How The Scrap Value of a Car is Impacted by Metal Prices [The Complete Guide]

The first thing that most people who are thinking about scrapping a car want to know is this:

What is my scrap car worth? 

Well, we here at CarScrappers.com are glad you asked! We make it easy to understand what your scrap car is worth, so here goes:

The value of a scrap car is determined primarily by two factors:

  1. The number of pounds or tons of each type of metal that is in your scrap car
  2. The per-pound or per-ton value of each of those metals in your scrap car

Scrap cars generally don't have much value beyond their weight in metal because they are usually cars that are really old or beyond repairable.

No one is going to have a need for the parts because of that.  Few of these cars still are on the road and the ones that are will be coming off soon.  Therefore, the value in a scrap car's parts don't really impact it that much.

We’ll go into more detail later, but let’s first take a brief look at how the scrap metal market works.

The scrap metal market is international in scope

The world’s metal markets are worldwide, complex and ever-changing. The scrap metal that is recovered from scrap cars becomes a commodity that enters this international market and is then subject to the laws of supply and demand.

These are the primary factors (but not the only ones) that can affect scrap metal prices:

  1. The current amount of scrap metal that is available
  2. The current level of industrial activity that requires scrap metal for its operations

So when economies around the world are booming and scrap metal supplies are tight, scrap prices are high. When those economies slow down and the scrap supply increases, prices drop. That’s supply and demand!

The predominant metals found in your scrap car that are traded on world markets are steel, iron, aluminum, and copper. Prices on these markets can fluctuate on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

When reprocessed properly, scrap metals retain all of the qualities of freshly-produced metals. This makes scrap metal perfectly suited to being recycled into new metal products.

Each type of scrap metal has its own unique story in the world’s metals markets. Let’s look at steel, the predominant metal found in most scrap cars. Scrap steel competes against freshly-made steel of various types that is produced by many countries.

You might think that scrap steel has a pricing advantage, because it has already gone through the complex production process that converts it from raw ore into a finished product. But that’s not always the case. Some countries (like China, for example) subsidize their steel industries so that they can sell certain types of freshly made, semi-finished steel for less than it costs to produce.

These subsidies give new Chinese steel a price advantage over scrap steel from the US. Countries like Turkey, which had previously been the largest overseas buyer of our scrap steel, are buying this semi-finished Chinese steel instead and turning it into various types of steel products in their steel mills.

The result? American scrap steel sits unsold. This glut of scrap has depressed prices in the US and elsewhere. Making things worse, Chinese steel companies overproduce, adding to the steel glut. Until recently, both copper and aluminum prices were also at multi-year lows. What this means to you is that your scrap car is worth less than it was a few years ago.

The pandemic has helped some metals prices

While the global COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge problems for people around the world, there have been some unintended positive consequences for metals pricing. Metals production and manufacturing companies were shuttered during lockdowns worldwide. This resulted in reduced metal supply. Because China locked down first, and recovered first, the current post-pandemic demand for metals by Chinese manufacturing companies has grown greatly.

This has resulted in a jump in copper prices to 2 ½-year highs (as of October 2020). There are also increasing shortages of aluminum, which are expected to lead to price increases for this key metal. Unfortunately, steel prices are still dropping, thanks to the supply glut and ongoing steel subsidies. And since steel is the largest single element by weight of most scrap cars (as shown below), these recent price improvements won’t make a huge difference in the total value of your scrap car.

Of course, things can change quickly in this crazy COVID pandemic world – if more of the world has to suddenly lock down, industrial activity could falter, reducing the demand for scrap metal and causing drastic price drops. If this should happen, your scrap car will lose value.

How much metal is in your scrap car?

Let’s break down the amounts of metals likely to be found in your scrap car. The most recent statistics, which are for 2017 models, list the metals content in the average vehicle as follows:

  • Steel: 2090 lbs. (approx. 1 ton)
  • Aluminum: 416 lbs.
  • Iron: 243 lbs.
  • Copper & Brass: 69 lbs.
  • Lead (battery): 37 lbs.

Keep in mind that these numbers apply to an “average” 2017 model vehicle. Smaller, lighter vehicles will have lesser amounts of each metal, while larger, heavier vehicles will have more. Older vehicles will have a higher steel content and a lower aluminum content, due to the increasing use of aluminum for weight reduction in newer vehicles.

Certain vehicles, such as the latest Ford F-150 pickup, Tesla Model S sedan, Audi A8 sedan, and Acura NSX sports car, use aluminum for their structures and/or body panels. These cars are worth much more than the average steel vehicle, thanks to their high aluminum content and aluminum’s higher per-pound value.

The overall weight of your scrap car is a big part of its value

To give you an idea of how much the weights of different vehicles can vary, here is a sampling of the lightest subcompact cars and the heaviest trucks and SUVs on the market. All other vehicle types will fall somewhere between these extremes:

Light Subcompact Cars:

  • Mitsubishi Mirage - 2,018 lbs.
  • Chevrolet Spark - 2,246 lbs.
  • Hyundai Accent - 2,502 lbs.
  • Nissan Versa - 2,599 lbs.
  • MINI Cooper - 2,707 lbs.

