Automotive Salvage Is A Huge Industry

Ever wondered what happens to a vehicle after it goes to a salvage yard? Before you answer that the car sits somewhere or gets crushed, let me fill you in on a particular fact. The automotive salvage industry is vast. So, vast that there are three answers to what happens to that vehicle once it arrives on the salvage lot. Those three avenues show that the industry reach is much larger than might initially be thought.


Did you know that a large portion of vehicles is recycled? Did you also know that today’s cars have recycled content in them already? It makes sense, right? The automotive industry has a lot of material it can re-use instead of waste. In 2019, Rick Leblanc wrote in The Balance Small Business, 

“Every year, more than 18 million tons of steel from automobiles are recycled by the steel industry. Approximately 86 percent of a car’s material content is recycled, re-used or used for energy recovery. About 60 percent of a passenger vehicle consists of steel and iron. The steel used to make a brand new car contains at least 25 percent of recycled content. Recycled steel from old car is used to make car shell, hood, trunk, door, and quarter panels.” 

So, what happens to that vehicle that’s been sitting and that nobody wants? Many times it gets turned into the salvage yard. Once there, there are three avenues of the car to meet its end. In every case, the vehicle is broken down into smaller parts for the repair or re-purpose aspect of the industry.

Cars at a Salvage Yard in Louisiana
Rows of old wrecked cars in a junk yard near Alexandra Louisiana parts and repairs for autos. | Photo: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Merciless Picking

Many salvage yards, also known as scrap or junkyards, line cars up in their yard or lot, drain the fluids, and then tell the public the vehicle is ready to be cannibalized. From that point forward, the car is mercilessly picked apart piece by piece. In the meantime, the vehicle sits in the sun, day in and day out, rusting until it’s of no good for anyone. It sounds like a cruel death. But, the reality is that those parts that were picked from it were used to repair or restore other vehicles.

Savage Picking

There are other salvage yards that are a bit more brutal. In these yards, the vehicle is brought in. The fluids are drained, and tires are removed and placed in one pile. Then the metals and plastics a separated from the vehicle carcass. For example, then engine block is savagely ripped out by heavy equipment and place in another pile. What remains of the vehicle is then crushed into a coffee table size mass of twisted and compressed metal.

It sounds heartwrenching that a person’s once-favorite vehicle could be treated this way. But it’s not all bad. The parts are separated into piles so that it is easier to package that source material for use in other products. Plastics and metals are melted down, and other materials are also collected for repurposing, or upcycling. For example, in another article, Mr. Leblanc continued, 

“Every year in the U.S., about 220 million old tires are generated, with an 80% recycling rate. Recycled tires are often used in pavement bases to make new roadways. Recycled glass from autos is used to create tile flooring, glass beads, porcelain, countertops, and jewelry.”

Meet The Shredder

The third option is not pretty. The vehicle comes into the salvage yard. It is drained of its fluids. Then it goes to the shredder. There, it meets grinding teeth that shred the vehicle whole. The shredded bits are then sorted by material and then prepared for re-purposing. 

Take a few minutes during this COVID-19 quarantine time to view videos on Youtube for vehicles being crushed or shredded. The video clips will leave you in awe of the shredding or compacting power the heavy equipment has. It will also answer any question you have in mind about what happens to a vehicle once it reaches the salvage yard.

Finally, it shows you that the salvage yards are very much involved in the larger industry that makes money through the re-purposing of materials. So, it’s not all bad news that comes from the demise of a vehicle. Some of that dearly departed Chevrolet might be found once again in flooring or roadways we use daily because the reach of the industry is huge.