Automobile Recycling: The Most Recycled Junk Cars in America in 2017

Junk Car Medics took a look back at the cars they recycled in 2017 to analyze the current state of end-of-life vehicle recycling in America. Today we focus on the cars recycled in the United States as a whole.  The findings are below.

2017 is over. And we're into 2018. So we figured it would be a great idea to take a look at our data from 2017 and analyze it. We've randomly selected a portion of our database of cars we purchased and broke it down.  Some of our findings may be surprising.

If you drive an early 2000s Accord, Civic, Camry, Explorer, or Taurus, you are not alone. For now. First, the good news; owners of these vehicles will find plenty of options for replacement parts at their local vehicle recycling center. The bad news is they might need to spend a little more time vehicle shopping in the near future. According to new research on the American automobile recycling market by Junk Car Medics, these vehicle models topped the list of end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) which reached the end of the road in 2017.

Analyzing the year that was in ELVs is a fascinating retrospective on the state of the American car parc. Like a high school yearbook, the collected memories of this past year’s “graduating” class tells a tale of changing tastes, enduring popularity, transfers in, and nearly-forgotten transfers out. Every few pages, fleeting glimpses of troubled automakers and wayward models serve as reflections of the world beyond the fast lane. Poring over the numbers confirms some of what you know and reveals some of what you do not. Your interpretation, like your mileage, may vary.

The curse of popularity; #1 off the lot, #1 into the recycling center

According to Junk Car Medics’ research, here is the list of the ten most recycled makes in 2017, with the corresponding percentage of the total in parentheses:

No real surprises here. A who’s who of the most popular vehicle brands in America will necessarily always top this list. Domestic automakers Ford* and Chevy (excuse me, Chevrolet) are head and shoulders above the crowd. A trio of Japanese competitors (Honda, Toyota, and Nissan) occupy the next tier along with the American nameplate Dodge. Three more domestics (Chrysler, Pontiac, and Buick) take spots seven through nine, with the burgeoning Korean behemoth Hyundai rounding out the top ten. For better or worse, expect them to climb this list in the years to come.

*Perhaps “fix or recycle daily” would be more apt?

No rebates or discounts available on these “last year’s models”

It was a different kind of closeout for the following models in 2017. Here are the top ten vehicle models recycled last year, with the corresponding percentage of the total in parentheses:

Breaking the numbers down by model results in a reversal of the order of nations at the top of the list, while the bottom half includes only two entrants from outside the vehicle recycling version of the Big Four. Japanese mainstays Accord, Civic, and Camry are out in front this time, followed by the American options Explorer* and Taurus. Nissan’s Altima finds itself just outside the top five, followed by the Impala and the Corolla. Jeep gets its Grand Cherokee in the penultimate position, and the Malibu brings up the rear.

*May you rest in peace, Eddie Bauer edition.

Recycled vehicles by year; aging slowly and a shadow of hard times

2009 was a rough year for everyone, its shadow is long, and we are starting to see its impact on the vehicle recycling industry. The American car market suffered right along with the housing market, and the result has been increasingly long lifespans for vehicles in operation as owners find themselves pushing the limits of engines, door handles, and beyond. The optimists can take this and say we don’t make ‘em like we used to -- we make them better. For vehicles recycled in 2017, that means an average of 16.3 years on the road before hanging up the keys, with over one in ten from 2001.*

*The number of Crazy Town CDs left in these vehicles was not available at press time.

Faithful servants deserving of the respect accorded to them

Let us take this moment to pour one out for the Honda Accord. It was a particularly* tough year for the Accord, as it swept the podium for top three most recycled year-make-model (YMM) combinations and put five entrants in the top ten. Nearly 1 in 25 vehicles recycled last year was a trusty Accord. Honda Accord, we salute you.

The 2005 Nissan Altima earns the dubious distinction of youngest YMM on this list (#4), with the remaining spots occupied by the 2002 Ford Explorer (#5), 1998 Toyota Camry (#7), and two more entries from Honda, this time with the Civic (2000 at #8 and 2001 at #10).

*Maybe not the worst year for the Accord, as it was the most stolen vehicle in 2016.

Makes made to last and makes made to live fast

Every vehicle has its own history and the reasons behind the decision to finally say goodbye are often myriad and sundry. However, comparing the average age of ELVs at retirement by manufacturer can reveal interesting insights into which vehicles are given a longer lease on life versus those that drive a more direct route to the recycling center. Having the corresponding mileage information would give a fuller picture, but this publication does not advise crawling into the front seat of a vehicle on its way to the shredder.

Here are the top ten longest-lasting vehicle makes recycled in 2017, with the corresponding average age at point of recycling in parentheses (minimum of 100 vehicles in the dataset):

It is the real, non-Alanis kind of irony that two defunct “entry-level luxury” badges find themselves scattered among the luxury nameplates that dominate this list, along with the twin titans of Japanese reliability (Toyota at #5, Honda at #8) and the truck-focused GMC (which lands at #4). Oldsmobile, which shuttered after the 2004 model year, finds itself at the top of this list with an average of 19.1 years at time of recycling (i.e., the average recycled Oldsmobile was from the 1998 model year). Luxury standard-bearers Mercedes and Lexus take the other podium spots. Buick, in sixth place, beats its more upscale cousin Cadillac to the sixth spot by a tenth of a year. Mercury, last in production in 2007, sneaks in at number nine, with Lincoln bringing up the rear.

