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How are cars recycled?

November 15, 2012


Today is America Recycles Day, and we thought you might be interested in learning how cars are recycled.

What happens to cars when they no longer run?

When a car has made it past its lifetime it is usually stripped for parts and then recycled. Even if an owner chooses to go through the car donation process for a favored charity the car will often be put through the same process.

Have you ever wondered what the process is by which cars are turned back into the core materials that make up a vehicle? Metals, plastics, and glass can be recycled and reused in a variety of different ways.








Volkswagen put out this amazing video about their recycling method called the Volkswagen-SiCon process, most of these steps and methods are used by all recycling centers. What happens to old cars when they’ve reached the end of their usefulness, let’s walk through this fascinating process together.

Battery Removal

The first step in recycling a car is removing the battery. Most of the batteries found in cars are almost fully recyclable.

The three main components of a car battery are lead, plastic, and battery acid. The batteries are crushed and then the components are separated, purified, and the raw materials are then shipped back to the manufacturers. Read an in depth article from our friends at Earth911.

Video of battery recycling:

Video of plastic bag recycling, this is not the exact same process as the one used for the battery cases, however it is similar enough to get a general idea.

Tire Removal

There are 275 million tires stockpiled in landfills across the United States. Recently there have been many improvements in the area of tire recycling and today 80% of all tires are recycled used for things like rubberized sidewalks and playground surfaces.

This video on tire shredding is a bit outdated but enlightening just the same:

Drain Fluids

Before crushing the vehicle all fluids, hazardous and otherwise, must be removed.

Any competent mechanic will be able to easily remove all of these fluids and dispose of them in a safe environmentally friendly manner.

Remove Catalytic Converter 

The Catalytic Converter is removed for recycling of the metals found inside.

Air bags ignited/disarmed

The air bags must be ignited before the vehicle can be safely recycled.

Removal of parts that are in good working condition

Many parts can be reused. One of the most important parts of the car recycling process is stripping out the parts that can be reused. Check out this fascinating video where a group of mechanics demonstrate how quickly it is possible to strip all removable parts off of a car.

Crushing the car

Now the real fun begins. First, what’s left of the car gets crushed.

This is a video of the Australian police crushing cars confiscated from drunk drivers or drivers caught speeding excessively.

Shredding the car

Huge shredders tear apart the car into small pieces. The massive strength of these machines is absolutely awe inspiring.

Separate the materials

Using magnets or other cutting edge processes, the metals are separated out from the glass and plastic for separate recycling.

Now the raw materials can be melted down for reuse in a myriad of products.

Now you know how cars are recycled, pretty cool isn’t it?

For more info check out this great article from Earth911 or this Infographic on How many cars were recycled last year.

  1. Tom Smith | Reply

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