Beginner’s Guide to Model Cars

Our beginner’s guide to model cars includes a list of materials, how to car your model car, and the different organizations you can join to participate in events with other model car builders. Model cars are a miniature representation of vehicles or other automobiles, such as trucks or vans. People of all ages enjoy the hobby, but many of the detailed miniature vehicles are for adults rather than children. Learn more below.

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Natasha McLachlan is a writer who currently lives in Southern California. She is an alumna of California College of the Arts, where she obtained her B.A. in Writing and Literature. Her current work revolves around insurance guides and informational articles. She truly enjoys helping others learn more about everyday, practical matters through her work.

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Model cars are a miniature representation of cars or other types of automobiles, such as trucks or vans. They are usually created as an attempt to accurately depict an actual vehicle but on a smaller scale. Model cars can be bought and collected or built from kits. People of all ages enjoy the hobby. In fact, many of the purchases of detailed miniature vehicles are for adults rather than children.

Getting Started

Kids and adults of all ages can get started with model cars. No age is the wrong age to start a model car hobby.

Children may want to start with building sets such as those made by Lego or K’Nex. These offer an opportunity to get accustomed to building miniature vehicles without some of the extra complexity that can accompany a traditional model car kit. Older kids may be ready to start working with plastic and then eventually metal model car kits. Adults may be happy to continue with those kits or may be interested in progressing even further with radio-controlled vehicles or automotive kits.

The important thing is to find an aspect of model cars that interests you and then begin to develop your building skills.


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Model Car Materials

If you are ready to build your own model car, the first thing you will need is a model car kit. These can be purchased in a variety of places ranging from small hobby shops to large online retailers. However, the kits, while they do come with the parts you will require, usually do not have everything you need to put together and perfect the miniature vehicle. For that, you will need to invest in some basic tools and supplies:

Hobby knife – will help with trimming off extra material and for removing model parts from the frames that they are assembled in.

Sandpaper – will help you to remove extra glue, create the perfect finish, and smooth out rough edges on your model cars.

Sanding sticks and needle files – for smoothing all of the surfaces, including the tiny ones.

Pointed tweezers – will make holding tiny parts much easier and allow for more accuracy in their placement.

Model cement or glue – for putting your pieces together securely.

Filler – to fill in any gaps for the perfect finish.

Pins or toothpicks – for applying small lines of cement and paint.

Safety glasses – will protect your eyes during every stage of the model car making process.

Detail paints – for the finishing touches.

Paint thinner – to help with the painting process.

Paint brushes – for adding those details!

While those are the basics and enough to get started with, as you progress in the hobby you may find that there are other supplies that may be useful to have.

A hot glue gun may make life easier. Cutting pliers or a razor saw can help with removing parts from plastic trees with less hassle. An airbrush and air compressor or spray cans may give your paint job a more professional look. You may also want a paint booth to keep that paint from ending up everywhere. A rotating table may also help if you want to access all sides of the vehicle without touching parts that may not be stable or dry yet.  


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Caring for and Protecting Your Models

If you are starting to build a collection, you will want to make sure that the model cars in it are well-cared for and displayed somewhere so you can show off your favorite ones.

Caring for your model cars

Remember to dust your collection regularly. However, even with regular dusting, your model cars will still need to be more thoroughly cleaned from time to time. Do not wash them in water. Instead, use a modelers paint brush and compressed air to remove any dirt. A damp cloth can also be used on some parts if necessary. If the paint looks dull, use a microfiber cloth with a little car detailing wax to bring out the shine again. Remember to be gentle when cleaning so that you do not remove stickers or loosen delicate parts.

Protecting your model cars

If you are just starting out, consider purchasing or making a 1:18 scale display box. These have a clear top to protect your model cars while still allowing them to be seen. If you have a larger collection, you may want to consider investing in a display case or cabinet to house your model cars. Some have mirrored shelves so you can get a look at all sides of your model cars without having to move and potentially damage them.

Use LED lights in your displays to prevent causing damage by heat and make sure that your model cars are not being exposed to direct sunlight to avoid damage to their paint.


Organizations, Clubs, and Societies

There are plenty of national as well as local model car clubs, organizations, and societies that you can join if you are interested in talking with or participating in events with other model car builders and enthusiasts. Many organizations have a specific focus within the model car niche, so be sure to find the one that is the perfect fit for you.

Below you will find some popular groups to start with:

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Additional Resources

Do you still want to learn more about getting started with model cards? The Classic Plastic Model club has a ton of Links to sites for the model car enthusiast.  The Group 25 Model Car Builder’s Club also has a few more links worth exploring on their Members webpages and more interesting sites page.

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