Motor vehicles are the premier recycled consumer product in this country, largely due to the work performed by auto recyclers at motor vehicle salvage yards (MVSYs). According to the Automobile Recycling Association, over four million end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) are recycled annually in the United States. Auto recyclers dismantle ELVs to recover fluids and parts for reuse, and scrap material for recycling. Typically, auto recyclers manage to reuse and recycle over 75 percent of the material content of a vehicle, by weight. This trumps the recycling rate for aluminum cans the next most recycled consumer product at 61percent.
The auto recycling business is over 75 years old and has evolved into a sophisticated market and technology-driven industry that must constantly change in response to innovations in automotive technology and manufacturing techniques. To be competitive and profitable in today's markets, the auto recycling process must involve much more than merely crushing wrecked, abandoned, and worn-out motor vehicles. The modern-day auto recycler must establish operating practices that realize the maximum market value of every ELV taken in and produce real economic and environmental benefits within the community being served.
Upon arrival at a well-run modern MVSY, inoperative motor vehicles are inspected for leaks and temporarily stored until further processing, as follows
|Motor vehicle fluids are drained separately over an impervious surface and put into leak-proof containers for reuse. For example: recovered gasoline is usually used to fuel company and employee vehicles. Recovered oil is used to fuel special furnaces that heat the facility. And, antifreeze is recycled and made available for reuse by customers.|
|Reusable parts are removed from the vehicle, cleaned, tested, inventoried, and stored in a warehouse for sale to auto repair garages, auto body shops, and individuals. Selected items include engines, transmissions, auto body parts, tires, radios, and other components.|
|After the vehicle is stripped of reusable parts, the remaining "hulk" is then stored until market conditions are favorable for sending it to a scrap processor for material recycling.|
|In New Hampshire, most auto recyclers hire contractors to crush their vehicles using mobile auto crushing units. However, some auto recyclers have their own stationary crushing units. To properly prepare a vehicle for crushing, after all fluids should be drained; the fuel tank and radiator should be removed; the Freon or other air conditioning system refrigerants should be evacuated using certified equipment; and other recyclable and potentially hazardous components should be removed, including the battery, tires, air bag cartridges, mercury-containing switches, lead parts, and catalytic converters.|
|When market conditions are favorable, the crushed hulks are sent to a scrap processor, where the hulks are fed into a shredder for recovery of ferrous and non-ferrous metal for recycling. The remaining material, comprised mainly of plastic, foam, glass, textiles, and other materials (known as "auto shredder residue") is usually land filled.|
|Many professional auto recyclers use computer and satellite communication systems that enable direct inventory assessment and location of parts at other MVSYs on the network.|