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What Happens to Scrapped Cars?

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

Do you want to sell your car to add to your budget for buying a new vehicle? Are you looking to make space in your yard for the new car you plan to buy? If you want to do both, bring your car to a scrapyard and let them take it as one of their scrapped cars.

A 2020 study found that 25% of cars in the US are at least 16 years old. Once your car reaches that age or starts showing problems, you know it’s time to get a new one. It can be difficult to sell it as a working used car, so a good alternative is to sell it to a scrapyard.

The problem is that most people misunderstand how the modern scrapyard works. In this post, we’ll talk about what happens when you scrap your car. Keep reading to learn the process of scrapping a car.

What Do Scrapyards Do to Scrapped Cars?

Even before the pandemic, more people preferred to buy used cars than new ones. In 2019, the used car industry saw 40 million sales while only 17 million new vehicles got sold. We know that most people sell them as second hand cars for the brand new cars once they don’t need them anymore.

The question is, what happens to cars that you can’t sell or use anymore?

Some people donate it to charity or call a junk removal service to take it. Other people bring them to a scrapyard; these businesses buy and recycle them.

However, the way they recycle scrapped cars isn’t like how Hollywood shows it. A longer and more detailed process occurs before a scrapped vehicle goes to the crusher. Also, the crushing step isn’t where the process ends.

Arrival at the Scrapyard

Today, a typical passenger car’s average lifetime is almost 12 years. If your car is as old as 12 years or is nearing that age, it’s time to look for a new one. Once you find a new car to buy, the next step is to make space for it.

Whether you already have the new car or have yet to buy it, you can take your old one to the scrapyard right away. You can also call the salvage yard to come and take your car. If you called from home, they’d also buy your car on-site.

Once the car arrives at the wrecking yard, it can sit in an open lot for a time. This occurs if there is a long line of cars ready to get turned into scrap metal ahead of it. Some scrap yards leave cars in an open lot and, for a fee, let other people pick and pull the cars apart for car parts.

In these types of junkyards, the cars stay there until they’re picked bare. What happens if people can’t get any desirable parts from them anymore? The metal parts from the frame and body panels will get recycled for new products.

Depollution Process

Once you decide that it’s time to let go of your car, scrapyards remove all its hazardous materials first. As you know, cars have a ton of various materials. It has glass, coolants, oils, fuel, and more.

Often, the first thing that scrapyards extract is the car battery. Car batteries contain lead and acid, which are hazardous to the environment. Scrap Yards must follow a procedure for the disposal of car batteries.

Like the battery, scrap yards also drain the car of its hazardous materials. For example, they’ll remove the liquid petroleum gas (LPG) tank of a car if the model has one. The other parts with hazardous materials include:

  • Oils
  • Lubricants
  • Fuel
  • Coolants
  • Refrigerants
  • Antifreeze fluids
  • Wash fluids

Mercury is another common and hazardous metal you can find in your car. Auto parts that contain mercury include:

  • Acceleration sensors for airbags
  • Seatbelts
  • Rechargeable radio batteries
  • Remote transmitter batteries
  • Switches for vanity mirrors
  • Speedometer systems
  • Heated rear windows

Airbags also contain chemicals that can cause an explosion from pressure. Airbags with seat belts and pretensioners need to get removed. The same goes for oil filters, the catalytic converter, glass, and plastic parts.

There’s a surprising amount of vehicle parts that need special attention.

Without safe disposal, hazardous elements can destroy the environment and harm people. This is also why you need to sell your car to an authorized auto-salvage yard.

Other Car Parts That Need to Come Out

Next, they’ll remove the tires, a type of controlled waste. Scrapyards don’t burn or send tires to a landfill since it can harm the environment. Instead, the tires will get shredded so they can get reused.

The recycling centers for tires can only have a limited number of wheels in a facility. This is a safety precaution if a fire breaks out and the tires catch on fire. If there are tons of tires in a recycling center, they can burn at very high temperatures for days.

If the tires are still in good condition, the scrapyard will remove and re-use them. The wheel and lead balance weights of a car contain lead, which is also hazardous. The scrapyard will dispose of lead materials through proper procedure. Like car tires, if a wheel is still in good condition, it’ll get reused.

Engines and body panels that are still in salvageable conditions can get reused. They won’t undergo the scrapping process anymore. Instead, the scrapyard will sell them and install them in other vehicles.

Removal of Bulky Parts and Glass

After the specialist parts get removed, the facility will remove the bulky parts next. These include the:

  • Back bumper
  • Front bumper
  • Air conditioner
  • Evaporator
  • Heater core
  • Wiring harnesses

The glass from windshields gets pulverized or crushed. Next, a machine will separate the glass from the PVB or polyvinyl butyral. PVB is the interlayer in glass that keeps the windshield intact in case of an accident. It also provides structural support to the car’s roof.

