Once considered scrap, end-of-life cars are now considered an asset, dismantled and sold for the value of their parts and metal. It’s a process that involves both reuse and recycling once they go to their final resting place.
Some 1.2 million vehicles come off the road in Canada every year, according to Steve Fletcher, managing director of the Automotive Recyclers of Canada. Good recyclers will get as much as they can from each one.
“First, they’ll remove any parts that can be directly resold,” he says.
“Engines, transmissions, mirrors, taillights, anything that doesn’t have to be reworked and can be directly reused.”
Next, the recycler drains the 20 to 40 litres of fluid that each one may hold, including gasoline, antifreeze, transmission oil, brake fluid, washer fluid and engine oil. Fluids that are fresh enough are used in company vehicles, while old or excess liquids are sold for recycling or reuse.
“We’re paid six to eight cents a litre for oil,” Fletcher says; it will be re-refined into recycled oil or burned in asphalt furnaces.
“We want the lead acid battery, not just for the environmental reasons, but because it’s worth $4 to $5 as a core that can be refurbished,” Fletcher says.
Freon is extracted from the a/c system using special equipment, and is either sold or reused.
Recyclers also check for mercury-filled switches, which were used in some older vehicles to activate the under-hood light, and which must be handled as toxic waste.
“From here, the recyclers start to take it down by the metal,” Fletcher says.
“That’s anything like the copper in radiators, or aluminum in the wheels or engine.”
What’s left is called the hulk and it’s flattened in a giant press, mainly to make it more convenient to ship. If the seats, trim or windshield weren’t good enough to reuse, they’re simply left in and pressed during the process.
From there, the hulk is shipped to a facility that shreds it into fist-sized chunks. Magnets and other secondary recovery systems such as pressurized air are used to separate the metals, which are then sent for recycling, while foam, carpet and glass go to landfill.
“On an average vehicle, you’ll get 75 per cent recycled as metal,” Fletcher says. “Once you factor in the parts we take out, such as tires and (reusable) parts, up to 83 per cent of the vehicle is recycled. You get about $500 to $600 for the metal in a flattened hulk for about $100 in time and effort, so a car has positive value.”