In 2008, on a tenacious summer day in sunny New Mexico, I strode into a Saturn automobile dealership and I left with a new Saturn Astra XE. The dealership was a sociable place to do business with but unfortunately the Saturn Corporation ceased operations in 2010.
Approximately nine years later, on a relentless spring day in rainy Oregon, I traded in the Saturn for a 2014 Fiat 500L; at a friendly CarMax dealership. Oddly, while driving home, I thought: ‘What happens to my used car? Or any used car, for that matter?’
Many vehicles are repaired, renewed, and resold as previously owned vehicles by dealerships and used car lots. Despite the colorful images of classics American cars gliding through the streets of Havana or some other foreign capital, the United States generally does not ship its used cars to other countries. And specifically, in Cuba, the classic cars, that the country is famous for, had existed in Cuba prior to the US embargo of the early 1960s.
The destiny of nearly all automobiles, at the end of their useful lives, is the vehicle recycling process. Every country in the world has some form of automotive recycling facilities. These facilities can range from scrap/junk yards to sophisticated state-of-the-art recycling plants. Obviously, environmental concerns come into play with any recycling process.
The recycling process for vehicles, in general, involves disassembly, the salvage of usable parts, and the recycling of the metal shell. The recycling of the metallic parts of an automobile usually involves a crushing and shredding process. These metallic pieces are reformed into other products; as components for new cars, for example. Rubber tires, window glass and other automotive elements are also recycled, reformed, and reused. In some unfortunate cases, automobiles parts are put into landfills. Presently, automotive recycling is a major industry in the US with nearly 7000 plants nationwide.
There are varying regulations worldwide, depending on the countries/region, on the end of life of vehicles. In Europe, a comprehensive End of Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive has been established by the European Union; since 1997.
There is no federal law governing ELV in the United States. There is an active consortium of activities and directives, related to this issue of Vehicle End of Life, from the US automobile industry, state government initiatives, environmental activists, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Many sources report that the vehicle population worldwide crested the one billion mark in 2010 and it continues to raise.