You can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, prevent pollution, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and maybe even make a few extra dollars.
We know to throw old milk bottles or cereal boxes in the recycling bin. And we DIYers have gotten accustomed to turning in paint cans and batteries. But did you know how recyclable and valuable automotive parts are? The next time you pop the hood, think about how you can recycle, or even upcycle old car parts: It can help the planet, not to mention your wallet. Join me as we uncover the individual parts and pieces of a vehicle that you should never throw away.
The Auto Shop View of Recycling
To get a peek into how car parts can be reused, let’s first examine how a retail repair center handles its waste and byproducts. There’s a lot to learn from these businesses and why they’re so interested in saving the planet. The most common maintenance operation is the basic oil change. States require auto repair centers to collect the waste oil and old filters for proper disposal. They share this expense with the consumer by charging a waste disposal fee, in addition to their small profit margin.
Business owners have found additional ways to leverage these negatives and turn them into a positive. A shop can save thousands of dollars a year in heating costs with the implementation of waste oil fired boilers and heaters. They recycle their used engine oil right there in the shop and use it to heat the building. The purification of the old oil in conjunction with emission devices installed in the exhaust system makes these units clean and efficient. Old oil filters are collected, drained, crushed to save on space, and then recycled. The main component of an oil filter is steel. These used filters find their way back into many products, including new cars.
Car repair centers examine every item as a possible profit center before they give up and call it trash. Shops collect heavy metal used parts like brake rotors and drums and then sell them for scrap value by weight. Items that can be remanufactured like radiators, transmissions and steering racks are worth money to a business that rebuilds these items and then sells them at retail prices.
The DIY Oil Change
Although we will not be able to charge ourselves a disposal fee or leverage the oil change waste like the auto repair shop, we still want to be responsible and do the right thing for the planet. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), used oil from one oil change has the potential to contaminate one million gallons of fresh water — that is the equivalent of a years’ supply for 50 people. So it’s important to responsibly dispose of the oil we change from our cars. Make it a habit to recycle all automotive fluids. Any place that sells auto parts will recycle your engine oil and filter for free.
In addition, most retail repair shops will gladly take your used fluids, especially if they have a waste oil heating system. Even Wal-Mart stores that have an auto service center will help you dispose of automotive waste. If you live in a remote area, you can use the earth 911 location service (http://search.earth911.com/) to find the closest recycling center. The EPA states that if all of us DIYers recycled our oil from changes, we would save enough oil for more than 50 million cars a year.
Catalytic Converter Recycling
Recycling in general not only reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills, it also helps to prevent pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When you can recycle auto parts and make a few extra dollars doing it, it’s a win-win. One way to do that is with a catalytic converter. A catalytic converter looks a lot like a muffler, but it’s very different. The muffler quiets the exhaust system, whereas the catalytic converter cleans it. Older automobiles might have one or two, but newer vehicles built in the last 10 years will often have four separate catalytic converters divided into upstream and downstream locations.
There are complete businesses built around just recycling catalytic converters, and here’s why: The emission control devices contain small amounts of palladium, rhodium and platinum. These metals are rare and valuable. For this reason, the direct value of any used or defective catalytic converter is reliant on what’s inside. Speaking in general terms, an average catalytic converter is worth $25-$50. However, some vehicles garner much higher prices for these used components.
As an example, a defective Duramax diesel or a Ford Super Duty diesel converter can be worth anywhere from $200-$500. On the other side of the spectrum, a standard aftermarket replacement catalytic converter is only worth about $5. If you’re interested in browsing through a used converter pricing guide, you can visit scrapcatalyticconverter.com.
Automotive Battery Recycling
The standard car battery is one of the most successfully recycled automotive items of all time. Studies show that over 95 percent of them get recycled or remanufactured. Processing centers smash the battery into tiny pieces and then separate the three main components, plastic, acid and lead. The plastic floats to the top where it’s recycled like most plastic products. The lead sinks to the bottom where it’s cleaned and purified to make new plates. Finally, they neutralize the acid and then dispose of it as wastewater.
If you own a car long enough you’ll have to replace the battery, and it’s extremely easy to do it. The average life span of a lead acid battery is about four years. AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) batteries might last up to seven years under ideal conditions. Most places that sell them will recycle the old one if you buy a replacement. Or take your old battery into an AutoZone where they’ll give you a $5 store credit coupon.
Rebuilding Used Auto Parts
A lot of automotive parts remain valuable even when they stop working. Some of these components like defective starter motors, powertrain control modules and alternators will have to be turned in to the auto store when you purchase a new one. If they’re not, you may be charged a core fee. This is because these parts will go through an overhaul process and then sold back to the public. With that said, there are a few components you can rebuild yourself without incurring a core charge for not turning it in.
A water pump is a good example of this. When you go to buy a replacement water pump they will offer you the choice of a remanufactured or a new component. But how can you turn the old part into money? Auto service centers save all parts capable of being rebuilt. This is a long list of components that includes CV joints, steering rack and pinion assemblies, brake calipers and yes, even water pumps. They let these items pile up and then they contact a recycler that will reimburse them for these resources. You can start saving your old parts and contact these companies yourself or toss them in the pile of parts that your local service center saves. They might throw you a few bucks, teach you something about cars, or just buy you a beer after work.
One Man’s Trash …
I am a certifiable car nut. When people visit my home, they’re greeted by a lamp made out of a piston from a 426 Hemi engine. My friend has an outdoor pool table that looks like a 1965 Ford Mustang. It actually uses modified fenders, bumpers and trim from an actual Mustang pony car. Of course this just scratches the surface of how auto parts can be recycled or upcycled to fit into your everyday life, reducing waste and creatively showcasing your interests.
Pickup truck tailgates make excellent drop-down shelving units in garages. The hood of your favorite muscle car can be used as an awning over a doorway to shield you from the rain as you enter a work shed. Turn a shiny hubcap into a wall clock. This makes a great conversation piece when your buddies visit you in the garage. I saw one of my favorite creations while attending a block party barbecue. The guy built an outdoor grill from a 1957 Nash Metropolitan. When I entered the backyard, there was smoke pouring out from under the hood of the old Nash. When he lifted the bonnet I saw hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling away. Now that is what I call upcycling.