Swapping Rims on a Hot Wheels Car Turns a Cheap Toy Into Something More

Here’s a quick and fun way to breathe new life into small-scale model cars.

byAndrew P. Collins| PUBLISHED Jul 11, 2022 10:00 AM
Swapping Rims on a Hot Wheels Car Turns a Cheap Toy Into Something More
Andrew P. Collins
Share

Collecting Hot-Wheels-sized cars is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to tangibly appreciate automobiles. Like most hobbies, you can go totally nuts with these things, getting creative with their customization and building beautiful dioramas for them to park in. But if you want a little extra artistry in your 1:64-scale cars without doing too much work, try fitting some pre-made custom wheels.

Changing the wheels on a real car is one of the best ways to make a big visual (and sometimes performance) impact. The bronze Konig Countersteer Type-X wheels I have on my Montero give it a distinctly Japanese tuner look, while the beadlock-style steel wheels on my Scout make that truck seem much meaner than it was from the factory. This was in the back of my mind as I was admiring my Hot Wheels collection the other day. I have hundreds of cars in that scale, nearly all of which are at least somewhat nice and special to me. But quite a few have the same problem: Although the body of the car looks great, the wheels look like cheap junk.

This is clearly a cool and fairly accurate little model, but it's missing something. Those wheels really detract from the realism.

"Hah, I wonder if they make Volk TE37s in 1/4-inch diameter," I joked to my dog Bramble as I pulled one of my cars from her mouth. I thought about it for another beat and opened up the eBay app. Sure enough, not only can you get tiny TE37s, you can get just about any style of tuner, muscle car, or off-road wheel you can imagine in a bunch of different colors.

Here you can really see how much cooler the aftermarket wheels are than the stock ones. Get some that come already mounted on axles like this for the easiest installation.

I ordered this set of "TE37 6 SPOKE v2 LIMITED Real Riders Wheels" for $5.99 from eBayer mod_my_ride, who I'll plug because they were very communicative, and I instantly knew what car they'd be going on. This second-gen Mazda RX-7 I found at a yard sale in Maine had a sturdy body with great patina but junky little wheels. I had no doubt that a set of bronze six-spokers would turn this cheap toy into a desk-worthy collectible.

In many smallish inexpensive car models, the left and right wheels are held together by paperclip-thin axles snapped in place into the plastic chassis. You'll need to separate the chassis and body to access those axles. There are plenty of instructables for that online, but this video is my favorite because it includes cutaway imagery that beautifully illustrates the project:

Don't be too intimidated by the complexity of that clip, though—this can be done quick and dirty too with damn good results.

Hot Wheels cars are generally held together by one plastic tab in the back and a rivet on the underside near the front. Like, below where the radiator would be on a real car. This is what you need to kill to get the car apart. I just drill it out, starting with a tiny drill bit, then stepping up to bigger ones to completely annihilate the rivet and from there it takes very little force to peel the body off the chassis. Having done this twice now, I think it's a perfectly acceptable way to split a Hot Wheels car. Mine have gone back together just with a squeeze between fingers and I figure you don't look at the bottom when it's on a shelf anyway. Full disclosure: If you intend to give your car to a kid to play with or you really want the underside to look super clean, cruise around YouTube and check out some other methods that might be less messy.

Once the body is off, you'll be able to see how the axles are held in place by more little plastic tabs. Be patient here—those tabs are tiny and liable to get brittle. I found that a very small flathead screwdriver was perfect for bending them just enough to pull my miniature RX-7's old axles and then again to accept the new ones.

With the new axles and wheels in, I just stacked the interior, windows, and body back on the chassis and snapped them together with my fingers. The seats and "glass" (it's clear plastic) were just held down by the body. And like I said earlier—on the two Hot Wheels cars I've dismantled so far, both have felt fairly firmly together with only finger force pressing them back into assembled status.

Are you looking at this wondering if the second-gen RX-7 had back seats in real life? There was indeed a 2+2 variant, actually. I had an '89 non-turbo that I installed rear seats in from a junkyard car so I could fit more friends onboard for high school hijnks.

Once the RX-7 was back together, I was very pleased to see it looked just as cool as I'd imagined.

You could take this project one step further by adjusting the ride height with little dabs of glue or something, or set the track width with some micro-sized spacers. And of course, a Hot Wheels car body is very easy to paint once it's snapped off the chassis. But you don't even need to do that much work. Just swapping a Hot Wheels' wheels gives you a great return on your labor and dollar investment if you want to add a little custom flavor to a 1:64-sized car.

As you can see here, the new wheels could slide side-to-side a bit on the axles. If you really care about detail, you could add some kind of little metal spacer to set the wheel track. Also, yes, this Mazda model is a Maisto-brand toy, not Hot Wheels. But all the same techniques and assembly methods apply.

Grab yourself a new die-cast 1:64 car, order some rolling stock, and give it a shot. Heck, get a couple of them and make some with your kids or friends. Then show me how your project came out in the comment section!