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Scrap Cars

What Happens to Vehicles When They Grow Old?

Have you ever wondered where your first car ended up? Is it being taken care of by a conscientious owner who changes the oil regularly? Or is it sitting in the garage of a retiree and being driven 20 miles a year? Your first car might be in one those places, but unless you’re still young or you got a brand new car when you started driving, chances are your first ride is in a wrecking yard.

Junkyards & Beyond

A wrecking yard, or junkyard, is the final resting place for many cars and trucks. If an automobile has been in an accident, becomes too expensive to keep running, or is abandoned, the wrecking yard takes over. Many wrecking yards are also salvage yards, meaning they sell what usable parts they can from junked cars.Salvage yards keep a meticulous inventory of the usable parts from their junked cars, and sometimes remove the more in-demand parts and stock them in a warehouse.

Scrap_yard_22l3Using this system, salvage yard operators can quickly find replacement parts for vehicles when customers call. Some salvage yards operate as “you pull it” yards, where customers go out into the yard and take the parts they need after being told where compatible vehicles are located in the yard.

Auto parts that are too badly worn or damaged to be sold as replacement parts can be recycled. About 75% of any given vehicle can be recycled and used for other goods.

About one-third of the recyclable material from a car is plastics and polymers, but most of it is metal. After all usable parts and are removed, hazardous waste such as the battery and fluids are removed and drained. The vehicle is then put into a car crusher so it can be compacted and sent to a steel mill for recycling.

Vehicle-specific salvage yards cater to the needs of customers and repair shops looking for parts for vehicles other than cars or light trucks. Motorcycle salvage yards specialise in finding parts for motorcycles as well as buying junked cycles to give the owner quick cash. Recreational vehicle salvage yards provide the same source of parts for owners of motorhomes, 5th wheel trailers, and campers. Engine parts for used motorhomes might be found at a standard salvage yard, but an RV salvage yard will have salvaged parts that only RVs would need, such as generators, cargo and compartment doors, awnings and other components unique to a particular brand of RV.

Ship Breaking Yards

Similarly, recreational boats have their own salvage yardsand recyclers. Small recreational watercraft can be broken down for parts such as propellers, engine parts, and pumps. Aluminum boat hulls can be used for scrap metal. Small boats with fiberglass hulls can also be recycled and turned into usable items such as planks that can substitute for wood planks when building things like decks and picnic tables. Because properly disposing of a boat can be costly and transportation to a facility is cumbersome, many charitable organizations accept small boats as tax-deductible donations.


Large cargo or naval ships are taken to a place called a ship breaking yard for dismantling for scrap metal. A ship that has reached the end of its useful life is bought by the ship breaking company. A captain who specializes in beaching ships then pilots the ship onto a stretch of beach, where workers begin breaking the ship. Much like other vehicles, the ship is taken apart bit by bit and the steel is used as scrap. Fluids are drained from the vessel, huge batteries and generators are removed and sold to ship salvage yards, and then the steel is cut by acetylene torches into pieces small enough to be transported to a metals recycler, where it’s melted down and repurposed into steel beams or rebar for construction.

Up until recent years, most ships were broken down in the port cities of industrialized countries. Nowadays, almost all ship breaking is done in developing countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. The move is due to the lower costs of labor in those countries, as well as the less restrictive environmental laws.

dismantling-3-ships-18159Ship breaking is dirty work, and can have a detrimental impact on the health of people involved in the dismantling. Ships contain dangerous substances such as asbestos and chemicals known as PCBs. Because ship breaking yards operate in countries without strong protections for workers, the ship breaking company is largely shielded from workers compensation lawsuits, even while failing to provide proper safety equipment.

At Chittagong Ship Breaking yard in Bangladesh, one of the largest ship breaking yards in the world, conditions are far from ideal. Workers there are paid little but must deal with falling pieces of steel, burns from acetylene torches, and exposure to dangerous fumes.

The Airplane Graveyard

Half a world away from the shores of Bangladesh, in the Arizona desert, sits the largest final resting place for airplanes, or an aircraft boneyard. The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group,just a short drive from nearby Pima Air and Space Museum, is home to over 5000 grounded airplanes, mostly US Air Force airplanes leftover from the Cold War era. The boneyard there is so large it can be seen on Google Maps. The boneyard is actually open to the public and daily tours are available from the nearby museum.

Most aircraft boneyards are in deserts, where the dry conditions reduce the chance of corrosion. Arizona is home to several boneyards, as is New Mexico. The boneyards serve as a place to not only store planes intact for possible future use, but to strip aircraft for parts and scrap metal. The 309th AMARG employs about 550 workers, mostly civilians, to prepare some planes for storage and strip others for parts. Planes marked for storage have all weapons removed and have their fuel systems drained to protect them.

The plane is then coated with a vinyl covering to protect it from the desert heat and dust. Other aircraft are kept and used for parts or scrap metal, and some are sold outright to private companies or other countries. For every $1 spent running the boneyard, it saves or earns $11 selling parts and inventory.