Scrapping metal for money

From Mechanical Database

Jump to: navigation, search
Warning! Don't scrap too much or you'll become this!


Getting started

Although a familiar concept to some independent mechanics, a lot of people still throw away lots of potential money in the trash by failing to scrap/recycle their metal. This article will help provide tips on how to maximize the amount of money that can be recovered from metal obtained from working on cars, and various ways to do it right in order to avoid wasting much time or money.

Almost every decently sized town or city has a metal recycling facility. We call them the scrap yards, usually a dirty place, visited by the lowest members of society. It's not uncommon to see ghetto people with missing teeth, bags taped over windows, vehicles with collapsed suspensions, and latches held on by coat hangers. But don't let that be a discouragement, you won't be visiting it for a daily living (or at least you should not be!). Scrapping metal in general is the biggest waste of time and the lowest profession anyone can chose, other than flipping burgers. That's not what this article focuses on though, this article is for mechanics who work on cars and usually have some metal left over. Rather than throwing that metal away, it's a smart decision to collect it and once enough is obtained to take it to a scrap yard.

Scrap yards

Typical scrap yard sporting the ever familiar style of entrance gates.

There may be several metal recycling facilities in your area. Call them or visit them, and find out their prices. See how well they operate and how organized they are. Typically facilities that are better organized, corporately owned and operated, will have better payout prices and less of a hassle to deal with. Most of the better facilities have organized lines for vehicles, multiple scales for valuable metals, and pay cash on the spot.

A typical scrap yard visit consists of two areas. One will be a line to a scale on which an entire vehicle is weighed prior to dropping off the weight. If they have a digital readout pay attention to the weight of your vehicle, it will sometimes vary and scrap yards have been known to have incorrect readings before even if they claim their scales are always calibrated. After getting a clearing from the scale worker the vehicle proceeds to pull up next to a pile of scrap steel and dump all of the contents, prior to getting back on the scale and receiving a ticket with the payout amount to take to the teller inside.

The second area consists of a finer scale for more valuable metals. The vehicle usually pulls up to the scale and the various groups of valuable metals brought are weighed individually, before a ticket for the payout amount is given. Some examples would be copper, aluminum, radiators, electric fan motors, and etc.

Sometimes junk yards will also function as scrap yards, more often than not. However their payout prices are usually smaller and they may not be able to buy certain metals. It's best to only go to dedicated scrap yards unless there are no other options.


Scrapping is a business often conducted by thieves, by stealing metal from various sources like other's outdoor A/C units or construction sites. When theft of metal gets out of hand on a massive scale, police will sometimes be posted outside of local scrap yards to check everyone and attempt to catch the thieves. Therefore, if you have any expired tags, driving violations, or other traffic related issues which could result in more trouble then it's recommended you get them resolved because the police will be more than glad to write you tickets while they're at it.

Scrap metal vs cores

When you purchase used parts from auto salvage yards, there will usually be a core charge for the part. This is to ensure that the salvage yard gets the value of their metal back. One might be tempted to just take all left over parts to a scrap yard, however auto salvage yards already have the core prices figured out quite well to make this a waste of time. For example, a junkyard may charge a $ 30 core on an engine. In order to take that engine to a scrap yard and get anything but the base scrap steel price for it, one would have to take apart the heads, remove the entire valvetrain, separate all of the various metal types, remove the aluminum pistons, and etc. This consumes a lot of time and usually after all the work the individual may get only $ 25 on the disassembled engine.

Therefore, if you ever have receipts for used parts from junkyards always return the components there and get your core charge back instead of wasting time. Auto salvage yards are not picky about the type of core returned back as long as it has a similar amount of metal. For instance, returning an alternator for an A/C compressor core is usually fine, because they both contain similar amounts of aluminum and other metals. A 1.6 L I4 engine returned as a core for a 2.4 L I4 engine is usually also ok, since they are both 4 cylinder engines.

Changing rates

The price of scrap metal is usually set by supply and demand, along with the economy. If prices are up quite high it may be a good time to clean up your property and get rid of all unneeded parts, or if they are low it may be good to stockpile scrap metal until it becomes more fair. One example is the price of steel at most scrap yards in the South Florida area was about $ .10 per lb at one point. This made scrapping just about anything worthwhile, and then once the demand and economy died down, the prices fell as low as $ .02 at one point, making scrapping a waste of time and value. It took a few months before going back up to a norm of $ .05 which made things more acceptable. The national averages of scrap metal prices can also be checked online in various places, although most websites exist for people/companies that scrap large amounts of metal, usually in quantities of 1000 lbs or more.

