How Are Cars Recycled?

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

What Parts Get Used And How?

Almost all the parts of a car or any other auto can be recovered, with a recycling rate greater than 90% for a typical 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., about 220 million old tires are generated, with an 80% recycling rate. Recycled tires are often 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.

How Is It Done?

When a car reaches the end of its life cycle, the owner of the car may sell it to a junk yard or auto-recycling facility. Once the car reaches the junkyard or recycling facility, it goes through four basic steps.

Detailed inspection: A recycling facility inspects the car to see if it is more valuable to repair than to recycle. If the repairing looks unprofitable, the recycling facility proceeds with dismantling and recycling. Around 90% of the cars in a junk yard are dismantled and recycled rather than repaired.

Draining fluids and dismantling valuable parts: 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.

Then 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 re-manufacturers. The recycling facility may sell these parts through a dedicated used-parts sales component, or directly to local repair operations.

Crushing and shredding: Once all the recyclable car parts—except metals such as iron and steel—are sorted out and stored or sold, all that remains is the car body, which includes different metals and is crushed and shredded into a flat metal chunk. If the chunk were pressed into a cube, it would be roughly the size of a small microwave oven.