On the other end of the spectrum are the vehicles that waste no time in finding their way to recycling centers. Here are the top ten shortest-lasting vehicle makes recycled in 2017, with the corresponding average age at point of recycling in parentheses (minimum of 100 vehicles in the dataset):

Economy cars reign supreme here, with the top two spots held by the Korean siblings Kia and Hyundai. Historical impressions of reliability aside, this is likely driven more by their increasing market share than any other single factor. It is difficult to beat the average of 16.3 years when you had not yet reached widespread popularity in 2001. Still, Kia’s leading average of 12.7 years is over six years lower than Mercedes’ distinguished 18.8. The reputation of Japanese durability may need to be revisited, as the island nation doubles its representation here versus the longest-lasting makes list; Suzuki at #3, Mazda at #6, Mitsubishi at #9, and Nissan at #10. The remaining spots in the top five include American Chrysler at #4 and German Volkswagen at #5. In death, as in life, Saturn is a different kind of car company; despite not producing vehicles since 2009, they land at #7 here, with the also-defunct-since-2009 Pontiac at #8.

Models of longevity; models of brevity

See above regarding the factors that result in vehicles from various makes ending up at the recycler. The same is doubly true for individual models, which come and go as manufacturers try to keep pace with current trends. But that does not mean it is not worth highlighting them, as models are the “haircuts” of the yearbook analogy and likely the greatest source of enjoyment for the nostalgic reader.

Here are the top ten longest-lasting vehicle models recycled in 2017, with the corresponding average age at point of recycling in parentheses (minimum of 100 vehicles in the dataset):

The DeVille was rebranded as the DTS from 2006 onward, but that does not take away from the fact that it was popular and durable enough to feature at number one here, clocking in 19.7 years on average. At number two is the Suburban, the longest continuous-use nameplate in the biz. Its defunct-since-2005 cousin the Blazer (representing boy bands and frosted tips) takes third, tied with Ford’s F-150. Old friends Camry and Accord tie for fifth, with the gone-since-2003 Escort at number seven. Buick’s LeSabre and Century were retired after 2005 and find themselves in 8th and 9th, respectively. Bringing up the rear is another pick-up, this time the Ram.

Here are the top ten shortest-lasting vehicle models recycled in 2017, with the corresponding average age at point of recycling in parentheses (minimum of 100 vehicles in the dataset):

Poor Cobalt. Only sold from 2005 to 2010, it effectively tops this list by default. Chevrolet also finds itself farther down the list with the Impala and TrailBlazer back-to-back at five and six. Hyundai gets two entries here, with the Sonata firmly in second place and the Elantra down at number seven. Chrysler’s ugly duckling PT Cruiser lands at three with the Sebring in the final spot. Ford has a couple entries of its own, with the Escape at four and Focus at eight. Completing the set is Nissan’s Altima in ninth place.

State-by-state state of automobile recycling

One of the factors that impacts a vehicle’s longevity is the state where it resides. Differences in climates have a real effect, and differences in driving styles are enjoyable debates.

The states that kept vehicles the longest before recycling them in 2017:

  1. Oregon (18.7)
  2. Washington (17.9)
  3. California (17.3)
  4. Colorado (17.0)
  5. Georgia (16.9)

Everything you have heard is true. The dream of the 90s is truly alive in Oregon. West coast states sweep the podium, with mountain-drivers in Colorado just off the pace. Georgia finds itself in fifth place, though at only slightly over half a year older than the national average.

The states that turned over their vehicles to the recycler the fastest in 2017:

  1. Louisiana (14.8)
  2. Texas (15.2)
  3. New York (15.3)
  4. Florida (15.6)
  5. Michigan (15.8)

The devastating hurricanes of 2017, especially Harvey and Irma, rear their ugly heads once again. Louisiana leads the way here, with Texas close behind and Florida in the fourth position. New York is in third place and Michigan rounds out the top five.

One state-by-state factor affecting longevity is the use of salt on roads to tame ice and snow during the winter months. Some buyers of used vehicles will refuse to purchase cars from the so-called salt belt. But do the numbers support this?

Looking at the average age of ELVs by state based on the binary designation of whether they were recycled in a salt-using state, the impact appears to be minimal, with only half a year added to vehicles outside the salt belt (16.0 versus 16.5):

However, if the states impacted most severely by the hurricanes are excluded, a clearer picture emerges. Hurricane-impacted states recycled vehicles at the tender age of 15.3 years on average, while the gap between salt states and the rest increases to one full year (16.0 versus 17.0):

Next stop: new wheels and new roads

Automobiles are the most recycled consumer product in the world today. So if you were one of the drivers who said goodbye to a trusted companion on the road of life, take solace in the fact that your ride may contribute to the vehicle recycling industry’s production of roughly 15 million tons of steel per year in the United States. With a quarter of the steel in new cars coming from their ancestors, the spirits of old rides live on.

2017 also saw the passing of the great Tom Petty, creator of the best driving music known to man, and it is with his words that we say goodbye to those good cars:

Breakdown, go ahead and give it to me

Breakdown, honey, take me through the night


Breakdown, it's alright

It's alright, it's alright