How are Cars Recycled?


In the 1960s, old cars piled up in junkyards and created unsightly mountains of trash, but over the last half century we have learned how to recycle and reuse almost every part of a vehicle. Today, junk cars are completely taken apart and the materials are used to create everything from batteries and remotes to brand new cars. But you may be wondering how is car is taken apart and recycled? What parts are kept together, repaired, and reused versus melted down to create something else? Do different states do it differently — New York laws may be different than Wyoming laws. This guide will take you through the four parts of recycling a vehicle and where everything goes. 

What is the vehicle recycling process?

Recycling a vehicle requires four steps: depollution, dismantling, destruction, and resource recovery. Each one is important in extracting all possible value from the car and giving it a new life. We’ll cover each step below.


The first step of automotive recycling is called depollution and is where all fluids are removed. This includes gasoline, oil, coolant, brake fluid, etc. Once removed, these fluids can be reprocessed, recycled, or disposed of in an environmentally safe way. If left in a rusting vehicle, these fluids could leech into the ground and be damaging to the environment. 


The next step of recycling a car is removing all parts of the vehicle that can be reused. This is everything from the engine and stereo system to seats and axles. These parts are worth much more intact than as scrap, as they can be resold to buyers online or to people who need parts to repair their vehicle. Some junkyards will even allow buyers to come and dismantle cars themselves and keep the parts. This saves the junkyard labor and lets buyers get parts cheap.


After all usable parts of the car are taken out, the car can be crushed and sold as scrap. Crushing the car allows it to take up less space as it goes through a shredding machine. The machine breaks down the vehicle into scrap pieces. The metals of the car — mostly steel and aluminum — are then sold as scrap metal. About half of the new steel made in the U.S. is made from recycled materials!

Resource Recovery

The final step of recycling a car is taking all the parts that have not been reused by now — fabrics, plastics, dirt — and separating them out. This remaining material is called Automotive Shredder Residue (ASR), or “auto fluff” by the industry. This is usually about 15%-20% of a car’s total makeup. In some states, ASR is considered hazardous waste, because of lead, cadmium, and other hazardous metals that can end up in it. As such, ASR often ends up in landfills and not recycled like the rest of the car. However, as technology advances, new ways to separate out materials may be invented and less will go to waste.


Cars contain a lot of recyclable materials, so rather than letting your junk car rust away in your backyard, consider recycling it by bringing it to an auto trader or salvage yard. With Junk Car Traders, we’ll do all the hard work and leave you with peace of mind. To find out more, call us today at 888-323-7128.

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