Valuable metals in cars

5 Most Valuable Scrap Metals in Cars

The metal in a car becomes the most lucrative aspect of a end-of-life vehicle. When it's time to junk a car, the value is primarily determined by the amount of scrap metal in the car. Understanding the most valuable scrap metals in a car and their makeup can help you maximize the value of a junk car.

Here is a table showing the 5 most valuable scrap metals in a car, where they are located, and the price range and reason of value:

Rank Metal Found in Price Range Value
1 Palladium Catalytic converters $2,000 - $2,500/oz Used in automotive manufacturing and jewelry
2 Platinum Catalytic converters $800 - $1,200/oz Rare and dense, used in catalytic converters
3 Copper Wiring, electronics $4.00 - $5.00/lb Conductive, used in electrical systems
4 Brass Older vehicles $2.50 - $3.50/lb Conductive, resistant to corrosion
5 Steel Body frames, parts $0.10 - $0.30/lb Common, strong, reliable

The 5 Most Valuable Scrap Metals in a Car

1. Palladium

Palladium has the highest value among the listed metals, especially due to its use in catalytic converters.

  • Found in: Catalytic converters.
  • Average weight in cars: Limited to catalytic converters.
  • Price per ounce: $2,000 - $2,500.
  • Value: Like platinum, palladium is used in automotive manufacturing and jewelry, contributing to its demand.

2. Platinum

Platinum is also highly valuable and used in catalytic converters.

  • Found in: Catalytic converters.
  • Average weight in cars: Limited to catalytic converters.
  • Price per ounce: $800 - $1,200.
  • Value: Platinum is rare and dense, making it highly valuable.

3. Copper

Copper is valuable due to its electrical conductivity and widespread use in automotive wiring.

  • Found in: Wiring and electronic components.
  • Average weight in cars: At least 55 lbs.
  • Price per pound: $4.00 - $5.00.
  • Value: Copper is sought after for its conductivity and use in electrical systems.

4. Brass

Brass is less common in modern vehicles but still valuable, especially in older cars.

  • Found in: Older vehicles may have brass radiators.
  • Average weight in cars: Minimal in modern vehicles.
  • Price per pound: $2.50 - $3.50.
  • Value: Brass is valued for its heat conductivity and corrosion resistance.

5. Steel

Steel is the most common metal in cars but lower in value compared to the others listed.

  • Found in: Body frames, roof beams, exhaust pipes.
  • Average weight in cars: 2,400 lbs for average vehicles, up to 4,000 lbs for SUVs.
  • Price per pound: $0.10 - $0.30.
  • Value: Steel is widely used for its strength and reliability.

How Much Metal is in Your Vehicle?

Knowing how much metal is in your vehicle will come in handy when its time to scrap it. The metal makeup of your car is a determining factor in the amount of money it is worth. The metal makeup of your car also determines things like the safety and weight of your vehicle.

Here is a table showing the approximate amounts of the various compontents that makeup a car including scrap metals, rubber, plastic, glass, and fluids.

Recyclable Material Approximate Percentage of Total Car Weight
Steel 55% - 65%
Aluminum 8% - 10%
Copper 1% - 2%
Brass < 0.1%
Platinum < 0.001%
Palladium < 0.001%
Plastic 8% - 12%
Rubber 3% - 5%
Glass 2% - 3%
Other 5% - 15%

Note: The percentages for brass, platinum, and palladium are very small because these metals are used in specific parts (like catalytic converters and electrical components) and not in large quantities throughout the vehicle. The "Other" category includes a variety of materials, such as fluids, textiles, and other metals like zinc and magnesium. These percentages are approximate and can vary based on the specific vehicle.

Let’s break down the amounts of metals likely to be found in your car. The most recent statistics from Statista, which are for 2017 models, list the metal content in the average vehicle as follows:

  • Steel: 2090 lbs. (approx. 1 ton)
  • Aluminum: 416 lbs.
  • Iron: 243 lbs.
  • Copper & Brass: 69 lbs.
  • Lead (battery): 37 lbs.

Remember that these numbers apply to an “average” 2017 model vehicle. Smaller, lighter vehicles will have lesser amounts of each metal, while larger, heavier vehicles will have more. Older vehicles will have a higher steel and a lower aluminum content due to the increasing use of aluminum for weight reduction in newer cars.

Certain vehicles, such as the latest Ford F-150 pickup, Tesla Model S sedan, Audi A8 sedan, and Acura NSX sports car, use aluminum for their structures and/or body panels. These cars are worth much more than the average steel vehicle, thanks to their high aluminum content and aluminum’s higher per-pound value.

Impact of Metal Content on Scrap Car Value

The metal content significantly influences the scrap value of a car. For instance, a car with more aluminum will have a higher scrap value due to aluminum's higher price per pound compared to steel. As the automotive industry evolves, the metal composition of vehicles changes, which can affect the overall scrap value.

Steel: What most of your car is made of

Scrap steel dropped from the mid-$200’s in the winter of 2019-2020 to the low $200’s during the spring and summer. Prices recovered in the fall, rising past the $300 mark to hit $330 per ton in December. This is a reflection of the worldwide industrial shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by subsequent recoveries in China and other parts of the world. If this pricing trend continues, it should result in slightly higher prices for the steel found in junk cars.

Chart: Shredded Carbon Steel Scrap Monthly Prices
Data Source:

Aluminum: Used on various parts throughout your car (engine, doors, hoods, and rims)

Aluminum followed a similar pricing trend to that of steel during 2020. It started at $1773/MT (Metric Ton) in January, dropped to $1460 by April, then steadily recovered to a high of $2015 in December, Staying above the $2000 mark in January of 2021. This bodes well for aluminum pricing going into 2021 and should support a small increase in scrap car prices.

Chart: Aluminum Monthly Prices
Data Source:

Copper: Found in your scrap car’s wiring, starter, alternator and other components

A similar pattern can be seen in copper prices. Starting at $6031 in January, hitting a low of $5058 in April, and then roaring back to $7972 in January 2021, copper increased by nearly a third since the beginning of last year. Once again, this increases the value of the copper content in your scrap car – if this pricing trend continues to be supported by the metals markets.

Chart: Copper Monthly Prices
Data Source:

Platinum: Located within your car’s catalytic converter

Once again, the pandemic-related pattern holds for the pricing action of platinum. The precious metal dropped during the first few months of the year, bottoming out in April, then rising to a high in January 2021 that was more than ten percent higher than January of the year before. This could mean a slight uptick in the value of the platinum that can be recovered from the catalytic converter of your scrap car.

Chart: Platinum Monthly Prices
Data Source: