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It struck me the other day that we have a couple of old bangers in the back yard, and with all the talk of recycling, is it really possible to recycle cars, and is the metal worth something? – George in Brampton, Ont.

The average vehicle is about 75 per cent metal, all of which can be reclaimed and reused. Thanks to soaring scrap prices over the past few years, metal is hot property and has resulted in missing copper roofs, bronze church bells, and power outages.

Five years ago, our copper penny was worth more than double its face value. You won't see that sort of return on your clunkers, but the metal and possibly some of the parts are still valuable.

Aluminum and copper, and the trace amounts of precious metals in catalytic converters, are worth the most, although vehicles are predominantly composed of steel. Iron is tough to return to a virgin state, so steel is typically down-cycled into products such as rebar for construction.

So just how much can you expect to get for your bangers?

"It all depends. Our industry looks at a car as a car, so some they will fix up and resell, maybe only 5 or 10 per cent of what they buy," says Steve Fletcher, managing director of the Automotive Recyclers of Canada.

If a vehicle can't be given new life, usable parts that are in demand will be sold.

"If there's no real parts value, they look at it in terms of what we call a concentrated metal. So they know based on the car and [vehicle identification number]whether it's got aluminum wheels, a copper radiator, what kind of catalytic convertor does it have? They're not pure recycling, but they're going to get reused somehow.

"And then they look at how much it weighs; metal these days is going for a little less than $300 a ton. So they forecast their revenue, and they might divide by two if it's a real low-end car, and that's what they come up with to value your vehicle," says Fletcher.

What you'll get depends on what you have. "A 1982 Escort might be worth $175; a later-model SUV is going to be worth a lot more because it will have more parts value and weigh more," says Fletcher.

In most cities, every second power pole is plastered with ads for scrappers who will pick up clunkers for free, and pay you for the privilege. Call around to compare prices, but keep in mind that who buys your vehicle can make a difference in where and how it ends up.

"Our members are not looking solely at how much it weighs, but there are many guys out there who operate that way: they're not going to do anything environmental to it, it's going to be squished with all the fluids in it, and who's to care?" says Fletcher.

Fletcher has been with the Ontario Auto Recyclers Association since 1992. "We're all audited to the Canadian Auto Recyclers Environmental Code, which we developed with Environment Canada. We physically go visit the places and see how they deal with the different materials, and where they send them; that's the only level of oversight that exists in the industry right now."

Just how much of a vehicle is recycled, and what happens to the rest?

"With the parts reuse, fluid draining, and removing the tires, we can get it up to about 83 per cent on average – and that's a University of Windsor study. So about 17 per cent ends up going in either as a private landfill, or as a day cover on landfills to cover up the consumer's garbage so the seagulls don't go crazy; essentially it's the rubber, plastics, carpets, glass, foam, and those sorts of things," says Fletcher.

"It's estimated that about 1.2 million vehicles come off the road in Canada every year. That's a rule of thumb; nobody really measures it. I've seen it as low as 800,000 and as high as 1.6 million."

The automotive landscaping in your backyard can certainly be traded for cash, reused and recycled.

Also, if you'd like to make a charitable contribution without opening your wallet, you can turn to an organization such as Car Heaven. With auto recyclers in each province, they'll pick up and tow a vehicle from your yard, and send you a tax-deductible receipt for the value.

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