Everything You Need to Know About Recycling Your Car

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

In the United States alone, roughly 12-15 million vehicles reach the end of their shelf-life every year, owing to crash damage, MOT, engine failure, or simply old age. Considering that a standard passenger car consists of 65% iron and steel by weight, dismantling the vehicle for recycling purposes seems like an appropriate, environment-friendly choice.

Auto-recycling happens to be the 16th largest industry in the United States, adding a whopping $25 billion annually to the national GDP. According to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, almost 95% of vehicles withdrawn from U.S. roadways (12 million) are subjected to recycling, with cars being the number one recycled product almost every year.

Nearly all the components of a car or any other automobile for that matter can be redeemed, increasing the vehicle recycling rate to more than 90%. The most frequently recycled bits of a car include windshield glass, rubber hoses, batteries, oil filters, steel, iron, wheels, transmissions, carpets,  radiators, mats, car seats, and belts.

With a recycling rate of 80%, the 220 million tires produced annually in the U.S. are often re-used in asphalt bases to construct new roadways. Given that almost 4 billion unwanted tires ending up in stockpiles or landfills, and approximately 246 million scrap tires being manufactured in the U.S. (2015), the importance of recycling cannot be understated.

If you go back hundred years into the history of tires, recycling was considered a priority, since an ounce of rubber cost as much as an ounce of silver.

As an incredibly versatile material, glass has a very flexible composition and can be recycled again and again. Recycled glass from vehicles is often used to design tile flooring, porcelain, counter tops, glass beads, and jewelry. With a ton glass, you can conserve approximately 10 gallons of oil from being used in the mass-production of new glass.

On a similar note, automobile batteries can also be recycled to manufacture new ones, and when you recycle a ton of steel, you’re essentially saving 1400 pounds of coal, 120 pounds of limestone, and 2500 pounds of iron ore. Not to mention, most old vehicles that are left to simply rust and rot release a large number of harmful toxins into the environment, contributing to the non-biodegradable landfill and increasing the human carbon footprint.

When you recycle a car, you’re supporting the responsible destruction of automobiles, where the spare components can be used in other motors, or for the creation of entirely new commercial objects.

The recycling process begins when you, as a car owner, take your automobile to the nearest Authorized Treatment Facility (ATF), where it’s de-polluted, dismantled, and destroyed.


Depolluting a car includes safely removing all hazardous components or materials that can adversely affect the environment by contaminating the water supply and the food chain.  and accumulate them for a secure, regulated disposal. Substances fall under this category include gas, oil, antifreeze, brake and transmission fluids and lubricants that are often accumulated for a secure, regulated disposal or thoroughly filtered before reuse.

Some of these liquids undergo rigorous distillation and reverse osmosis before the automobile’s chambers are thoroughly flushed for any remaining residue.


During this step, the car transmission and engine are separated from the chassis to manually remove batteries, catalytic converters and tires for recycling. Once a professional has de-polluted the car, the viable components of are dismantled from the vehicle, and are carefully stored before being passed on to licensed specialists who are responsible to break them down for re-use.

For example, tires are usually shredded into pellets and reused in football pitch flooring. Car batteries are either sold as spares for functioning automobiles or disassembled for their specific components, like distilled water, acid, plastic, silver, and lead. Once the ATF is done purifying the water and neutralizing the acid, all the metals are then melted down to be re-purposed.

For safety reasons, airbags are not recommended for re-use, so they are cautiously triggered and taken apart. Car engines are usually re-manufactured to brand new, only if the model is in demand for spares. In most instances, any unwanted engines, gearboxes and other steel components are stripped and prepared for separate shredding. The ferrous metal recovered during the process is sent to steel mills, where it is used as a ferrous scrap input or as feed stock for manufacturing high-quality steel.

Catalytic Converters contain precious metals like Palladium, Rhodium, and Platinum that can either be re-used for the production of brand new catalytic converters or for manufacturing electronics, several pharmaceutical products, electronics and even jewelry, like, wedding rings.

Remember to always approach a trained professional to recycle catalytic converters, regardless of what they are used for – reason being, the ceramic interior, when exposed to air, turns into a hazardous waste. Anything, ranging from bicycles to drinks cans, can be produced using recycled left-over metal parts from a recycled car.


After undergoing de-pollution and dismantling, the deconstructed metal shell of the car will be crushed before being sent to a metal mill. Upon destruction, the vehicle goes through the following process:

  • Magnetic Separation:
    Since the majority of steel and iron particles are magnetic, they can be easily separated from other recyclable materials like plastic, using the traditional magnetic separation process.
  • Detinning:
    Most automobiles come covered in a thin layer of tin covering to prevent rust formation, which is beneficial for the car that’s not being scrapped and recycled. With detinning, the layer of tin is extracted by exposing the scrap to a hot caustic soda solution that diffuses the tin coating after some time.

