Tractor Toys – Metal vs Plastic

Plastic and metal

If your childhood was before the 2000s, then you will remember playing with metal toys. They came in many forms, toy tractors, cars, trucks, construction equipment and more. We pushed them around as fast as we could, filled them full of sand, left them in the rain and made them fly through the air like the General Lee.

They got dents, wheels bent, and paint chipped. They took a beating and kept on ticking! Those toys were solid enough to knock some one out cold, and some of them had moving parts that were just big enough to really pinch your figures.

Why did they stop making those “tough as nails” toys? The only metal toys that kids get to play with today are our old toys. We handed them down, and smiled to ourselves as we watch our kids play for hours on end. Seeing them play with the same toys that we played give us joy. It is joy to see new life breathed into those toys that for a decade or more just sat in some box in the basement or attic.

Those metal toys have long lives, unlike the new plastic toys, that will not survive a day. “They are made so cheap” or “My kids will destroy those things in a day.” These are all phrases I have heard people say before. I always assumed that they were right, that plastic was easily broken and the most you would ever get out of one is maybe a day or two depending on your kid.

I became a father just a few years ago and soon I got my son his first 1/16th scale tractor toy. Before I bought it, I thought to myself, “well this isn’t going to last real long. The whole thing is just cheap plastic.” When we got it out of the package, I realized that it was heavier than what I thought it would be and much sturdier as well.

I can tell you that after nearly three years of rough play, that tractor I got him is still going. He has lost all the stickers and it has lost some paint, but it has not broke. In fact, I do not see it breaking in the near future. For being all plastic, it has held up to many torture techniques that only a toddler can put it through. I have been very impressed with the durablity.

So lets focus on plastic 1/16th scale tractor toys, are they really as cheaply made as most claim? Or has plastic tractor toys gotten an undeserved bad reputation. We will take a look at how the toys are made and we will see if what people say are well founded.

Making The Toy

It all starts with CAD computer programs and 3D computer designers. Then they are sent to the mold department where an automated milling machine make plaster mold inserts. Once the plaster mold inserts are made, then molten metal is poured on top of it. Once hard, the plaster is broken away and a metal mold is left.

Then the metal mold is put into an injection molding machine. It injects plastic into the mold, forming the toy. Then the mold is opened and the plastic is removed and placed in water to cool. After that it is moved to an artist for painting and from there it is put together with the other parts to create the toy.

Is Plastic Durable?

The material that is used in plastic toys can vary from polyethylene, poly vinyl chloride, polypropylene and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). The material that is commonly used in tractor toys is ABS. Most famous use for ABS is Lego. It is a very sturdy, tough plastic and is also used in the automotive industry.

This fact is what makes the tractor toys far more durable then most people give it credit. I can tell you from personal expense that my son has giving his plastic toys a very through test. He has set them for rides down the stairs and off the end of the front porch onto the concrete below. They are left outside in the sun and the rain. He pushes them at full speed and sometimes runs into walls.

All that abuse and none of his toys have cracked or broken into pieces. He has lost one mirror and some paint, that is all. So in my book, tractor toy plastic is very tough. It can and will take a beating and keep on ticking! Just like the old metal counterparts.

Chemical Worries

Over the years there has been some worry over chemicals found in plastic toys. The biggest worry was over a chemical called phthalate. This chemical has been linked to asthma and cancer. Also, it has been proven that reproductive harm is possible with phthalate.

All of today’s toys, from baby rattles to our beloved tractor toys, are phthalate free. The EU banned the use in any plastic toys that are likely for a child to put in their months. Ever since the EU put into place the ban, toy manufactures have stopped using the chemical.

So you can rest assured that the toys we buy for our children are free of this chemical and are free of any chemical that is harmful.

Is Plastic better than Metal?

I don’t think you will be able to knock someone out with a plastic tractor toy, but I think after all that we just learned about plastic, we can rest assured that tractor toys are made to be very durable and long-lasting.

Plastic tractor toys can take anything short of an adult hitting them with a hammer, and honestly the old metal toys won’t take a beating like that. One advantage of plastic over metal, is when dropped on your floors, plastic will not damage your floors, where metal could damage them.

Final Thoughts

In the early years of plastic tractor toys, they did get a bad rap. The plastic was weaker and more prone to breaking then the metal counterparts. Today the process of making plastic has greatly improved. The materials used are constantly improving and the strength is increasing.

If you are worried that the plastic tractor toy you just bought is going to last or not, don’t be. They are very tough and will take whatever you child can throw at it.

While we still reminisce about our old metal farm toys, those days are gone. The only way to get metal tractors is to spend upwards of 70 to more then 100 dollars. Those are more aimed at adult collectors then children.

Plastic is strong, durable and cheaper cost then metal. They can take just about anything that metal can. So don’t be afraid of the new toys, They will not let you down.


Thanks for reading,






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  1. Lee Ann says:

    I definitely remember the tractors and race cars my brothers and I played with growing up.
    I also remember buying my son a thick plastic dump truck and it lasted forever.
    There aren’t many toys that last longe like they used to, but then again the are some that you couldn’t tear up if you tried.
    I am glad I came across your information. It has definitely helped me decide on what to get my grandson. The plastic tractor seems more logical and more affordable although I would love for him to have a metal one for old times sake.

  2. Juan Figueroa says:

    This brings me to good memories

  3. Kristi says:

    Aww I saw the title of the post and had to read it… I love the old metal toys. My ex-husband actually saved all of his old tractors and our kids play with them today. I’m sure the kids don’t really care and so buying metal tractors instead of plastic is really just an adult thing now. Seems like many companies today are actually changing the type of plastic they use though such as LEGO.

    • Dan says:

      Yes they are and have changed their plastic, because they realized that people were not going to buy toys that broke after a little bit of play! The toys from Ertl and Bruder are very tough. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. Vicki Crawford says:

    My grandson would love a few tractors especially the metal ones as he had a digger and a bulldozer and of course a tip truck so a tractor or 2 will be great

    • Dan says:

      That’s great! Metal tractor toys are getting harder to find, outside collectables. The plastic ones now days are very strong and look good too.

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