So what exactly is a Mouse Trap Car?

Jan 25, 2015 – According to Wikipedia, a mouse trap car “is a small vehicle having the only form of motive power being from a mouse trap. Variations include the use of multiple traps, or larger rat traps, for added power.”  Designing or building a mouse trap car is generally an assignment given anywhere from junior high school all the way up to the university level.

Mouse Trap Car - Ricky Racer

(Ricky Racer says, "stick around and I'll show you how!")

Some instructors use building the mouse trap car as an exercise in physics, while other professors use it as a project in engineering and design of consumer products, taking into account the emphasis on purpose (usefulness),functional performance (product usability), process (manufacture), and styling possibilities (product desirability). Whether a junior high student or a university student, this activity can challenge even the most seasoned industrial designers.

Mouse Trap Car Projects

The mouse trap car is a familiar project among many students. Fascinated with the resourcefulness of junior high students who often build and race these unlikely toys for “Science Olympiad,” it has even been introduced at the University of Notre Dame by Professor Paul Down, associate professor of Industrial Design. He used the project and introduced it to his entry-level industrial design students for product design.
The basic project is to design a mouse trap car using very basic materials, often provided by the instructor or professor, where the central component is the classic, household wooden mouse trap (probably a 50 cent part, or less.)

After the design and construction phase, there is a period of testing where empirical data is collected. Students are asked to comment about their mouse trap cars. They often have ideas for ways of improving mouse trap car performance, like cutting weight, reducing friction, altering spool size, and changing lever ratios. Some even suggested that it would be a useful “educational toy” that could be assembled with included with various part options that would change the performance characteristics of the mouse trap car while teaching children different principles of physics. Others suggested that making a mouse trap car would be a great youth club activity, and several students generally suggest that the cars could be made in kit form (which they are today – see the kits at the top left of this page), to ease assembly and create a more attractive mouse trap car.

Mouse Trap Car – Project Or Assignment

In nearly all instances of the mouse trap car project, students are required to build a mouse trap car and race the “crude” mouse trap car before moving on to refining or redesigning. The drawing and refinement stages are always important as a means to discover and explore opportunities to construct a mouse trap car efficiently. Some instructors go as far as having their students reverse engineer other toys by encouraging students to dismantle old broken toys or worn out consumer goods, which imparts important lessons in how products are traditionally assembled.

Projects like the building a mouse trap car illustrates opportunities for instructors to explain physics and design as part of the industrial process. By demonstrating how engineering (the operational but crude racing version of the car) proposes and tests function, how marketing defines a potential consumer, and how industrial design (the finished show model) gives practical usability and desirability to an end product, students begin to understand the differing talents that work together in developing virtually all products. In an ideal commercial scenario would be that all three groups engage the developmental process nearly from beginning to end of the mouse trap car building process.

In any classroom, an ideal scenario would have students identify their own interests and potentials with the mouse trap car building activity. If they don’t see themselves strong in physics, engineering or industrial design, at a minimum they will at know how all of these subjects fit into a proven paradigm for product development, not to mention they have a helluva lot of fun in the process planning and building a mouse trap car!

Please feel free to browse the pages and links on our site to see all of the Mouse Trap Car instructions, designs, pictures and videos.  Mouse trap cars come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and even speeds. Be creative with your mouse trap car design and take extra time in  your mouse trap car trial tests!