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With 600 million autos trucks and other I.C.E. powered vehicles how do we recycle them?

Updated on July 14, 2011

recycling I.C.E. powered vehicles.

With an estimated 600 million internal combustion engine or ICE powered vehicles in the world today I started thinking about the problems in recycling these old autos, and a few things came to mind.

Here are a few of them.

  • Many of these vehicles are 20, 30 40 and more years old. Most are still going strong as well it seems.
  • In poorer countries auto repair shops are plentiful and cheap. They are essential to keep the many old vehicles running.
  • The bulk of those people who own these old vehicles are not rich, so they will struggle to keep the old one going. Even when spares are long gone ingenuity to replace a metal part with wood or make a part out of metal themselves to repair their vehicles will continue.
  • The vehicle will not be recycled unless into a bullock cart or a home for the animals.

China will soon add another 600 million cars.

  • Several large manufacturers in China are already pumping out domestic product.
  • Many cars being imported by the new rich of Shanghai and Beijing, and the rich factory owners near the Hong Kong border will soon be buying Chinese limos.
  • India still has the largest vehicle manufacturer in Tata Motors. (Toyota is not the largest auto manufacturer as often stated) How many cars will sell in India with it's rapidly expanding educated middle class emerging as consumers almost in the American tradition.
  • Korea, India, and other emerging economies are also producing cars for local and export markets, so the growth in car production and sales continues towards 2020.

Restored Mercedes Benz

A Beautifully restored early Mercedes. Click to see full size.
A Beautifully restored early Mercedes. Click to see full size.

Car collectors.

Nice to think about how much high quality steel especially cast metal and high tensile steels were used in the old cars, and how many new cars could be made out  of that steel.

Even if the average weight of steel in vehicles was one ton, that is still more than 500 million tons of processed steel, if all of them were recycled that is a lot of metal which is a non renewable resource.

Add all the Aluminium, copper, brass and bronze in vehicles to that one ton of steel and we are talking serious savings to the environment. But..... it  Ain't gonna happen soon!

Many of the old autos were very heavy, with big inefficient motors with heavy caste iron engine blocks and heads, (the big heavy metal bits for the non mechanical). They drank petrol and often did less than 10 miles on one gallon of juice so they would be nice to get off the road.

Don't worry. Although most will never be OFF the road. These days they get used at most four or five times a year being driven to car shows and the like.

Most of the remaining really big cars such as Cadillac, Lincoln, Duisenberg, Issota et Fracchini Panhard et lavassor et al, have been restored or turned in to a drag car or used to make a Hot Rod or for racing in one form or another and are used rarely.

So that still leaves all the other ordinary cars that no one would collect, like Simcas. oops, sorry Simca owners! Great cars, you know what I mean, great like Skoda is great. Simple, er... great cars!

The big expensive cars like the twelve cylinder Cadillac never made it into most poorer countries other than a few used by bent politicians in most cases, but very many cheap vehicles, especially small trucks provide much of the transportation of goods and people in many of the poorer countries.

The newer cars are designed to be recycled and the process to do so is up and working, but recycling the millions of older cars involves much more intensive processing, as our fore fathers had no thoughts about recycling their cars when they sold them even a few years ago!

2 MGs ready to race

An early MG on the left and a later td/tf on the right
An early MG on the left and a later td/tf on the right

Older cars.

Old cars, like some of their owners get to hang around and stink the garage out. Many very old cars will not be recycled, they will be lovingly restored and live in the garage always exuding the smell of fuel grease and oil!.

When a car is disposed of by the first owner it starts a life of recycling which could mean providing transport for many families before it gets rebuilt and becomes someone's toy 50 years later.

Sort of a good thing that. one less car needs to be made even if the person disposing of the car buys a new one.

It will take a lot of trinkets to filter down to the working classes of the world before we can replace the very old cars and trucks, motorcycles and scooters of the world fleet.

Although the average age of a vehicle in the world is indeterminable, I would guess at 15 year old or more for the average worldwide.

Someone has to find a way to feed the 600 million old cars and another 600 million ICE motors including China alone, so maybe twice that number of cars by 2020! Oil wells will not keep up, We can't deliver that much oil.

We will definitely not be able to fuel them all with petroleum, maybe if they make all new cars to run on LPG......we better find an alternative fuel very soon!

Internal Combustion Engines or I.C.Es power almost all of the worlds vehicles. The mostly run on petroleum, petrol or gas, as Americans call it. In some places like Australia many run on LPG or Liquid Petroleum Gas, but almost all had to be converted to LPG from petrol at considerable cost.

Gas runs pretty clean and is not hard to store or obtain, it is cheap to supply and we have masses of it.

Originally the advent of fitting catalytic converters to cars and making unleaded petrol was going to be the solution to pollution, and cars moved into a new era about 30 years ago when converters began being fitted to newer cars and unleaded petrol made it's market entry.

Instead of solving the problems of exhaust emissions, it stored it to become a worse problem as these cars aged.

