Let’s make a Balloon Car

The pleasure of building a family-made toy

Reading time: 4 minutes

DIY, or Do it Yourself, means a performing a series of tasks on your own and creating something alone (or in a group) that you would ordinarily buy new from a shop or pay an expert to do. It could involve making, mending and decorating household objects, such as home-décor items, bric-a-brac and toys.

When summer comes around and everyone has more spare time, why not try your hand at some creative DIY stuff? You could repurpose things lying around the house and turn them into toys or creative experiments, combining learning opportunities with entertainment (with the whole family). What is the point? To instil and consolidate knowledge, to encourage skill acquisition and to promote resourcefulness and manual dexterity.

Here is a perfect way to spice up playtime with your children that makes use of recycled materials or stuff lying around the house or in your holiday bungalow. Have fun!


The Balloon Car

The Balloon Car is a simple but amusing DIY car that is powered by a balloon so that children can pit themselves against each other in exciting races. You know when you blow a balloon up and then release the nozzle, letting all the air out? The compressed air escapes rapidly from the inside of the balloon and the elastic potential energy stored inside is converted into kinetic energy (the energy of movement). Indeed, the balloon will zip around the room like mad. This behaviour is explained by Newton’s third law of motion which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The released air goes in one direction and the balloon goes in the opposite direction. If we channel the released air into a tube (a straw) attached to a rigid structure (the frame of the car), the balloon and the frame will both be thrust in the opposite direction of the stream of air.

May the experiment begin! You will need the following materials to build a Balloon Car:

  • Bottles and lids in plastic
  • Long wooden skewers
  • Bendy straws
  • Balloons
  • Elastic bands
  • Adhesive tape or hot glue
  • Scissors and cutters

Instructions for building the car:

  1. Take the plastic bottle and pull off the labels (if you can). This will be the frame of your car.
  2. Cut the straws on the non-bendy part so that they are slightly longer than the width of the plastic bottle.
  3. Glue (or stick on with adhesive tape) the two straws to one side of the bottle, separating them so they are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the bottle axis. They will be used for the two axles of the front and back wheels so the more accurate you are, the smoother, straighter and faster the movement will be. 
  4. Cut the two skewers so that they are slightly longer than the straws and thread them through. They will be the wheel axles.
  5. Glue the plastic lids to the tips of the skewers, or attach the sticks and lids together by piercing the lids and sticking the rods through the hole (use the scissors or cutter). The lids will be the car wheels. Take care to assemble everything carefully and properly. Here too, the closer the skewer is to the lid centre, the smoother the car movement will be. 
  6. Attach the balloon nozzle to the end of another straw, using adhesive tape or an elastic band.
  7. Attach (or glue) this straw along the other side of the bottle (the opposite side to the wheels), making sure that the free end of the straw protrudes from the edge of the bottle. Note that the free end of the straw is the “exhaust pipe” so it is positioned on the vehicle’s rear. 
  8. Blow into the straw and inflate the balloon. When it is big enough, keep the end of the straw shut with one finger to make sure the air doesn't escape.
  9. Place the car onto a smooth flat surface, release the straw to set it in motion and watch it move! Now you can make any adjustments or changes to improve your car. 

You will have great fun organising car races between family members or friends, either based on speed or distance. Get the children to personalise the Balloon Car with other stuff lying around the house to make it more attractive. You could even find materials to create the bodywork and chassis of your own personal Balloon Car.

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