By Jim Kerr; photo courtesy

We are all excited when a new shiny vehicle appears in our driveway, and many are interested in how cars and trucks are built and perform. It’s a different story when a vehicle is no longer roadworthy, and that old hulk is traded in, sold or hauled away. We really don’t care, as long as it disappears to somewhere, but we should: there were over twelve million new vehicles sold last year in North America. This is down from a record 17 million a few years earlier, but in the long run, these vehicles will serve their useful purpose and have to be disposed of. Unlike in the past, where old vehicles were left to sit and rust, today these vehicles still have value and that is where automobile recyclers come into play.

We used to call them wrecking yards or salvage yards. Now they are referred to as automotive recyclers, and that is an accurate description of what they do. When a vehicle enters their workplace, it is evaluated and major serviceable parts are removed from the vehicle for resale. It may be an engine, transmission or even body parts, depending on the demand of the marketplace for used parts. Think of this as the ultimate in green environmental consciousness: instead of using new materials and the cost of producing and shipping a new part, a good serviceable used part is put back on the road again.

After the good parts are used, the rest of the vehicle still has value. Bodies are crushed, shredded and sorted into different materials. Currently, over 75 per cent of an automobile is easily recyclable, and in Europe and Japan, they are trying to regulate it so 95 per cent can be recycled. Seventy per cent of a modern vehicle’s weight is made up of steel and cast iron, and more than 40 per cent of all new steel in North America comes from this recycled metal. Lighter metals such as aluminum, copper, zinc and magnesium make up a much smaller percentage of a vehicle’s total weight but are still a significant volume. It is much cheaper to recycle aluminum than it is to mine the ore and produce new aluminum. Not only is it environmentally sound, recycling it takes a lot less electrical energy.

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