Replacing Hard Plastic Wheels on a Child's Wagon with Rubberized Tires: How to

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The ubiquitous 'little red wagon' these days are all-plastic, with hard plastic wheels. Let's replace these hard wheels with soft rubber tires from a baby stroller for a smoother ride.

Replacing OEM Wheels on a Wagon with Rubberized Stroller Tires

Using the wheels from a discarded upscale baby stroller, I swapped the hard plastic wheels from my son’s little red wagon for something better. Now his wagon has chrome-plated steel rimmed spoked wheels with thick rubber treads. The wagon now rides smooth and quiet. My son is overjoyed with these changes!

The ‘Little Tykes’ Red Wagon with Original Equipment Hard Plastic Wheels: A Bumpy Ride

Last summer we bought a very nice second-hand little red wagon at a yard sale. We played a little game called ‘the price is right’ and got it I dare say, dirt cheap. The new ones of this make & model are rather expensive by comparison. We like this style of wagon for our son because it is large enough, rugged and has a flat cargo bottom. Some children’s plastic wagons have individual formed seats, leg recesses and cup-holder/armrest considerations. We wanted just a good ol’ plain little red wagon with a flat bottom, and side rails high enough to not let the child accidentally fall out.

This would be great for those walks to nearby Lake Ontario to the splash pads, play parks with our 4 1/2 year old child. For that matter, any recreational walks in general. It would provide a way for our son to not have to walk the entire way as he is too big for a stroller now.

The Baby Stroller Type Used in the Conversion: Notice the Rubber Wheels

The above is not the actual stroller that I salvaged parts from, but of the same make & model used here for demonstration purposes. Here in the city, it is fairly common to see strollers of any make and model being ‘retired’ when they wear out and/or the child becomes to big to use a stroller anymore.

Wagon wheels / Stroller Tire Comparison: Original Equipment (l.) and Stroller Replacements (r.)

I found a discarded baby stroller with easily removable wheels. It has shiny chrome-plated metal with spokes like a bicycle rim. If the horizontal hole for the axle were the same size I could swap the hard plastic wheels of the little red wagon for the superior rubber-tired rims. This would provide a smoother, quieter ride for the child and of course the wagon would probably pull a lot easier.

I pulled the red hub caps off of the original wheels and there was the expected compression lock-washer that held them onto the axle bar. Upon breaking them off and removing the wheel I confirmed my belief that the replacement wheels share the same axle diameter. Yes! I could make this conversion to rubber wheels work.

The replacement stroller wheels have a thumb-tab locking/release mechanism for holding the wheel onto the axle. A shallow radial notch would need to be cut into the existing axles on each end of both axles. Not a problem for I have several Dremel-type rotary cutting/grinding tools and some experience in such alterations.

I Notched the Axle ends with a Rotary (Dremel-type) Tool Grinding Discs

On each end of both axles (which can be extracted easily from the wagon once one or both wheels are taken off) I cut a shallow notch around the periphery of the axle, a little less than quarter-inch from the end. Trial and error was used to determine the correct depth of the radial groove so as to make the wheel lock properly and have it not pop-off the end of the axle when under stress. This was fairly easy to achieve despite the seeming complexity. The Rotary Tool (either Dremel or Black & Decker) are excellent handyman tools to have. I have built many things using them including a homemade ferret cage, and my wood carvings. I recently started making rock-carved scarab beetles as well. I love my rotary tool set.

There is probably very little outward torque against the nub that is formed. The notch tang of the thumb-release does not actually rotate when the wagon is in motion. This merely prevents the wheel from sliding off of the axle.

Installing the Replacement Baby Stroller Wheels onto the Notched Axles: They 'lock' Into Place

Three of the four new wheels are installed and everything seems fine. While these wheels are notable less wide than the ones that came off, the hub of the wheels where it attaches to the axle is comparable in width. I would not have to shorten the length of the axles or add any additional spacers to control lateral (side to side) movement of the wheels. I would not want to shorten the axle length as the width of the wheelbase contributes to the stability. If the wheelbase is less-wide than the wagon there is a potential for tipping over during use, causing injury to the occupant.

The Sexy Wagon with Soft Rubber Tires is Ready to Roll

Ah yes! Finished! About forty-five minutes of intensive mechanical work and my son’s new & improved wagon is ready to roll! We tried it out this morning in fact. He says that he loves it very much and is appreciative of the smoothness on sidewalks and crossing streets. The wagon makes virtually no noise now when towing my son around town on sidewalks. The soft foamy rubber of the wheels absorbs the shocks and vibrations. The ride floats smoothly, almost bouncy in fact. The wagon is greatly improved.

Soft rubber Tires Make for a Smooth Ride in the Little Red Wagon!