Because of the high cost of a catalytic converter, many of the cars fitted with converters have had them removed when due for replacement, a hole poked through them or the converter was disposed of improperly or at worst all three during the car's life.

That weird stifling sweet smell you get in traffic is from cars that have faulty or missing catalytic converters.

Old cars and trucks have been kept on the worlds roads by an enormous world market in spares. You can buy parts for damn near anything that ever had wheels on it, if there were a lot of them sold.

In days past I was in the spare parts business in a big way when it came to makes and models.

Like other motor engineers in the 70's I saw profit in making and selling parts that broke regularly on any vehicle regardless of make or model was the way to ensure a constant market.

About the same time as my company started making replacements, new after market repair business parts suppliers sprung up in the market selling the parts people like me were making.

They stocked anything that was gonna break, failed regularly, wore out or got damaged.

The result was a better replacement part than the original crook one, usually it 2/3rds the price.

Even vehicles with bad design faults could now be repaired and last for years longer with the problem, whatever it was solved.

Bad water pumps on your model? The after-market would have a better one.

Even very old cars that were no good when they were new are restored lovingly and still grace our roads today, so there is little sign of them being turned back into meta for new cars or any other use than the one they have now. Probably to go to a car rally once a year.


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    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thanks for all that Dutchman, you have answered the other questions I was going to ask about parts!

      It sounds like you enjoy a challenge.

      Always pleased to hear of car rebuild projects.

    • dutchman1951 profile image


      8 years ago from Tennessee, USA

      I will put it in a Hub with several pictures, I removed the 96 hp engine and went with a kit and a later year 66 145 hp engine in much better shape, then up graded that. I did it in stages. The paint is complete, and interior is finished. Took me a while to do it. Enjoyed it though. took a while to find some of the missing parts.

      The Next state over from here (North Carolina) has a very active Covair Club, so does Kentucky, so I was able to connect make friends and swap parts at times, to get what I needed. Was fortunate.

      last Count I heard there were about 2500 cars left, maybe less actualy, in the US and Canada in various stages of repair and condition. Not all of them Spider Coupe's

      I saw more Step Vans, at the last car show I went to in Knoxville. Not many Spider Coupes, but many later Models, 1966-69 in the show.

      Real replacement parts are hard to get, a lot of retro stuff. New copies very little O.E.M. stock available, and what is there is High Dollar. I had to really re-work the heads for the ethanol fuel we use here in U.S. That was expensive, but worth it.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I would like to see the finished product. 3 years is a long time to wait I guess, but I can't talk, I spent 9 years on one project!

    • dutchman1951 profile image


      8 years ago from Tennessee, USA

      Yes 64, black on black, leather seats, rag top with turbo kit on it. Took me 3 years to finish it. Trying to post a pic but can not get it to go

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you Dutchman. Would that be a 64 model? An interesting car these days. I have only seen one in Australia ut have seen them in the States quite often up till the mid-nineties, I don't know how many are left on the road now.

      A nice sized rag top.

    • dutchman1951 profile image


      8 years ago from Tennessee, USA

      I really enjoyed this hub, I love cars of all kinds. Excellent points. I have an Old Covair Monza Spider Convertable; last year Chevy made them. Have worked and worked on that car. Love to cruse in it some.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you.

    • RunAbstract profile image


      8 years ago from USA


    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you XZendor. You make very good points about China and India.

      Tata motors in India already build a lot of mini cars, and hopefully will be able to switch to hydrogen fuel cell electric motors along the lines of the Honda Clarity within a few years.

    • xzendor profile image


      8 years ago from Eastern USA

      Nice Hub Earnestshub;

      You're right governments and industry need to start thinking on ways to recycle and to provide incentives to get people around the globe into vehicles that use alternative forms of energy for power.

      China on the other hand may not meet the fate that many of the industrialized countries are faced with. It already has entrepreneurs that are building and retrofitting internal combustion engine based vehicles to run on electric and the Chinese government is instituting initiatives to develop electric, alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles.

      What path India will take is unknown at this stage, but if they expect to be a major player in the future they will need to adopt what we consider advanced technologies if they are going to avoid the environmental problems that are plaguing China currently.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you much writer83, I do my best to keep up with the latest technology in vehicles. It pleases me greatly if I can help even one motorist. Encouragement is nice.

    • writer83 profile image


      8 years ago from Cyber Space

      brilliant article :)

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I thought Honda Civics lasted forever!

      Even the first models are still on the road everywhere here in Australia. A well loved and very tough little car!

    • E. Nicolson profile image

      E. Nicolson 

      8 years ago

      I recently recycled my faithful-to-the-end Civic after many, many years of service. In trying to make sure it was done in an environmental way I checked out several local 'recyclers'. Only one proved to be environmentally viable. If people are serious about doing this responsibly, they have to do their research. Thanks for a great hub which brings this issue to the fore.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thanks Hello,hello. It is interesting to look at recycling cars.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      A great hub and with very interesting points. Thank you for the joy of learning and reading. It doesn't make sense that there is done more about it.


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