LIMITATION, SO THIS LIMITATION MAY NOT APPLY TO YOU.
Should you need service or assistance during the warranty period, do not return the vehicle to the store. Power Wheels® has provided a nationwide network of authorized service centers. If there is no authorized service center in your area, please visit us online at www.powerwheels.com or call Consumer Relations for information, 1-800-348-0751.
This warranty gives you specific legal rights, and you may also have other rights that may vary from state to state.
Please save your original sales receipt.”
Normally, you won't have issues with the toy nor the battery; Fisher-Price has been making these products since the 80's like I established earlier, and are the most reliable among battery-powered ride-on toys in general. But if you find that the battery isn't charging properly or draining too quickly, you get a 6-month warranty for this purpose.
My Power Wheel Is Too Slow!
Some users have reported that their Power Wheel is operating at a slower speed than advertised.
To be clear, most models operate at a maximum of 5 mph, which is only slightly faster than the adult walking speed of 3 – 4 miles per hour (if you are a fast walker, then there is a good chance you walk faster than a Power Wheel). The point of these toys isn't to speed, rather to provide a fun driving experience for young children.
In fact, the maximum speed might even be too fast for especially young children. The product is designed for ages between 1 – 7 years old, which, as we all know, is a pretty sizable range. Obviously, a seven-year-old is much more developed than a one-year-old, and thus Fisher-Price incorporated a safety feature that allows parents to adjust how fast a Power Wheel can go.
On most models, the speed can be adjusted to go as low as 2.5 mph, which is more suitable for children closer to the minimum recommended age. Once they are ready, the speed can be unlocked to the full 5 mph. Ensure that you want your child to enjoy the full amount of speed that you don't accidentally have the safety feature on.
It's also possible that the battery is defective and doesn't deliver the full amount of power to the toy; this is a very rare occurrence, but possible. If you find that you can easily outwalk your child's power wheel at a normal pace, refer to the warranty that comes equipped with the toy.
If your child is 7 or older, I would recommend looking into faster ride-on toys since, at this point, a maximum of 5 mph may be too slow for them. But which toys, you ask? Razor makes electric scooters designed for kids ages 8 and up. In addition, the company also makes the Crazy Cart, which is designed for children ages 6 and up, which has a maximum speed of 8 mph and allows kids to pull off drifts easily!
If your child still wants something closer to a Power Wheel, you can look into the Razor Dune Buggy, which has a maximum speed of 9 mph and is designed for ages 8 and up. And since the seat is low to the ground with a minimal design overall, it's going to feel much faster than a Power Wheel.
Lastly, Razor makes electric dirt bikes such as the MX350 that are an absolute blast. They do state that they are designed for ages 13+, however many parents have found they are also suitable for responsible children of 8 years old, or in some cases, slightly younger due to the small size.
It's likely the high age recommendation is to protect the company from lawsuits from parents buying their child one of these before they are ready to handle it. A young teenager can likely handle one, but you have to be choosey for younger children – hence the age rating.
What I can say is to know your child. Whether they can handle an electric bike that goes up to 12 – 14 mph, depending on which model you get. It's probably best that they are at least comfortable on a regular bicycle before getting them one of these, however.
It is important to practice safety with these faster toys, specifically having your child wear a helmet. 8-9 MPH might not seem that fast, but that is around the cycling speed of a child on a bicycle, and it is certainly enough to cause quite the accident. Razor sells a Youth Multi-Sport Helmet to go along with their ride-on toys. And if you are buying your child one of the electric dirt bikes, definitely include a helmet!
You Can Also Convert a Power Wheel to a Lithium Battery
You can convert the standard lead-acid battery that comes equipped with Power Wheels into a lithium battery if you would like to.
To be clear, this is considered a custom upgrade, and it is NOT acknowledged by Fisher-Price; however, if you do it right, it does allow for more range, which means you don't have to baby the battery as much.
Essentially, you take two 5400 mAh lithium batteries designed for R/C cars and run them in parallel. You can watch the video below to see how this is done, and if you are going to do this, please watch the video below to ensure you are doing this correctly.
In the video, the man claims you can get around 5.5 miles on a single charge, which is more than a stock power wheel operating at a maximum capacity continuously.
Power Wheels come equipped with lead-acid batteries that are generally very reliable within the rated lifespan of around 2 – 5 years old. You'll notice that the battery needs to be replaced when the battery isn't lasting as long as it did before. If you are having problems out of the gate with it, contact Mattel/Fisher-Price about the issue since the toy comes with a 6-month warranty for battery-related issues.