These car games for kids are completely free and imaginative road trip games that keep kids happy and entertained while parents concentrate on the road!
If Mom and Dad's ideas for vacation involve hopping in the car and getting out of Dodge, games to play in the car make everything easier. Our fond childhood memories of family road trips with our own parents sometimes gloss over how boring the backseat can be. If you're looking for a solution that doesn't involve screens, try some of these car games for kids of all ages—from those strapped in a car seat to tweenagers.
For everything your family needs to plan the perfect road trip, from road trip essentials to things you can pack to keep kids entertained, head to this Ultimate Road Trip Guide for Families. Want to get out of town, but you need some suggestions for where to go? Check out our Guide to Weekend Getaways and Day Trips near you.
Best Car Games for Kids
1. The Name Game
My son and his friends enjoy this one so much that they often want to keep playing after the drive is over. Someone says a name (e.g. Ted), and the next person has to say a name that begins with the last letter of that name (in this case D, so maybe Daphne). The third person picks a name that begins with the last letter of the second person's choice, and so on. No duplicates allowed, and they must all be real names. A more challenging version for older kids is names of places with the same rules.
2. My Cows
This one only works if you're driving through rural areas, but it's great for long drives. When driving past a farm with cows, the first person to spot them calls out "My Cows!" and makes a quick count/guesstimate of how many he or she got. The object, of course, is to "collect" the most cows. If the car passes over a bridge, whoever spots it first gets to erase another player's cows. The "erase" landscape object doesn't need to be a bridge; it can be a graveyard or anything else you might pass periodically on a road trip replete with cows.
3. Punch Buggy
There may still be people out there who don't know the Punch Buggy game, so we'd better include it. Volkswagen Beetles are Punch Buggies. The first person to spot one calls out the color with the instruction, "Orange Punch Buggy—no punch backs!" and is allowed to gently punch everyone within arm's reach. The "no punch backs" part is important for obvious reasons. So is "gently."
4. 20 Questions
An old standby for any dull moment: One person thinks of something, and everyone else has 20 yes or no questions to try to guess what it is. If someone guesses correctly before the 20th question, that person is the winner and goes next. If no one figures it out, the person answering has won and goes again.
5. I Spy
This is essentially the same as 20 Questions, but the chosen object must be within sight—at least at the outset of the game. The person starts with the phrase, "I spy with my little eye something beginning with..." and says the first letter of the object he or she sees. The rest follows like 20 questions, either with a set number of questions, or until someone guesses correctly, as preferred.
6. Name That Tune
Here's where the radio comes in handy as more than just a dial to fight over. Turn it on, move the dial until you hear a song, and see who can name the tune first. Repeat as much as you'd like. Kids can also just put Spotify on shuffle. Here are some of our favorite free playlists you can use.
7. Add-on Storytelling
One person starts a story, with just a line or two, then stops mid-sentence. The next person picks up the tale and keeps building. No one can negate someone else's idea, only build on it. The stories always go in crazy directions that are usually good for a group giggle!
8. License Plate Poker
The rules are similar to real poker, which makes this one more of an older kid game. A passing license plate is used as a complete hand of poker. Each player chooses a plate and keeps the best five "cards" (e.g. a plate that reads 4PPU999 could be a full house with a pair of Ps and three 9s as the five-card hand). If everyone in the car has smartphones or cameras, players can even snap photos of their hands; otherwise, everyone can write down the cards—or just trust each other to be honest about what they were "dealt." For simplicity, card value can go in order numerically and alphabetically (e.g. a pair of 9s beats a pair of 2s). People who already know how to play poker can apply more complicated game rules if they prefer.
9. License Plate Initials
This one is pure silliness, and easier for kids who can't master the rules of poker! Look at the letters on a license plate and make up what they might stand for—PSG means Pretty Silly Game! Everyone in the car comes up with an answer before moving on to the next letter combination. This generally brings lots of laughs once everyone warms up.
10. Pig Latin
Not so much a game as a passing of the torch: Isn't it time your kids learned to speak Pig Latin? So few kids these days study the classics. A long car journey is the perfect opportunity to have all backseat riders uent-flay before they get ome-hay.
11. Would You Rather
The premise is simple: One person presents two scenarios, and you have to pick the “best” one. For example, Would you rather stay your whole life as a child and live with your parents forever, or grow up overnight and immediately be on your own? Check out our list of 100 Would You Rather Questions to keep the game going.
12. Car-Ride Karaoke
Take a page from the popular James Corden show and host your own car-ride karaoke. Before your trip, line up a playlist of songs that will get the whole car singing along. Or use one of our favorite playlists for kids.
13. A My Name Is Alice
This is another one of those classic games to play in the car that the entire family can play. Players go through the letters of the alphabet while adding a feminine name, a masculine name, a geographical location, and an item that all start with that letter. For example, “A my name is Alice and my husband’s name is Al. We come from Alabama and we sell apples.”
Originally published August 2014