The glass goes into the process called “glass cullet.” This lets recyclers reuse it for concrete, fiberglass insulation, asphalt, and others. The extracted PVB can also get used for adhesive applications.

Auto glass is an adaptable substance with countless uses, so it’s always better to recycle it. However, recycling auto glass is a difficult process. Thus, many auto glass companies partner with laminated recyclers.

After these last few parts get removed, all that’s left will be the body’s frame and parts. From here, the crushing of the scrapped cars begins.

Shredding, Crushing, and Fragmentizing

After the depollution process, we move on to the crushing. This is the part of the process everyone knows about. It often gets depicted in the movies, after all.

However, unlike in the movies, modern scrapyards use car crushers. Car-crushing machines are compactors. This means they can flatten a car or compress it into a large, flat piece of scrap metal.

Smaller scrapyards still bash a scrap car to make pancake it. Large auto-salvage yards have a car baler or car press. Flattening what’s left of the car makes it easier to stack and transport.

If you’ve seen the movie Wall-E, you’re likely familiar with scraps reshaped as cubes. Like in the movie, your car might also become a cube of scrap metal. Like flattened cars, cubes are easier to store and transport to a shredding facility.

The shredder eats up these pancakes and cubes, and then it churns them out as smaller pieces. These shredded bits of your old car then get sorted into various metals. Auto shredding centers also take care of any automotive shredder residue left behind.

Benefits of Sending Your Car to a Scrapyard

One of the many benefits of sending your car to an auto-salvage center is that you earn money. Most scrap yards will pay you cash upfront. It’s a good source of extra cash, especially if you plan on buying a replacement vehicle for it.

If you’re moving out and plan to leave the car behind anyway, sell it. You can use the extra funds for your moving costs. For more information, open the link to our guide to learn how to sell your car for cash.

Once you scrap your car, you also free up space in your garage or yard. This can make your lot feel more spacious again. A junk car left in the yard won’t only take up extra space, but it can also become a home for pests, dust, and mold.

Having more space in your yard is also better for the eyes. Junk and aged cars can look like an eyesore, especially if they’re not maintained in earlier years. Removing this one item from your front yard can improve the look of your home by a mile.

Things to Consider When Selling Your Car to a Scrapyard

Before you bring your car to an auto-salvage company, remove all personal items from it. Check all crevices and corners in the car for any of your items that may be inside. Scrapyards often work on cars as soon as they buy them, so you may lose your items if you don’t collect them.

You’d also want to remove your license plates. This is a key step, especially in states where the plate is necessary to transfer ownership. When you cancel the title, at least you’d have your DMV plates with you.

Speaking of the car title, don’t forget to get your paperwork sorted, as well. Some scrap yards will ask for paperwork on the title for your vehicle. Make sure you have it when you bring your car to the scrap yard.

After you turn in your vehicle for recycling, cancel your insurance. Call your car insurance company and let them know you’ve scrapped your vehicle. Most insurance companies provide a grace period but try to do this as soon as possible.

For other steps and items of note, find out what you need to know before you junk a car.

Finding the Right Auto-Salvage Center

Don’t be afraid to shop around for the right scrapyard. Different auto recycling centers offer different deals. A little research can get you a long way and more money than going with the first scrapyard you visit.

Before you make deals with a scrapyard, make sure that the business is reputable. Ask for a license to operate if the company doesn’t have the licensed hanging in plain sight. You won’t want to do business with an illegitimate car scrapping business.

Finally, check that the weight scale the scrapyard uses is a certified one. There’s no need to worry if you’re selling your car to a legitimate business. Reputable dealers often use one and can ensure you of its certifications.

Reasons to Scrap a Vehicle

Don’t wait for your car to break down while you’re on the road or traveling between states. AAA warns that cars 10 years or older are twice as likely to break down. Before you end up stranded on the side of the road, get a more reliable car and send the old one to the scrapyard.

The scrapyard can start recycling car parts and use them for new applications. You can also enjoy the reliability and safety of driving a new car sooner. If your old car breaks down often, getting a new one is cheaper than paying for maintenance and repairs.

Old cars are fuel inefficient. They eat up more fuel than newer models, which can cost a lot.

Sell and Scrap Your Old Car Now

Parting with a car you’ve used for decades can feel like losing a valued item. However, everybody needs to move on at some point in life. Decide on scrapping your old car today.

We hope this guide helped you discover and learn about what happens to scrapped cars. Are you looking to sell your used car to a scrapyard, even if it’s not yet junk material? If so, get a free offer for your vehicle right here.

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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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