The Business of Vehicle Recycling

The car recycling industry is the 16th largest in the United States, contributing $25 billion a year to the national GDP.

Every year, over 25 million tons of material is recycled from old vehicles. The car recycling industry is the 16th largest in the United States, contributing $25 billion a year to the national GDP. The U.S. automotive recycling industry employs around 100,000 people and earns around $25 billion a year.

Believe it or not, about 95 percent of cars are recycled, according to Popular Mechanics. Within a matter of months, the Toyota Camry you bought while in college could be broken down and used as another car’s brakes, floor mats, and engine parts. There are essentially four stages that a car will go through when owners sell their cars to a junkyard or auto-recycling company. Continue reading to learn more about this process and its impact on both the environment and auto industry.


Recycling a car is a four-step process

Photo: Mike, YFS Magazine, Pexels
Photo: Mike, YFS Magazine

First things first, the following process is not standard for every junkyard or car-recycling company. Some organizations may add or subtract certain steps, depending on their state’s regulations. With that being said, once your car is towed off to a recycling facility:


Cars undergo an inspection

When your car reaches the recycling facility, it will be inspected and rated based on its overall condition. If the junkyard company believes that your car could be repaired, they may “flip” it and sell the car for profit or advertise the car as-is online. If your car is totaled, the junkyard will likely go ahead with the next step.


Car fluids are drained

Even if your car’s been sitting unused in the driveway for year, it still could contain:

  • Oil
  • Coolant
  • Gasoline
  • Windshield wiper fluid
  • Moisture from rain or snow

Before going a step further, the junking company will drain all of these fluids. Other parts of your car (especially those that are corrosive) will be removed as well, including your car’s battery and various engine parts.


Cars are stripped of valuable parts

Just because your car needed thousands of dollars in repairs does not mean that it’s totally useless. It’s brakes, transmission, shock absorbers, and other internal hardware could have value. The junkyard will have someone take your car apart and put aside its parts for resale. It will either sell these components online or to local body shops.


Cars enter the crusher

Once your car has been stripped of all its parts and deemed unusable, it will enter the jaws of the “Crusher.” This machine is essentially a giant rectangle with a slot where the car is inserted. With the push of a button, the rectangle’s ceiling lowers until it has made your car as flat as a pancake. At this point, your car will either be:

  • Placed in a junkyard
  • Melted down for parts
  • Sold to a third party who has use for it

Cars never truly reach the end of their lives. Most often, they are taken apart and repurposed to build other vehicles. In fact, the car you could be driving right now could be made up of several different recycled cars.


Can all cars be recycled?

Automobiles are the most recycled consumer product in the world today. Over 12 million cars are retired from use each year. The Balance says that 95 percent of cars are recycled, similar to Popular Mechanic’s findings. Cars are the most recycled component in the world, exceeding glass, aluminum, newspaper, and plastic.

Photo: Lina Kivaka, YFS Magazine, Pexels
Photo: Lina Kivaka, YFS Magazine

The great news is that most cars can be recycled! The less-than-ideal news is that in certain situations, cars cannot be recycled. This may be the case for:

  • Cars are were involved in criminal investigations. These vehicles may be kept by investigators even after evidence has been collected. Some cars are held for evidence for several years, especially in instances of “cold cases.”
  • Cars that were burned. We’re taking charred, like your car caught on fire, and there’s nothing left but its exterior shell. In this instance, your car’s parts would not be recyclable because there’s simply nothing left to salvage. This does not mean that it wouldn’t escape jaws of the Crusher, though.
  • Cars that do not come with paperwork. When the car recycling company comes to tow your car, they will likely ask for proof that you actually own the vehicle. They may refuse to tow your vehicle unless you produce its registration and other information.


What car parts cannot be recycled?

Your car’s metal frame, its engine, and even its tires are recyclable––in about 80 percent of cases. However, although 95 percent of cars are recycled, 3 million tons of auto parts are put in landfills. This is because certain components, like glass, simply cannot be salvaged. According to CNET, other non-recyclable parts include:

  • Foams
  • Rubber
  • Polyurethane materials

Ford and Mazda are currently engineering vehicles that allow these components to be recycled.


Benefits of car recycling

According to auto recycling statistics, the car you are driving today will be a good source of many recyclable materials when it comes time to retire your ride.

Once a beloved car has reached the end of its life,  have a lot of options when it comes to disposing of it. While you might be tempted to drive it into a lake and collect the insurance money, here are some other options that could benefit you:

  • Sell a car online. Car hobbyists love junked cars––especially if they’re more than 20 years old. Even if you think that your once-trusted companion is totally useless, post it online and see what happens. You can determine a fair value for your car by referring to Kelley Blue Book.
  • Donate a car to a charity. If you can find a charitable organization that is willing to take your car off your hands, you could write this off as a tax deduction. This may vary per state, though.
  • Recycle a car. Finding a car recycling company near you is easy. Simply type your query into Google and schedule a time. The company you choose may tow it from your house free of charge. Be sure to have all necessary paperwork on hand, otherwise, they may refuse to take your car.


In Conclusion

Car recylcing not only reduces our collective carbon footprint, but it’s also a vital part of the auto industry. It allows manufacturers to build reliable cars without needing to produce additional materials and keeps the cost of production down. You can learn more about how cars are recycled by watching this YouTube video.


Craig Lebrau is the CMO of Media Insider, a Wyoming-based PR company that aims to disrupt the way companies communicate their brand in the digital era.


© YFS Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Copying prohibited. All material is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this material is prohibited. Sharing of this material under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International terms, listed here, is permitted.


In this article