Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable
Promoting Pollution Prevention Through Information Exchange

Please note that the Topic Hubs developed by this Center have been archived and are no longer being updated. GLRPPR has converted several of its Topic Hubs to LibGuides, which allow for integration of some social features.

View the converted hubs, as well as other LibGuides related to pollution prevention and sustainability, in the University of Illinois' LibGuides Community.

Archived: P2Rx no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

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Auto Salvage-Great Lakes Region: P2 Opportunities
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons for Change
Barriers to Change
Environmental Regulations
P2 Opportunities
Key Contacts
Where to go for P2 Help
Complete List of Links

Essential Links:

End of Life Vehicle Solutions (ELVS)
The End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corporation (ELVS) was created by the automotive industry to promo...

Environmental Compliance and Pollution Prevention Guide for Automobile Recyclers
This guide is designed to inform automobile recyclers about registrations, permits and regulations p...

Florida Automotive Recyclers? Handbook
This handbook includes: suggested best management practices for incoming cars, vehicle crushers and ...

Mercury?Automotive Topic Hub
This primer is intended as a quick guide to the essential pollution prevention information on mercur...

National Compliance Assistance Clearinghouse
The clearinghouse provides quick access to compliance tools, contacts, and information on planned ac...

National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program
EPA announced a national program August 11, 2006 that will help cut mercury air emissions by up to 7...

Quick Checklist of Pollution Prevention Ideas & Activities for Auto Salvage Yards

  • Take an active role in communicating with government agencies--they can provide invaluable assistance.
  • Develop a Best Management Practice (BMP) and Pollution Prevention (P2) Program. This will help create a professional, clean and well-run business environment. There are several Great Lakes state specific guidance manuals available. See the ?Complete List of Links? section of this hub for links to resources for your state.
  • Train employees about pollution prevention (P2), what the hazardous wastes are at the facility, and their potential impacts.
  • Metals?Recycle the following:
    • Lead, found in wheel weights, battery cable ends, radiators, heater cores, and transmission fluid
    • Platinum found in catalytic converters
    • Copper found in wiring
    • Steel found in engine parts and body parts
    • Aluminum found in body parts, hubcaps, and engine parts
  • Gasoline--Use in facility vehicles.
  • Engine Oil?Recycle.
  • Antifreeze/Engine Coolant--Reuse or recycle.
  • Brake Fluid--Reuse, recycle or dispose as a hazardous waste.
  • Transmission Fluids--Recycle or dispose as a hazardous waste.
  • Refrigerants--Recover, reclaim, or recycle.
  • Tires--Sell for reuse, recycling or energy production.
  • Engines--Sell for reuse or recycle as scrap metal.
  • Miscellaneous Rubber--Sell or recycle.
  • Foam Rubber from Interior--Recycle at a carpet mill for foam padding.
  • Hydraulic Oil--Recycle along with waste oil.
  • Windshield Wiper Fluid--Reuse, collect and resell.
  • Brake Shoes NOT containing asbestos?Recycle.
  • Brake Shoes Containing Asbestos--Dispose of as a hazardous waste.
  • Lead-Acid Batteries--Collect and ship to a recycler.
  • Oil Filters--Drain, collect and recycle metal.
  • Air Bag Cartridges--Resell, recycle or dispose of as a hazardous waste.
  • Headlights and Accessory Light Bulbs--Resell or recycle at bulb remanufacturing facility.


Employees should be adequately trained on procedures to capture any fluids in the equipment. Appropriate capture and secondary containment equipment should be provided, and work should never be performed during a rain or other precipitation event. Develop a waste and recycling awareness training program for employees.

Understand state recycling and waste generator classifications. Reusing or reclaiming some materials in some states does not count toward the facility?s waste generator status.

Debris and trash should be picked up and disposed of on a regular basis.

A preventive maintenance inspection program should be implemented. Inspection of tanks, valves, hoses, containers, etc. should be performed on all equipment and storage vessels on site.

Spill cleanup equipment should be provided at locations where spills are most likely to occur.