Heavy Trucks & SUVs:

  • Cadillac Escalade ESV - 5,831 lbs.
  • Lincoln Navigator - 6,089 lbs.
  • Chevrolet Suburban 3500HD - 6,585 lbs.
  • Ram 3500 Crew Cab - 6,728 lbs.
  • Ford F450 Super Duty Crew Cab - 8,600 lbs.

As you can see, there is a big difference in weight, which translates directly into its value as scrap. More weight = more metal = higher value.

What is the metal in your scrap car worth?

Now we come to the prices of individual metals. Generally speaking, the value of your scrap car can be roughly calculated by multiplying the amount of each metal in your car by the current price for that metal. Here are the prices for the metals listed above, as shown on the iscrappapp.com website for October 30, 2020. Remember that market prices fluctuate, so these can change on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Prices can also vary from region to region:

Metal Price
Steel $105.00/ton
Aluminum $0.22/lb.
Iron $101.00/ton
Copper & Brass $0.58-$2.15/lb.
Lead (battery) $0.20/lb

But wait, there’s more!

While this is a good starting point, there can be other valuable components in your car that contain useful and valuable metals. Your catalytic converter, for example, contains platinum and other valuable metals. A catalytic converter can be worth somewhere between $81.00 and $292.00, based on its size and type (based on October 30, 2020 prices).

Depending on your scrap car’s overall condition, there may be other parts that have higher values than what they are worth simply as scrap, as long as they are in good condition, are in demand, and can be resold on the used parts market. Some automotive recycling yards sell these parts on the internet to buyers across the country. Others operate as “pick and pull” yards. These are self-service operations in which vehicles are parked in rows, allowing local customers to enter the grounds with their tools, browse through the current vehicle inventory, and remove the pieces they need.

Either way, items like these can be resold, and can make your scrap car worth more than its pure scrap metal value:

  • Engine
  • Transmission
  • Catalytic converters
  • Battery
  • Radiator
  • Air conditioning components
  • Fenders
  • Hood
  • Trunk
  • Doors
  • Rear hatch
  • Bumpers
  • Grille
  • Windshield
  • Windows
  • Seats
  • Dashboard
  • Door panels
  • Console
  • Stereo
  • GPS system
  • Headlights
  • Taillights
  • Wheels
  • Tires
  • Axles 

What this all means for the value of your scrap car

What we end up with is an elaborate equation based on the amount of each type of metal in your specific year, make, and model vehicle, combined with that day’s market prices for each of those metals, plus the value of parts that can be removed and resold. To make things more complicated, there is not a single answer to the question, “What is my scrap car worth?” Different scrap yards and scrap car processors will give you different prices. That’s why it’s so important to shop around – and be sure to let us at CarScrappers.com give you a great price for your scrap car!

And now, a reality check

Before you estimate the amount of each metal in your scrap car, the value of its reusable parts, calculate what it’s worth, add it all up, and expect to get that much, remember this: Your friendly local scrap yard has some work to do before your car’s metals content is ready to be sold into the metals markets. There are many steps required to transform your actual scrap car into recyclable metal. Here’s what must be done after the tow truck shows up to pick up your scrap car:

  1. Tow your scrap car to the scrap yard
  2. Remove all fluids,
  3. Remove items that can be resold
  4. Remove remaining non-metal components (carpets, sound insulation, etc.)
  5. Remove remaining non-crushable components (non-resellable engine transmission, axles, suspension, etc.)
  6. Crush or flatten the scrap car
  7. Shred the scrap car, then separate the fragments by metal type
  8. Deliver metal fragments to reprocessing companies (or prepare them for pickup)
  9. Done!

All of this takes time, energy, and labor, which the scrap yard must recover. These costs are figured in when you get a price for your scrap car. This is why it’s important to shop around when scrapping your car, getting as many prices as you can before making a final decision.

Get a great price for your scrap car at CarScrappers.com

We hope that this has given you a better understanding of the many factors that determine what your scrap car is worth when you decide to sell it. Bottom line, every scrap car is different and will have its own unique value at any given point in time.

And when the time comes to part with your scrap car and turn it into cash, you'll find the process is just better at Car Scrappers. Car Scrappers takes the hassle and pain out of scrapping a car for cash.

Car Scrappers works with reputable auto junkyards, local car dealers, car auctions, and independent car buyers in your area, making us your #1 choice when looking to get cash for cars.

Through our huge network and streamlined process, we get you an instant offer to scrap your car that is sure to beat the competition. Avoid the hassles of posting your car for sale online or dealing with shady auto junkyards when you work with Car Scrappers.

The whole process takes only one or two days from start to finish. We'll be here for you all along the way, even after the sale (we even guarantee your checks). Join the thousands of satisfied customers each month who choose Car Scrappers over the competition. We make it easy!

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