scrap cars

A quick guide to car recycling

26th Jun, 2019

Car recycling is a massive worldwide industry – hardly surprising, given that it’s one of the most common forms of personal transport! Over a million of them are crushed annually in the UK alone, whereas in the US that number has risen to 12 million every year.

Here at Scrap Car Network, we are specialists in effective car recycling, with the nation’s biggest network of scrap car dealers at our disposal. We find that many of our customers often have questions about the process, so we’ve taken the time to address some of your car recycling queries in this quick guide!

Why is recycling cars important?

For a long time now, it’s been a legal requirement that all cars must be efficiently scrapped once they’ve reached the end of their useful lifespan. There are several key reasons for this, but they generally fall into one of two categories:

Safety and environmental protection

The average car contains all sorts of fluids and materials that are dangerously hazardous if they get into the natural food chain or water supply. Therefore, expert knowledge and equipment is required to properly remove and dispose of these toxic materials, safeguarding environmental, animal and human health.

Sustainability and economic value

Recycled cars are a valuable source of steel and other scrap metals; incredibly versatile raw materials that can be put to excellent use in a whole host of industries. Recycling cars saves us from having to mine new ore, which thereby saves effort, energy and materials that would otherwise be required for the manufacture of new metals.

As well as resulting in less air pollution, less water pollution and less mining waste, this also makes recycled steel less expensive – savings which benefit not just the automotive industry as a whole, but also ultimately makes things cheaper for individual buyers looking to buy new vehicles.

How much of a car is recyclable?

Today, the British car industry is required to recycle at least 95% of every End-of-Life vehicle. This legislation was laid out in the latest stage of the End-of-Life Vehicle Directive, and has been in effect since January 2015.

Smart Recycling: What Do We Salvage From Your Car

This encompasses almost everything, including the steel and raw materials of the car shell, the rubber in the tyres, and the plastic and leather in the interiors. To ensure that the recycling processes are of an appropriate standard, they can only be carried out by official Authorised Treatment Facilities, which are licenced and monitored by the Environment Agency.

Here at Scrap Car Network, every one of our partners is an Authorised Treatment Facility; we won’t partner with anyone else! What’s more, we’ve set our sights on the target of getting this 95% figure up to 100%, eliminating vehicle waste entirely. It’s a long-term goal, but we’re determined to make progress.

What parts of a car can be recycled for money?

Most of them! Some of the most valuable and useful parts include the catalytic converter, the engine, car batteries, wheels and tyres, and the oil filter. However, we’d generally advise against doing this yourself. Scrap cars are valued primarily by their weight, so removing parts will have a severe impact on how much companies will pay you for your scrap car.

Unless you’ve got solid experience as a professional mechanic or industry expert, you may well find that removing parts takes a lot of time and effort, and there’s no firm guarantee that you’d make more money recycling your car in pieces, than you would simply scrapping it as a whole. Our post on scrap car prices contains more details.

How is a car recycled?

Essentially, every car is recycled in three key stages: depollution, dismantlement and finally, destruction. At the depollution stage, toxic materials are removed. Dismantlement involves taking off parts for re-use and re-sale, before the car is finally crushed at the destruction stage.


Hazardous fluids are one of the key priorities at the depollution stage. This includes windscreen wash, coolants, antifreeze and oil, all of which are removed by trained specialists. Once they’re removed, they’re either put to good use in another vehicle or machine, or safely disposed of. Engine oil, for example, is often used to fuel freighters and container ships.


Now, the car is meticulously taken apart at the dismantlement stage. The catalytic converter, for example, is stripped of its precious metals, whereas dashboard plastics are broken down to raw polymers which can be used for new plastic products. For similar reasons, glass windows are turned into fine sand, while the rubber for car tyres is used for tarmac or playground aggregate.

ford focus being scrapped

Certain foams and plastics within the car undergo a process called gasification, in order to generate electricity. Whole engines, meanwhile, can sometimes be used for new vehicles, or dismantled into their component parts.


At this point, the scrap car is almost ready to be sent to the shredder. Before that happens though, it has to be either flattened or crushed into a cube using a large-scale baler. The resultant cube-shaped cars are sometimes referred to as bales – yes, just like hay! Once it’s been forcibly transformed, then it’s ready to be shredded.

What happens after a car is crushed?

The bales or flattened cars are sent to a specialist machine, which shreds them into pieces no larger than a tennis ball. Then, smaller pieces of the vehicle are passed along a conveyor, where a vacuum sucks any lightweight materials away. Magnets are used in a similar way to separate heavy steels and ferrous metals from the mix.

Then, the remains of the car are passed through a heavy media separator, which contains a fluid that causes non-ferrous metals – such as copper, aluminium and brass – to float to the top, so that they can be removed. It might sound simple, but it’s all a surprisingly sophisticated process for making sure your old car is effectively recycled.

What to do before recycling your car

Before you send your car off to be recycled, you first need to make sure that the DVLA is aware you’ve scrapped your vehicle. The most important effect of this is that it stops you from having to pay tax on it unnecessarily.

There’s another reason, though; it also prevents the danger of any unscrupulous dealers from telling you they’ve scrapped your car, when in reality they’ve simply patched it up and sold it on. This generally means it’s still registered to you, so if anything goes wrong with your old vehicle, or it’s somehow used illegally, it could be your door the DVLA comes knocking to.

Once the DVLA is aware you’re scrapping a car, they’ll make the relevant checks and ensure that they send you a Certificate of Destruction, a legal document that frees you of responsibility for your car. You can expect this anywhere between 7 days to 2 weeks’ time.

At Scrap Car Network, we’ll generally ensure it’s done on your behalf, but we also recommend taking the time to double-check just in case. After all, it’s literally your name on the line! And as with all stages of our process, we take the time to make sure it’s as easy, simple and quick for you as possible.

Just enter your car reg and postcode to get an instant online valuation of your car. Once you’ve got your online quote to hand, let us know where and when to collect your vehicle, and we’ll ensure it’s recycled as efficiently as possible. That’s how we do things at Scrap Car Network!

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