Uncovered vehicle storage areas should have a separate stormwater collection system with an oil/grit separator which discharges to the municipal sanitary sewer or to a dead holding tank.

Oil/water separators should receive only floor wash down or vehicle washing wastewaters. They must not be used to collect spills or concentrated wastes.

Floor drains in service bays and vehicle washing areas should be connected either to a holding tank with a gravity discharge pipe, to a sump which pumps to a holding tank, or to an appropriately designed oil/grit separator which discharges to a municipal sanitary sewer.

Used batteries that are waiting to be transferred to the recycling facility should be kept indoors in a non-corrosive container or on a covered platform with secondary containment or berms provided so that battery acid leaks can not reach drains or the soil.

Collect and reuse, to the greatest extent possible, all hazardous materials that would otherwise require disposal, such as gasoline and antifreeze.

Activities such as burning waste oil for heat outside or burning insulation off wiring should be discontinued to reduce or eliminate particulate and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. In some states law or policy prohibits these activities.

Store vehicles and equipment inside or in covered areas to eliminate stormwater (rainwater or snowmelt runoff) from coming in contact with the surface. Stormwater can be contaminated with oil and other residues deposited on the exposed surfaces of vehicles and parts.

Surround vehicle storage areas, with a dike to prevent leaking fluids from being carried away by rainwater or snowmelt runoff. Diked runoff can be directed to an oil/water separator and discharged to a wastewater treatment plant, with proper permits. Check with local and state authorities to determine permit requirements.

Collect all stormwater runoff from the yard into an oil-water separator system prior to discharging to the storm sewer or groundwater. Maintain and clean out equipment on a regular basis.

Drains may be found on the interior as well as the exterior portion of the property. Any exterior drain on the property that connects to a drain field or septic system should be sealed to prevent the release of runoff that may contain hazardous materials (oil, gas, etc). Interior drains within the work areas should be sealed as well.

Develop a diagram (process map) that identifies the salvage process from start to finish. Create as many branches as needed. Identify waste streams from each step. This will provide a good picture of where waste is generated and where opportunities exist to better manage the materials that become waste.

Issue drip pans to customers who remove parts in the yard. Supervise them to ensure that they use drip pans as required.

Add berms around solid (concrete or asphalt) surfaces to prevent fluids from running off into the soil.

Use a computerized inventory system to avoid overstocking of used parts.

Evaluate whether operations could be improved to further reduce releases of hazardous materials. For example, discuss how vehicles or materials brought to the facility are handled, and how this could be modified to further reduce releases of hazardous materials to the environment.

Have batteries hauled away once enough are accumulated for hauling.

Have the appropriate equipment available and in good working order to collect fluids and refrigerants.

Segregate all waste fluids into separate containers prior to reuse, recycling or disposal.

Close all hazardous material containers when not in use. [This is required by Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requirements.]

Label all containers used for storing wastes with at least the name of the waste contained and the start date of filling.

Incoming Vehicles

Incoming vehicles should be inspected and inventoried. The inventory should include checking for fluid leaks and searching for unwanted material that could have been placed in the vehicle.

Batteries should be removed from the vehicle as soon as the vehicle enters the facility or as early as feasible.

Fluids should be removed from the vehicle as soon as possible.

Oil removed from vehicles should be reused or recycled off-site.

Antifreeze (ethylene or propylene glycol) removed from vehicles can be recovered either on-site or off-site. Units are available which chemically restore ethylene glycol by removing impurities and neutralizing organic acids formed as breakdown products of the coolant. Other services are available which will regularly remove and process used antifreeze, selling the product back to the generator at reduced cost. Do not mix antifreeze with used oil or other automotive fluids (i.e. brake fluid, etc.).

Transmission fluid that is contaminated with heavy metals cannot be reused but can be recycled. Do not mix with used motor oil or other automotive products

Power steering fluid can be toxic if released into the environment. The fluid reclaimed from vehicles should be reused or recycled off site.

