How Automotive Recycling Works

Companies in the scrap car recycling business have been recycling automobiles for over 75 years.  The industry has evolved into a complex technology-driven industry that continually changes in order to keep up with advancements in automotive technology and manufacturing. To be profitable for salvage yards the automotive recycling process contains several steps beyond merely crushing wrecked, abandoned, and non-running junk cars. Today’s auto salvage recycler must try to maximize their return for each vehicle in order to produce real economic and environmental benefits from the process and service they provide.

Motor vehicles are the number one recycled consumer product in this country, due mostly to the work performed by auto recyclers at automotive salvage yards. According to the Automobile Recycling Association, over four million end-of-life vehicles are recycled annually in the United States. Auto recyclers dismantle old vehicles to recover fluids and parts for reuse, and scrap material for recycling. Typically, auto recyclers manage to reuse and recycle over 75 percent of the material content of a vehicle, by weight.

When a scrap vehicle arrives at an automotive recycling center, the vehicle is usually checked for leaks and then readied for further processing. Depending on the scrap yard, several or all of the following actions may be performed on the vehicle to completely recycle it.

The vehicles fluids are usually drained and collected for possible reuse. Fluids like oil and gasoline may be used by the recycling company or stored and sold in bulk to a oil recycling processor. Antifreeze from a vehicle can be recycled and made available for recycling or even be reused by the salvage company in their vehicles.

Sometimes, depending on the facility, reusable parts are removed from the vehicle, cleaned and then sold to auto repair facilities or even the general public. This option is dependent upon the company and can vary from state to state. In all cases, the battery and the vehicles catalytic converter are removed at a minimum.

After the junk vehicle has been stripped of all reusable parts, the vehicle is then usually crushed. Some recyclers hire the crushing process out to contractors, while other recyclers maintain their own crushers that they keep on site. Check out the video below to see how cars are crushed.

Usually what happens next is that the salvage yard will hold onto the crushed vehicles until market prices for scrap steel are high, at which time they sell the scrap steel in bulk to a metal or scrap processor.

Once at the processor, the vehicle in fed into a metal shredding machine which chops the vehicle up into small pieces. The processor has special machines that can then separate the metal from non-metal material, like glass, plastic and cloth. The metal pieces themselves can then be seperated into ferrous (magnetic) and non-ferrous metals, which will then be melted down and use again to make other metal products. The small non-metal pieces are usually collected and sent to land fills.  Check out this video to see a car being shredded.