How to Create an Art Car

Tired of the sea of silver and tan that seems to make up traffic? Do you want to stand out or make a statement? Try turning your vehicle into an art car.


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    Choose an automobile to modify. If you're planning to drive your art car on a regular basis, you'll want one that is in good mechanical working order. Some "cartists", however, prefer to leave their art cars parked, and only move them by towing to destinations such as art shows. Since you'll probably be modifying the outside heavily, it doesn't matter too much if the finish is damaged, although an additional investment of time and effort will be required to remove any rust if you're going to paint the car.
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    Choose your theme. Themes are unlimited. You can go with a hobby, a political statement, self-expression or a commercial venture. If the car is going to be driven, it's likely to draw attention and can be a good medium through which to advance a cause or promote a business.
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    Plan your car art and start where it draws you. During the planning stage, let your creativity run wild. Make sketches or collect swatches and samples of possible materials or colors to use. Then, choose an idea and modify it so that you can execute it.
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    Make any pre-paint modifications to the car itself. If your plan calls for see-through panels, for instance, it's best to make the cuts before painting.
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    Create any sculptures or larger items you plan to attach to the car. If you can do these separately from the car itself, they will help you to get the colors and arrangement right on the rest of the vehicle. It's also a good idea to do these first, at least the larger ones, to determine whether you're really committed to the project before you cut and paint.
    • Keep in mind that you can also expand the surface of the car with expandable spray foam or Bondo body-filler. This may reduce the need to attach separate large objects to the car.
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    Paint the car. Choose a color or colors that will go with your theme. The paint can be the art in itself or it can be a background for other additions, or both. One-shot sign enamel is available in bright colors and is very durable, but you can also use oil paint (for more expression and less convenience) or even poster paint (for a temporary design).
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    Attach any large pieces where they will go. For larger pieces, be very sure that you secure them firmly (see warnings below). It's likely that you'll need to use bolts, screws, pop rivets or welding. There are, however, ways to attach large pieces temporarily, such as with string or rope, or even creating edges that wrap around doors and trunks so that they are secured when the door or trunk is closed.
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    Attach any other background materials, such as tile, fur, bottle caps, etc. A car that has its surface almost covered in small objects is often referred to as a "gluey". You can use silicone adhesive, epoxy or liquid nails. Use the larger works to get the spacing and arrangement right.
    • Smaller objects can be attached temporarily with magnets. This is useful if you only want the car to be a work of art for a short time, or if there's a chance the objects will be stolen when the car is unattended.
    • Don't forget that if the car is driven, these items will see vibration, acceleration, and high wind. They should also be relatively weatherproof.
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    Light it up. If the art car will be on display after hours, you can add Christmas lights, el wire or neon tubes, which can be powered independently (battery in the back seat?), through the cigarette lighter, or wired to the battery.
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    Apply any finish coatings to the outside. Will you add a protective coating of shellac or fill in grooves with caulk of some sort?
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    Decorate the inside of the car, if you are going to. Will you add furry trim or bright colors to go with your theme?
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    Decorate yourself to match. Wear outfits that match or compliment the design of the car.
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    Show off your art car. Go to shows, parades, or just drive around town. Be prepared to answer questions! To find other "cartists" go to an art car parade.


  • Be realistic about your mechanical and electrical abilities if you plan to do more than surface decoration. If you want to add lights or make major structural modifications, be sure you know what you're doing, or get help from someone who does.
  • Don't forget to leave space for yourself and your passengers. That means checking that doors can still open and close, not applying interior trim where it will encroach on passenger space, etc.
  • Be sure you allow 24 hours before driving with any newly glued items on your car.
  • When painting, follow the directions on the paint can.
  • Depending on your theme, look around for found materials. They'll save you money, and they just may inspire ideas you hadn't thought of.
  • Plan to protect your hard work from the weather. Store it in a garage or other covered parking if you can; if you can't, get a cover or tarp for it.
  • When attaching large sculptures to your vehicle, allow for vibration and a backup system. Use a lot of quarter-inch bolts to hold sculptures on. You can also use an #8 copper wire as a backup plan. Safety is a great concern. Remember that anything sticking out will be subject to wind, vibration, acceleration, and deceleration. You want people to look at your car but not get hit by it.


  • Painting and applying items to a car may void its warranty. Check before you do anything if you still wish it to be under warranty.
  • If you will drive the car (and isn't that the point?), be sure to comply with the laws of your area. That means, among other things, not covering up things like lights, windshields, and license plates.
  • Be mindful of structural integrity. It's one thing to chop out a bit of sheet metal and replace it with acrylic so that goodies inside a door can show through; it's another matter entirely to start slicing up frame members.
  • Modifying the body of your car would restrict the usage of automatic car wash centers.

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