Brake fluid should be recycled or disposed as a hazardous waste by a licensed hazardous waste facility.

Reuse or sell windshield wiper fluid.


Parts removed from the vehicles should be drained of fluids prior to disposal.

Use drip pans, plastic sheets or canvas tarps beneath vehicles, parts and equipment during dismantling activities. Parts that are removed should be placed in drip pans. Drip pans should not be left unattended. A policy to empty or secure them each night should be implemented.

Engine oil should be drained and stored in clearly labeled tanks or containers.

Used oil filters should be punctured to drain the oil out. Once drained, the oil filter can be recycled as metal scrap.

Dedicate a single area of the salvage yard to vehicle disassembly and fluids/refrigerants removal. This area should have a bermed, impervious surface and be under cover to protect from stormwater exposure. In addition, drip pans should be used during all fluids removal operations.

Keep the disassembly area clear of stacked vehicles or parts so that disassembly is always conducted in one dedicated area.

Mercury switches should be removed from the vehicles prior to crushing and shredding. The switches should be disposed of according to local and state regulations. Some states, including New York, have initiated mercury switch collection programs that assist auto recyclers with disposal.

Sodium azide air bag cartridges should be removed from vehicles during the initial disassembly process. The cartridges should be stored in a closed container. The cartridges can be resold, recycled or disposed of as a hazardous waste.

Eliminate or minimize, through controls and proper practices, the release of air conditioning refrigerants such as chloroflorocarbons (CFCs) into the environment. Recovery activities must be performed by someone who is trained and certified according to U.S. EPA regulations.

Store all engines and transmissions that have been drained of fluids under cover and over an impervious floor. Use drip pans to catch any residual fluids.

Parts Cleaning and Degreasing

Aqueous or alkaline cleaners may be substituted for solvent-based cleaners in some applications, particularly for non-aluminum parts.

High-pressure water washing may be an effective method of parts cleaning; wastewater can be treated with an oil/water separator and recycled.

Pre-clean parts with a squeegee, rag, or wire brush, followed by steam cleaning, high-pressure wash, or hot bath which recycles an aqueous solution using an oil separator. This approach minimizes or even eliminates the use of hazardous solvents and may prolong the life of any subsequent cleaning solution.

Where possible use only hot water for the pre-cleaning and subsequent cleaning steps. With a recycling system, a detergent may be used and arrest inhibitor may be added if parts are sensitive to corrosion.

Engine Steam Cleaning

Eliminate the use of solvents for steam cleaning engines and parts. Use phosphate-free biodegradable detergents for parts and engine cleaning.

Steam cleaning should not be conducted outside, where wastewaters may be discharged to the ground. The wastewater should be directed to an oil-water separator for pre-treatment prior to reuse or discharge.

If no detergents or solvents are used and an in-line oil water separator is used to remove oil and grease from the wastewater, steam-cleaning wastewaters may be discharge to the municipal sanitary sewer. Check with the local Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) to confirm authorization to discharge this water.

If detergents or solvents are employed, wastewaters should either be recycled and reused or discharged to a holding tank.

Capture and reuse wash water used for power washing engines by installing catch basins for the water in the cleaning area. The water can be filtered and reused. By reducing the volume of water used, the facility minimizes water and sewer costs. Additionally, the volume of cleaning products (typically degreasers) needed is minimized because residual cleaner is retained in the re-circulated wash water.

Crushing and Shredding

Conduct all vehicle-crushing operations in a bermed, impervious area. Fluids from the crusher that collect in the bermed area should be removed and stored in covered and labeled containers prior to proper disposal.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Auto Salvage-Great Lakes Region Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable
Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable
Contact email:

Hub Last Updated: 8/2/2012

GLRPPR is a member of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange, a national network of regional information centers: NEWMOA (Northeast), WRRC (Southeast), GLRPPR (Great Lakes), ZeroWasteNet (Southwest), P2RIC (Plains), Peaks to Prairies (Mountain), WSPPN (Pacific Southwest), PPRC (Northwest).


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