That old car taking up space in your driveway may seem worthless to you. In fact, it might be costing you more than it delivers. But even junkers have value…once they’re dismantled, smashed, ripped apart and dissected. About 95 percent of cars get recycled at the end of their lives. To help this process along, Junk Car Medics diagnoses your junk car woes with cash.

If you’re considering sending your car to a salvage yard, you might be wondering “What’s my junk car worth?” Today we’re not going to be looking at how much cash you’ll be handed when you turn your car over. (It’s definitely important, but that information is covered in another post.) Instead, let’s see what some of the different substances are worth when they’re recycled.

It’s a Steel

Annually, over 18 million tons of steel are recycled from junked cars. Where does all that come from? Pretty much everywhere: about 65 percent of a vehicle’s mass is steel. A lot of this is found in a car’s frame and roof. However, much smaller components, such as door latches and safety belts, are also steel.

In recent years, suppliers of scrap metal have not been making a killing. Far from it, in fact. During 2014, the price of scrap metal fell as much as 25 percent. Don’t expect better news in 2015, either. Prices have been dropping throughout the year. Scrap steel was worth about $400 per ton at the start of 2014. Ah, good times. By September 2015, a typical price for the same material was $235 a ton. In some locations, it was considerably less.

Prices are dropping, in part, because of a lower demand for American scrap steel overseas. The relatively strong U.S. dollar made exports more costly to other countries. This created a surplus within the United States, which — as is typical with supply and demand — dropped prices even more.  

Even if prices don’t reflect it, automobile scrap steel is important in recycling. Steel can be recycled time and time again, and it doesn’t weaken. Although it’s used to make new car parts, automotive steel is also repurposed for fire doors, construction materials, cans, and appliances.

Battery Basics

Of all the individual car parts, the battery is the most commonly recycled component. Recycling is crucial, because the part contains hazardous materials you really don’t want sitting around in landfills. Lead would be a serious potential troublemaker, just waiting to contaminate. Luckily, it can be reused to make new batteries. It’s the circle of life.

The sulfuric acid in batteries can be neutralized and turned into water. At this point, it is safely discharged into public sewer systems. Alternately, the acid can be processed to form sodium sulfate, which is used to make laundry detergent, glass, and textiles.

In late 2015, a typical price for a used battery at a recycling center is almost 30 cents per pound. A typical car battery weighs almost 40 pounds. You can see that this could add up quickly as salvage yards pull in cars.

Catalytic Converter Cash

While your car is running, its catalytic converter is valuable for reducing harmful emissions. In a junker, the part is still worth a lot – not for what it does but for what it is. Old catalytic converters aren’t going to help clean the air anymore, but they do contain rare and precious metals, such as platinum, palladium, or rhodium.  

These metals are valuable outside the auto parts industry. For instance, platinum is used to make dental equipment, jewelry, and electrodes. Palladium is important in manufacturing fuel cells. Rhodium is often turned right around to make more catalytic converters. (Apparently it leads a much less glamorous life than the other two metals.)

At recycling centers, salvagers make money on catalytic converters depending upon which metals are in them. For instance, in late 2015, a typical price for platinum is $990 an ounce. (No, that’s not a typo. Rare and precious, remember?) The other metals bring in a bit less. You’re going to have to bring in dozens of catalytic converters at a time to earn prices like this.

Before you run out to find all the catalytic converters you can, be aware that these parts are targets for thieves. Scrap yards may pay over $100 for just one converter, but they will probably ask for a photo ID. Many states have passed identification verification laws to try to cut back on these thefts.

A Different Perspective

Another way to look at the value of junk cars is by seeing what they don’t cost. Recycling reduces potential air and water pollution and saves energy. Fewer greenhouse cases are produced, which helps protect the atmosphere.

For instance, when vehicles are recycled, their hazardous fluids don’t get into the water supply. And by using scrap steel instead of iron ore to make new products, manufacturers use 75 percent less energy and 40 percent less water. Recycling car steel also reduces air pollution by over 85 percent. That’s a lot of savings…kind of a worth-in-reverse.
When you look at the big picture, the answer to “What’s my junk car worth?” is “a lot.” Junk Car Medics will give you a fair price so you can get your old clunker started on its journey toward reincarnation.