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So you’ve finally had enough of your car, and you’re ready to call the salvage yard and sell your clunker for cash. They’ll come pick your car up, pay you, and haul it away. Then what? In the U.S., cars are the number one recycled product, but what exactly does the recycling process yield?
To get your old car to that point, Junk Car Medics diagnoses your car woes with cash and takes it off your hands. Afterward, your vehicle goes through several stages, so not much of it ends up in a landfill. If you wonder “What happens when I scrap my junk car?”, read on to discover how extensive the car recycling industry is.
Think about it: you car contains several types of fluids that we really don’t want seeping into the environment. Engine oil, antifreeze, fuel, Freon, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid: the typical junked car has five to 10 gallons of fluids left in it.
Simply dumping them is hazardous. For instance, a single gallon of gas can make 750,000 gallons of water unusable. Clearly, safe disposal is vital, and recycling is both green and economical in many cases. The fluids don’t end up in the environment, and recycling often uses less energy than making products from scratch.
What are the end products of fluid recycling? Lots. Here’s a partial list:
- Motor oil never wears out, so it can be cleaned and reused as a lubricant. Sometimes the oil is repurposed to provide energy for furnaces or power plants.
- Freon released from air conditioning systems is an environmental hazard because it contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer. Properly handled, however, it can be used again as a refrigerant.
- After antifreeze is drained, it’s cleaned to remove contaminants such as metals and oils. Then it’s reconditioned with additives and ready to go back to its original job.
Even if your car is a junker, some of its parts might still be in good shape. (It could happen.) Salvage yards remove sellable components before the car is crushed. They’re cleaned, reconditioned, tested, inventoried, and offered to consumers who don’t want to buy new replacement parts (or can’t find them for older or unusual vehicles).
Commonly pulled parts from the inner workings of cars include engines, transmissions, starters, axels, batteries, and alternators. However, if your car died a natural death, some of these might be in rough shape. Outer components, such as hoods, doors, bumpers and mirrors, are also re-used. Naturally, if your car was in an accident, a crushed bumper and smashed hood are not going to attract customers.
Some parts are pulled and need significant processing in order to recycle them. For instance…
Although decent batteries can be pulled for resale, dead batteries can’t just be left in place. Bad news first: they contain lead, which is extremely toxic. Good news: lead can be removed from old batteries and used to make new ones. About 90 percent of this lead is recycled, which is good news for the environment.
Of all the individual car parts, batteries are most often recycled, at a rate of at least 98 percent. While their lead is reused, so is the plastic. It’s broken up, washed, melted, and formed into pellets. These are turned into cases for new batteries, on and on, forever. (Or at least a meaningful and helpful amount of time.)
If the tires on a junked car can’t be pulled for resale (and, after all, it is a junk car), they can be recycled. In 2005, almost 300 million vehicle tires were put out to pasture. Luckily, most of those pastures were not landfills. Over 85 percent of those tires were repurposed.
Recycled tires have many diverse uses. Interestingly, only a small number are reused for new tires. Old tires sometimes become safe cushioning to cover playgrounds, but they can also be a component of tough highway asphalt. Tires get sent to paper mills, where they become fuel. Others are made into such dissimilar products as garden mulch, welcome mats, railroad ties, portable speed bumps and weightlifting plates. Tires: truly the Renaissance component of cars.
If you look around your car, really look, you’ll see a lot of plastic: as much as 50 percent of a new car! Some of that is being recycled into new car parts or appliances. On a related green note, a lot of a car’s plastic has been recycled from other products, such as plastic caps, bottles, and packing material.
About 60 percent of a junk car’s weight is steel and iron. Imagine it going into a landfill. The vehicle’s not going to decompose anytime soon. Now multiply that by millions of cars. No wait, don’t! It’s not a big problem, because most car steel is recycled before it gets to the landfill, to the tune of over 18 million tons annually.
After a car has had its fluids drained and has been dismantled for parts, it’s typically flattened with a crusher. Then a shredding machine rips it into fist-sized bits. Large magnets separate the steel from other materials.
Where does this steel go? A lot of it is directed right back into cars. At least 25 percent of new cars’ shells –- trunks, panels, hood, doors – is recycled steel. It’s also used in household appliances, cans, construction materials, furnaces, elevators, airplane hangars, bridges…. the list goes on and on. Recycling saves a tremendous amount of energy resources, because they don’t have to be used to process new steel. And bonus! Steel is so durable that it can be repeatedly recycled and still retain its strength.
Aluminum is another significant metal in car manufacturing, and it’s becoming more popular as manufacturers try to increase fuel efficiency by decreasing vehicle weight. Aluminum car parts include new wheels, transmission cases, engine heads, alternator housings, radiators, and transmission fluid coolers. A few car models even have aluminum hoods or fenders. It’s fortunate, then, that about 90 percent of vehicle aluminum gets recycled. Much of it is a closed loop: it becomes new car parts.
Typical Platinum Group Metals, or PGMs, used in cars are platinum, palladium, and rhodium. They get their own special name for their own special group because they are super rare and precious…which makes them really valuable. PGMs are used in catalytic converters, which reduce harmful emissions.
Converters don’t have large amounts of PGMs, and even less can be recovered. Recyclers can usually gather anywhere from 1 to 15 grams of the stuff, depending upon the size of the vehicle. But remember the rare and precious label? This makes even small amounts worth recycling. One converter may be worth up to a few hundred dollars. In 2010 alone, the value of just these three recycled metals was $3 billion. Three. Billion. Dollars. The recycled metals go into new catalytic converters or electronics.
Now you know the answer to “What happens when I scrap my junk car?” Over 85 percent of that vehicle will be recycled. Junk Car Medics would like to get that process started. We’ll give you a fair price for your junker and then take it away so it can start a new life or, rather, many new lives.