Go Green With Your Old Car: What Happens When You Recycle a Car

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

Every year, 70 million cars are built, ready to be put on the road and drive. With this many cars created all the time, it’s no wonder that car recycling is an extensive process to help eliminate waste. When you recycle a car, a lot of the elements under the hood and inside the body are turned into something else.

If you want to know what happens when you recycle a car, check out our guide below for all of the details.

Which Parts Are Recycled

When you’re trying to recycle a car, it’s not a process that takes into account 100% of the vehicle. While most of the parts are able to be recycled, there are parts that need to be properly discarded. 

The elements of the car that are recycled in other contexts, like glass, rubber, and metals are mot commonly recycled. The glass from the windshield, wheels, rubber hoses and the seats are able to be recycled. If your car has a battery, it can be recycled but only at a professional facility.

Every year, the country produces more than 200 million tires. With all of this rubber produced, it’s good to hear that 80% of those tires end up recycled. The most common way that tires are reused is to create pavement and bases for new roadways.

The glass that’s generated from recycled autos gets used to create tiles. It’s put into glass beads, countertops, porcelain, and all types of jewelry. When glass gets recycled, it helps to eliminate the millions of gallons of oil used to produce new glass

It Starts With Inspection

When a car is ready to get recycled, it’s usually sold as scrap to a scrapyard or junk dealer. There are auto recycling facilities all around the country that accept vehicles that have reached the end of their life. The car is then subjected to a detailed inspection before it’s recycled.

When a scrapper gets a vehicle, they decide whether or not the car should be pulled apart or repaired. There are a lot of cars that require an expensive component to get functioning again. The thing about scrapyards and junk dealers is that they sometimes get those components and have them lying around.

A car that could be cheaply and easily repaired makes more money for the junkyard than individual components. It also saves the work of dismantling and recycling the parts. A repair that’s unprofitable leads to recycling.

If the repair is going to cost more than its worth or if the vehicle isn’t going to sell once its repaired, it goes to the next step in getting prepared for recycling. Junkyard owners are clever and would never pull something apart if it could make money.

It’s Drained and Dismantled

Given that most people have made the decision to keep their vehicles on the road for as long as they can if possible, most cars in junkyards are recycled. It’s rare for someone to try to junk a car that could be driven. The dismantling and recycling process is the first step following an inspection.

The recycling facility starts by draining out all of the different fluids inside of the car. Car components are filled with a lot of oils, lubricants, antifreeze, and gas that interfere with the recycling process. The hazardous liquids need to be segregated from the liquids that are easily processed and discarded safely.

Liquids like oil and gas don’t need to be thrown out. With a little bit of filtering to take out impurities and debris, those liquids are able to be reused.

The engine and transmission get taken out of the body of the car once they’re drained. Then each usable part is removed and cleaned up. These parts could be lucrative for popular or foreign car models.

Tires and batteries that get removed are eligible for resale. If they can’t be sold, they’re then recycled by the people doing the dismantling.

Recovered Parts Are Sold

Some parts are easily recovered and then flipped and resold. Many parts that come out of cars are reusable as-is and easily sold to owners who need replacements. Other parts are valuable to manufacturers and can be sold back to them for slight repairs and refurbishing.

The recycling facility that’s dismantled the vehicle and gotten all the parts could sell them through a recycling facility or they could sell them on their own. In other cases, they’ll sell them to a local auto repair shop at a discount.

Recovered parts take a fair amount of work to get out of the vehicle and so some may not be recycled if they cost a lot fo refurbish. Sometimes a new component is cheaper than the work of refurbishing an old one. 
Vehicles are Crushed and Shredded

Once all of the components that could be used are taken from the vehicle, they’re crushed and shredded. Metals like iron and steel are taken out, sorted, and stored. They’re later sold to scrap yards and metal recycling facilities.

When a car is crushed, the only components are usually parts of the body that aren’t able to be used. There are different metals and plastics. The body is crushed and shredded to create a metal chunk a little bigger than a ping pong ball.

This long and exhausting process helps to eliminate the waste created by cars in one major way.

Recycle a Car, Repair Another

When you recycle a car, you help to give life to lots of other vehicles. There are so many components of a vehicle that are able to be turned into something else, that the life of a car stretches long after it’s pulled off the road.

If you’re considering getting rid of your old car, check out our guide for the pros and cons.

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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