Most of us had a really crummy car to start out with; some used junker that was worth exactly what we paid for it – not much. Sooner or later, we graduate from that clunker and move on to something a little more reliable. At this point, we usually take that old car of ours and try to see if we can pass it on to someone else as desperate as we were, only to find that it really has no value left beyond the chump change we can collect on it selling it for scrap. This is where most of us start to wonder how cars are recycled.
Drainage and Treatment
The first step is usually going to be to drain all of the fluids from the car. Now, the vast majority of these can’t usually be recycled or reused. There’s not much you can do with grungy old motor oil, the three or four ounces of expired gasoline in the tank or the year old coolant. These fluids are all disposed of according to the law in that particular jurisdiction.
The remainder of the treatment involves the removal of the battery, which is either resold or disposed of, the gas tank, which is drained and used for the materials, the tires, which may be resold or recycled (think of all those tires surrounding the track next time you go go-karting), and the mercury switches, which are usually sent to a facility for mercury recovery.
Whatever parts of the car might be usable at this point are removed and resold either through the junkyard, through ads online or through other means. In the end, this saves a lot of money and resources for both consumers and manufacturers, as fewer new parts need to be produced.
Crushing and Material Recycling
Once everything but raw materials have been drained and removed, this is where the crusher comes in. The car is crushed, and the remaining hulk of twisted metal is sent to a shredder. The shredder will tear the car up into little pieces about the size of your fist. These pieces are then put through a magnet-and-flotation system. The metal is magnetically pulled to the bottom of a tub while the rubber and other “floatable” materials rise to the top. The stuff that floats is typically hauled off to a landfill, leaving just the metal at the bottom to be recycled at this point.
It’s estimated that the average recycled car is really only made up of about 75% recyclable material, although new technology and research are being devoted to reducing waste and recycling more of the car.
Miles Walker is a freelance writer and blogger who usually compares car insurance deals over at CarinsuranceComparison.Org.