Metal types & preparation

Most automotive parts can easily fit into the following categories listed below. When getting valued metals weighed, do not be afraid to ask the scale operator how much it is, the price per lb, and their explanation behind it. Sometimes if you haven't prepared something properly you will get the cheapest price without even getting notified as they figure most people already know how the things they are handing in will be priced, or will fail to notice on the ticket.

Scrap steel

Everything that doesn't fit into one of the following categories is usually weighed as scrap steel. The cheapest metal, it only pays to have it in quantity. This would include things like engine blocks, various body parts, sheet metal, and just about all miscelaneous metal waste that's created from car work. The benefit is that it requires no preparation and scrap yards allow a bit of impurities with it due to it's price. For example, if you have a bunch of pipes with hoses connected to them still, metal parts that have a lot of plastic components, a roof that was cut off of a car with the headliner still in place, that is ok, although it does vary based on the facility. Average price is about $ .05 per lb.

Chopping up cars without titles

The police actually asked me if I was running a chop shop.

Sometimes if you have a vehicle without a title you wish to get rid of, you cannot do so because a junkyard requires titles for every vehicle they buy to prevent the acquisition of stolen property. However scrap yards do not accept whole vehicles either. An easy way around this, to clean up the vehicle off of the property and also get a few dollars is to chop it in pieces and load it either on a trailer or in a van. An example can be seen on the right, a wrecked Ford Escort which had all valuable parts removed and the rest of the vehicle taken in pieces to a scrap yard.

There are two ways anyone can accomplish the work. One way involves using an angle grinder with large 7" cutoff wheels, made possible through the removal of the safety shield. Although this way is dangerous and the cutting blades cost money, which reduces the end gain. A safer alternative is to use a sawzaw. The blades are usually cheaper and last longer, and far safer to use. For either approach, using the cheapest tools from the Hardware Store is not recommended as some of the budget low amp models will usually burn out from being put to hard use. Another good idea is to have a sledge hammer ready. Certain times when it's hard to cut the last bit of sheet metal or some hard to reach areas, can be cut to the best of the person's ability and then finished off with a few powerful strikes from a heavy sledge. Plus the activity is quite fun and an exceptionally good workout. It allows the novice mechanic to see exactly how the unibody is structured inside the pillars and various areas.

The amount of work required depends on the requirements of the scrap yard and the towing capability of the individual. Some scrap yards will typically demand the car be cut in 3-4 pieces, with the seats removed because they do not have too much metal inside them and take up a lot of space.


Car batteries can sometimes be worth more than the average dirty steel price, and are worth handing in with all the other alloys and etc. However you should check your scrap yard because some pay the same price as regular dirty steel, making the extra hassle not even worth it. Just dump them out with all the other general steel objects in the pile rather than taking them to the scales. Although scrap yards will frown upon this because batteries contain acid and need to be dealt with properly. Maybe they should consider paying more fairly for them in that case!

Cast aluminum

Self explanatory, includes clean casts such as intake manifolds, cylinder heads that have been disassembled, alternator mounts, A/C mounts, bellhousings that have been stripped of all internals, etc. If you have even anything non aluminum showing on these pieces the scale operator will typically refuse to let you hand it in at the cast aluminum price. Do yourself a favor and use an angle grinder to cut off a few small hose connections, pipes, mounts and whatnot that aren't part of the casting. If some pieces still remain inside it's ok, as they're barely visible and at least it shows you made an effort.

Clean aluminum

All aluminum pieces that are machined, formed, and etc fit into this category as long as they are not cast. This is because the quality of the aluminum is usually higher, and the material is cleaner. Things such as A/C lines (as long as you cut off the rubber hoses) or aluminum rods and blocks would be considered clean aluminum.


Usually the most expensive metal, this can sometimes be found in various A/C lines, thick battery terminals, occasional brackets, inside Alternators, and sometimes the main element in a radiator. For most it's not worth digging out unless you have too much free time. If you can make a clean easy cut where needed to result with a clean piece of copper then you should definitely do so. Normal prices average in the $ 1.5-4 per lb.