    The tin can be subsequently recovered in a wide variety of ways, including, but not limited to, evaporation and crystallisation using sodium stannate, electrolysis using acid and hydrous stannic oxide.
  • Melting:
    After separating the steel, it is chucked into the furnace to be melted, poured into casters and repurposed into flat sheets, that can be used in the production of construction materials like Rebar (used to frame and strengthen concrete structures).  

    The best part about this process is that steel doesn’t lose any of its strength, even when melted repeatedly. Recycling steel through melting takes up 75% less energy and resources, as opposed to manufacturing new steel from the iron ore. In fact, recycled metals account for about 30% of the entire metal production across the globe.

Since the early 2000’s, the End Of Life Vehicles Directive (ELV) initiative by the European Commission has introduced and adhered to their primary target of recycling 85% end-of-life vehicles – a number that increased to 95% in the last year. With precise, quantified targets for recycling, recovery and reuse of the ELVs, the ELV directive has pushed manufacturers to produce vehicles without using hazardous substances like hexavalent chromium, lead, cadmium, and mercury.  

According to the current UK legislation concerning ELV recycling, ATFs are now required by the law to make recycling process for vehicles as simple and convenient as possible. This entitles any vehicle owner to a free disposal method when they are done with their car, and as a result, you don’t have to pay extra for removing  the vehicle. In order to further simplify the otherwise time-consuming process of locating and driving to the ATF in your city, some companies charge a reasonable fee to collect the vehicle from the owner and take it to ATFs themselves.

If you don’t have the time to drop off your car, or if your car is not in a working condition, then having a middleman to collect and take care of all the recycling formalities can be blessing in disguise for you.

What’s even better? Most of these companies purchase the vehicle from you, without any collection charges or hidden fees, so your vehicle is not only guaranteed a safe, environment-friendly disposal, but the whole process doesn’t cost you a penny. With a nationwide network of collectors, your car is arranged for pickup at a mutually convenient date and time, with all the payment and paperwork being taken care of during the collection process.

Before you send your car away to be scrapped, make sure that you get a definitive answer to a few important questions:

  • Are you doing business with registered scrap dealers?
    According to the rules and regulations proposed in 2005, any ELV is legally required to be sent to an ATF for scrapping. All car scrap yards should also have a licence issued by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency or Environment Agency to warrant that the scrapped ELVs will not harm the environment and will be recycled appropriately.
  • Which companies/websites should you trust?
    According to the EU directive, car manufacturers are held accountable for proper recycling of all the ELVs and should also ensure that cars are disposed of for free. Many of them, including Ford and Toyota, have joined hands with renowned recycling companies that deal with pretty much all brands of cars. Here, the manufacturers are not responsible for scrapping the car themselves but instead ask the local recycling centre or the one they’ve partnered with, to get in touch with you.
  • What documents do you require for recycling your ELV?
    If you take a look at your V5 ownership document, follow the instructions relevant to your particular case, and send it to the DVLA, you will be relieved of any responsibility you have towards the car. The scrap dealer will also send a Certificate of Destruction to you, and you should ideally contact the DVLA to confirm that you don’t own the car anymore. Remember to cut off insurance or road tax associated with the vehicle. You can go ahead and reclaim the remaining months of road tax from the DVLA by downloading and returning the form V14 to the DVLA with your tax disc.

  • Will the car recycling company accept cash?
    According to the Scrap Metal Dealers Act that was launched last October to prevent metal theft, especially copper from railway tracks, it is illegal for anyone to pay for scrap cars in cash. You will be issued a cheque or the payment will be transferred directly into your bank account. Make sure you have your proof of identification, like your driving licence or passport, at the time of collection.

  • Can you send an ELV for recycling with an expired registration?
    While this depends on entirely the facility, most places don’t have an issue accepting a valid expired registration for the ELV. However, the money will be paid to the registered owner only, so if you’re selling a car under somebody else’s name, you might want to bring this to the attention of the facility and the original owner.

  • Should your ELV have all spare parts intact for collection? What if your car is damaged?
    Your ELV can have missing spare parts or components, however, keep in mind that you will be quoted in accordance with the condition of your car. You can get a quote by either visiting the website of the recycling company or by giving them a call, but these quotes are usually based on the assumption that your car has all spare parts intact. You can request an in-person visit from the company to determine the final quote.  Same goes for a car that’s damaged. Contact the recycling company to explain the damages, after which, you’ll be given a full-quote based on physical inspection.

  • Can you send a ‘dead car’ for recycling?
    Your car doesn’t need to be in a running condition to be collected for recycling. Usually, a car that’s not working is towed by the concerned personnel from the pick-up address you provide. For a car that’s in a running condition, you can also choose to drop it at the collection centre.

If your car is chugging its last few miles, consider recycling as a hassle-free, environmentally-friendly way to give it a proper send-off. Contact us to get the process started.

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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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