How Are Cars Recycled?

An Overview of Auto Recycling

Have you ever wondered how cars get recycled? For the auto industry, recycling has become critical.

The auto recycling industry is the 16th largest in the United States, contributing $25 billion per year to national GDP. According to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, every year, about 95 percent of vehicles retired from U.S. roadways are recycled. With around 12 million vehicles reaching the end of their useful lives each year, that translates into a significant opportunity.

Let's take a closer look:

What parts of an auto can be recycled and how those recycled parts are used?

Almost all the parts of a car or any other auto can be recovered, with a recycling rate of greater than 90 percent of the vehicle. The mostly recycled parts of a car include tires, windshield glass, batteries, steel and iron, wheels, radiators, transmissions, rubber hoses, carpets, car seats, belts, oil filters, and mats. Every year in the U.S. alone, around 220 million old tires are generated, with a recycling rate of about 80 percent.  Commonly, recycled tires are used in pavement bases to make new roadways. Recycled glass from autos is used to create tile flooring, glass beads, porcelain, countertops, and jewelry. Recycling a ton glass can save around 10 gallons of oil from getting employed in the production of new glass. Auto batteries are recycled to produce new ones. Steel and iron from junk cars are commonly used to produce many different products.

Check out my article on Auto Recycling Facts and Figures.

How autos are recycled?

When a car reaches the end of its life cycle, owner of the car sells that car as junk car to any junk yard or auto recycling facility around him. Once the car reaches the junkyard or recycling facility, that car is recycled following the steps described below:

Detailed inspection - repair and sell or dismantle and recycle?  First of all, a car recycling facility inspects the junk car to check whether or not the car is more valuable to repair than to recycle. If the repairing looks unprofitable, the recycling facility then proceeds with dismantling and recycling.

Draining fluids and dismantling valuable parts  Around 90 percent of the cars in a junk yard are dismantled and recycled rather than repaired for reuse. In the context of the car recycling process, the recycling facility drains different fluids such as oil, gas, antifreeze, transmission and brake lubricants and fluids.  Operators segregate hazardous liquids and accumulate them for safe disposal. Liquids such as gas and oil are filtered and reused. Afterward, the car engine and transmission are lifted from the car chassis, and usable parts are removed and cleaned. Other components such as tires and batteries are also removed for resale or recycling.

Selling recovered auto parts  Some car parts are reusable 'as is' to repair other cars while other parts can be sold to auto part remanufacturers to refurbish. The recycling facility may sell these parts through a dedicated used part sales component of their business, or alternately sell them to local repair operations.

Crushing and shredding vehicles  Once all the recyclable car parts except metals such as iron and steel are sorted out and stored or sold, the only thing that remains is car body which includes different metals.  The car body is then crushed and shredded to reduce into a golf ball sized metal chunk.