Couples + Family

9 All-Time Best Car Games You Played as a Kid (That Your Kids Will Love, Too)

Whip out some of your childhood favorites for the next family road trip. (Photo: Alamy)

Whether you’re a parent with kids or a child at heart, car games for kids bring out the nostalgia in all of us. They can also help kill some time when choruses of “ROAD TRIP!!!!” turn into whines of “Are we there yet?” Here are some age-appropriate car games that are sure to please, and bring you back to your childhood (minus the fights over the front seat).

First, a Few Tips for the Game-Master:

Keep it light: Don’t get too competitive. Keep it silly and casual to avoid arguments or temper tantrums. (That goes double for the grownups.)

Mix it up: If a game is working and everyone’s having fun, then enjoy living in that Rockwell painting as long as you can. But most kids (er… humans) have short attention spans…. What were we talking about? Oh yeah… Switch to a new game if players lose interest.

Use teamwork: If you’re able to ride in the passenger seat while your partner takes the wheel, that’s ideal. That way you can play gameshow host, DJ, and snack dispenser, and the driver can focus solely on driving—and on getting all your goofballs safely to your destination.

car games for kids
Perhaps they fancy a little Simon Says? They’ll definitely get the giggles. (Photo: Getty Images)

Simon Says

Good for Ages: 2-6

Who knows who Simon is or why he’s so bossy, but it’s all in good fun in this classic preschool game. If Simon says it, you do it. If it doesn’t start with “Simon says,” don’t do it. It’s pretty easy to grasp, even for toddlers. It keeps those short-attention spans engaged so it’s a great game for the car, and helps teach kids something you REALLY want them to learn how to do: Listen!

I Spy

Good for Ages: 3-6

Observation skills get tested to the limit, boredom gets banished, and there’s no charger needed. You can take turns spying an object and giving a few hints like the color or the letter it starts with. “I Spy with my little eye, something pink that starts with an S.” (Sunset!) This game offers a great chance to take a peek into how your kid views the world.

I’m Going On A Picnic

Good for Ages: 5 & up

Remember this one? “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing….” Then the first player says something with the letter A. (Apple is a safe choice.) The next player repeats what the last player said and adds another item starting with a B, like so: “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing Apples and Bananas.” You keep going from A to Z, or until there’s only one player left who can remember everything in that overstuffed picnic basket.

car games for kids
The license plate game is a classic. (Photo: Alamy)

The License Plate Game

Good for Ages: 7-12

Teaching your kids about geography? See how many license plates you can spot from another state. Find as many different states as you can. Once you get beyond the states bordering your own, that’s when things get really exciting (relatively speaking). The fun thing is that this can be an ongoing game that you play throughout your trip.

Car-aoke

Good for All Ages

If listening to a car full of your friends or family singing “Sweet Caroline” sounds like torture, then skip along to the next game right now. If you like singing off key, and don’t mind a little Neil Diamond once in a while, then start doing your vocal exercises!

All warmed up? Good. Now cue up a crowd-pleasing tune, look up the lyrics on your phone, and belt it out! Harmonizing with friends or family members in the car has been scientifically proven to be the ultimate bonding experience. (That, and making s’mores.

car games for kids
I spy with my little eye… (Photo: Getty Images)

Punch Buggy

Good for All Ages

Okay, you might be opening a Pandora’s box by inviting children to punch each other in the car, but this one is for sure a classic. It’s the first thing everyone shouts out when you ask, “Which games did you play in the car as a kid?”

Punch Buggy (also called punch bug, punch car, punch dub, piggy punch, slug bug, or beetle bug) is played simply by punching your neighbor in the arm and shouting “Punch Buggy!” every time you see a VW Beetle driving on the road.

Mad Libs

Good for Ages: 6 and up

With Mad Libs, you build silly stories by crowdsourcing nouns, verbs, and occasionally sound effects. Go old school and bring the flip book for your road trip with multiple stories to fill in the blanks and have a roaring good time.

You can find Mad Libs all over the place—Amazon, Target, or a bookstore if you can find one. If you’ve gone paperless, there’s also a Mad Libs app. The app itself is free, but the books (which contain 21 stories each) cost $1.99. It’s sure to be a smelly good time.

20 Questions

Good for Ages 9 and up

This is the game that originated the famous phrase: “Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” Wildly popular in backseats from coast to coast, 20 questions hit super stardom in the 1940s when it became the format for a successful radio quiz show. The way it works: One person thinks up an answer and the rest of the players ask Yes or No questions (20 or so) to try to figure it out.

Would You Rather?

Good for Ages 12 and up

This one can get really scatological really fast depending on who you’re playing with. If you would rather (ha) keep it clean, then be sure to set the tone from the start and call people out, or things could really start going off the rails. If you’re not familiar with this one, it’s a simple game where you try to come up with two equally horrible options for your partner to choose from. Would you rather swallow a bug or stick a caterpillar up your nose? Hmmm, tough call.

This article was published as part of a partnership with Zipcar’s online magazine Ziptopia.