Electric fan motors

Due to the high amount of copper used in electrical motors, scrap yards have a special price for them. This includes everything that is built similarly to electric fan motors as well. This category includes but not limited to radiator fans, fuel injectors, ignition coils, alternators, idle air control valves, blower motors, transformers, and etc.


Stands for Insulated Copper Wire. Keep in mind there are various classes for ICW. Copper wire from your house which is completely solid and thick, is classified with a better payout price than plain mixed copper wires made up of strains. However the good thing is the lowest grade, which usually includes most wiring in automobiles isn't really taken too strictly as far as plugs and connectors go by most scrap yards. Some won't accept it unless they're all cut, but those scrap yards should be avoided to begin with because they will cause many headaches in plenty of other areas by their control freak scale operators.

Irony cast

This category is for items that aren't worth separating to extract the more valuable metals, and are contaminated by plain steel/iron components. An example of this would be an automatic transmission or a cylinder head that has not been completely disassembled. If handing in a component such as an automatic transmission, the fluid usually has to be drained and the oil pan removed else the scrap yard will not accept it due to environmental regulations. Various other components that have a fair mix of metals can be handed in, however if something is mostly steel or cast iron while only having a little bit of a metal such as aluminum, the scale operator will refuse to weigh as irony cast and tell you to drop it off in the pile with typical steel.

Catalytic converters

Notorious for getting stolen by thieves for their high value. Catalytic converters contain platinum and paladium, two very expensive metals. They can be priced from 40-80 dollars on average, however require finding the proper places to hand them in. Most average scrap yards do not give much for them because they are not qualified to know which ones are good sources of the metals or how much they would be worth, so typically they will offer only $ 5-10. It is recommended to save them instead of handing them in, until a good buyer is found.


Radiators can be either Copper or Aluminum inside. Most scrap yards have their own prices for radiators. However this requires that the radiators cores are cut off of the reserevoir tanks and handed in alone. Reservoir tanks are normally plastic on most new cars and therefore unacceptable. Cutting a radiator core is extremely easy with an angle grinder, the thin metal usually cuts like cutter. Failing to do this will usually result in getting a far cheaper price for the metal, such as dirty aluminum or dirty copper. This category also includes A/C condensers, heater cores, and anything else that functions just like a radiator.

Alternative buyers

Sometimes scrap yards may not be the best option for more specific car parts, such as cores (heads, alternators, transmissions), or catalytic converters because they do not specialize in them specifically. Although more rare companies exist that purchase these specifically, and will usually pay a better price. Some of these companies however have very strict qualifications and won't even accept catalytic converters from individuals due to the risk of acquiring stolen property. In some areas there are independent scrap dealers that go around and buy cores, batteries, and catalytic converters from mechanic shops, and then take them to the ports themselves where they can receive more money. Finding them is quite simple if you call around a few local mechanic garages and ask if they have anyone they sell their scrap metal to, they won't have any problems sharing their number. After getting in touch with the person, inquire upon what kind of items they accept and how much they pay for them so you can make a better decision as to what goes to the scrap yard and what doesn't.

Lifestyle & influence

Dedicated scrappers

Scrapping metal is good for the environment and your budget. But it is advised to not become consumed in this practice, as most individuals usually do by having really idealistic expectations of an otherwise dirty and low life activity. Observe carefully how most of the frequent scrap yard visitors dress, and act. Pay attention to show they talk, and you'll quickly realize the safe limit. Sometimes it's not even worth spending much time on scrapping metal other than a quick dropoff trip to the scrap yard to get a few bucks and get rid of the garbage. Avoid making friends and communicating with as many people as possible at the scrap yard. A heavy portion of which are usually heavy drug users and/or lack social and mental capital, effectively limiting their possibilities in life. This is not an over exaggeration, I've met everything from prison gang nazi skinheads that don't even know what the internet is to coked up ghetto people at scrap yards.

Besides from that you'll typically ruin a lot of your property by partaking in scrapping often. Most scrappers have destroyed their vehicles to make them completely worthless in value and have caused a variety of injuries to themselves at the same time.

Written by Alex.

Also see