What happens to “junk cars” at the end of their life?

What becomes of your car when it reaches the end of its useful life? Let's explore.

The Car Is Junked

The first step is for the car to be sold to someone who can use it. A junkyard or scrapper usually gives you cash based on the weight of the metal, though it’s possible there will be a few viable parts that they can pull off first.

Parts Are Stripped

Reusable parts are rare in a junk car simply because they’ve been put under so much pressure over the years that they’re not really good to anyone. The first things to go are typically the freon, battery, and tires.

From there, a junkyard will assess how the parts have held up and whether they’re safe enough to resell. If they aren’t sellable, they’ll start looking at secondary value. For instance, they’ll pull the premium metals in a catalytic converter, like rhodium, palladium and platinum, so they can be resold separately from the bulk of the metal.

Liquids Are Drained

Cars need to be lifted up in order for the gas, brake fluid, and oil to be drained. Junkyards will typically drill holes in the vehicle to get all of the fluids out, and then either reuse them as-is or mix them to create alternative fuels. Viable wires will also be removed and sorted during this step. Fluids and wires aren’t worthless, but the most important part of this step is to ensure that everything is done as safely as possible. Sometimes, the shell of the vehicle will be stripped of the heater core, wiring harnesses, AC evaporator, etc.

The Vehicle Is Crushed and Shredded

The windows are broken and the car is reduced to a rectangle before being taken off to a scrap metal facility. How your car is crushed will depend on the make and model, but all scrapped cars follow a relatively similar process.

Metal, Glass, and Plastic Are Sorted

All the items from your car will need to be organized and then piled together before it can be sold and recycled. When metal is shredded, it’s typically down to the size of a fist. When it’s sold it’s generally done by multiple tons to milling facilities.

The Remainder Is Put in a Landfill

Sometimes called automotive shredding residue, what can’t be sold or recycled is placed in the landfill. The priority for the shredding process is to try and reuse as much material as possible, though right now, it’s not possible to derive value from 100% of the car without compromising the efficiency and cost of scrapping.

FAQs

How many cars reach the end of their life per year?

Estimates vary in the US, but can be as high as 15 million per year.

Are the parts of a scrapped car resold?

Depends on the make and model, but generally, a car that’s scrapped doesn’t have a lot to offer. Parts are likely too old or worn to do anyone else any good.

How much energy is saved by recycling my car?

Based on the number of tons recycled per year, 18 million households can be powered with the energy saved on steel recycling. In addition, recycled metal uses about 75% less energy than making new metal and keeps 11 million tons of steel out of landfills.

Are there any fun facts about recycled cars?

A few:

  • Balding tires can be used for anything from welcome mats to playground equipment.
  • If you’re scrapping a newer car, the plastic in it can be used for practically anything.
  • Your car is mainly steel and iron, though there’s more aluminum in newer cars to make them go faster.

Why junk my car?

Generally people junk their car to get some cash for it and to get it off their property as quickly as possible. Selling it to a company like CarScrappers ensures that you get a fair price for the viable parts while doing a little something for the environment at the same time.