Car Art: Upcycling Achievements You ‘Auto’ See

Petey the Pelican, art from upcycled auto parts
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Repairing vehicle exhaust systems yields an interesting assortment of debris for muffler shop owner Kevin Doyle. Rather than scrapping it, he sorts through the enticing shapes and welds them into whimsical sculptures: Petey the Pelican, a polka-dotted frog, and a Viking wielding a sword and shield, to name a few. 

Doyle’s “MufflerArt” is among a wealth of impressive approaches for repurposing auto parts. Such items as tires, tail pipes and transmissions — when retired from the road — are kicking it in the world of fashion, furniture, decor and art.

Auto parts reimagined by innovative artisans are fun, funky and functional.  We’ll steer you toward some of our favorite examples.

Mufflers and More

Doyle’s artistic whims are influenced by the vehicles driving into his South Florida shop. Different models offer differently designed equipment. “Owning a muffler shop, my business creates my own palette. Every day I add to my parts for reuse as art as I work on vehicles,” he says. “I enjoy working with auto parts because I get to do my small part in recycling. And when I build something, it lasts forever.”

Petey the Pelican is sculpted with upcycled car parts. Photo: Kevin Doyle

In addition to displaying his sculptures at art shows, Doyle also provides demonstrations at career days in schools. 

“I pile the muffler and all the pieces together and ask them what this is. Generally they say, ‘It’s junk.’ And that’s when I get going [assembling a sculpture]. … Kids start seeing it form in front of their eyes. It helps get the recycling bug into them at a young age.”

Wayward Tire Tread

For an Earth Day weekend art show in Florida, artist Tom Bintz, aka Capt. Honk, displayed a 12-foot eel sculpture in a tree. The eel’s elongated profile is a blown truck-tire remnant plucked from a highway. Embellishments included a perfume bottle for the eye, keys for teeth and bits of metal for fins. 

Eel formed with tire debris from roadway. Photo: Tom Bintz, aka Capt. Honk

Bintz, a former demolition derby driver, often incorporates recycled auto parts into his art. He also dabbles with ocean debris and other discards. “When [spectators] figure out what it is, it kind of blows their mind,” he says.

Bintz is recruiting auto parts for a sculpture of a striped reef fish from Barbados. “The top dorsal fin is cut out of a Florida auto tag,” he explains. “The eyeball is an automotive rubber seal. I drilled out the middle and inserted the bottom of the license tag light bulb. The mouth lips are made up of pieces of license tag.”

Seat Belt Savvy

Trevor Kehler, founder of USED (Unlimited Supplies from Everyday Discards), upcycles seat belts into handbags, laptop bags and backpacks. The seat belts, retrieved from junked vehicles, are stitched together to form a durable, washable, striped fabric. Some bags feature seat belt buckles as closures.  

Seat belts transformed into a tote by USED. Photo: recycledseatbelts.ca

Kehler is working on a design for patio furniture with seat belt upholstery. His seat belt bags and other recycled products are on the USED website. 

Other Upcycled Car Parts

  • Automotive Artaeology on Etsy incorporates recycled auto parts into key racks and other functional pieces. Items include a wall rack with vintage Ford crank window handles for hooks. 
  • Frost Auto Decor on Etsy sells tables and decor items made with engines and engine parts. 
  • James Kelly, a mechanic, uses recycled car parts for Streettrendz Metal Art.
Table from Frost Auto Decor Features Pistons & Other Auto Parts. Photo: Etsy.Com

A table from Frost Auto Decor features pistons and other auto parts. Photo: Etsy.com

Feature image courtesy of Kevin Doyle

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Patti Roth

Patti began her writing career as a staff writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Still based in Florida, Patti serves as editor for Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap. She regularly writes about environmental, home improvement, education, recycling, art, architecture, wildlife, travel and pet topics.