What Happens to Old Cars?

By Angela Monroe - May 25, 2021

What Happens to Old Cars h1

916,968 new vehicles were bought in Australia in 2020 – down from over a million in 2019. So, what happens to all the old cars on our roads?

We find out.

More information about old cars

Some old cars become vintage collectables. 

If you’re thinking about selling your old car, know how to prepare it for sale.

Unfortunately, old cars are often a target for thieves, but not with these anti-theft options.

Firstly, the age of cars on Australian roads

aus roads

10.1 years is the average age of cars on Australian roads. That might sound old for a car, but at that age, cars aren’t really ‘old cars’.

What about all the cars from the 1980s and prior?

Fortunately the planet, consumers and manufacturers take auto recycling very seriously.

Car recycling

Car recycling

ELVs (end of life vehicles) are vehicles that are no longer operable on the roads. This can mean they are too expensive to repair per their value or have been wrecked or stripped for parts.

There are around 500,000 ELVs generated in Australia each year. Depending on the year of manufacture and make / model, around 80-90% of the vehicle (by weight) is recyclable.

Auto wreckers sell working parts from ELVs as spare parts which further helps.

Old car recycling process

1: Remove fluids

Auto recyclers remove engine oil, coolant and any remaining fuel. This is for fire safety and reducing harmful vapours.

2: Remove usable parts

This is when sellable spare parts are salvaged for sale

3: Remove other unrecyclable parts

Batteries, some plastics and possible seat foam comes out and is properly disposed of.

4: Shred the frame

A vehicle shredder breaks down and isolates different materials

5: Metals mixed

For transport and reuse, similar materials are mixed together. This is sometimes done by melting them together or simply in groups of small pieces.

6: Material to manufacturers

The recycled materials are sent back to auto manufacturers which are used in the production of new vehicles.

Almost all cars on the road today contain something recycled from previous generations.

How do you recycle your old car?

your old car

If a car isn’t written off, either in an accident or simply from repairs costing more than the value, most old cars are sold to wreckers.

Auto wreckers are able to calculate a price on old cars based on a few different factors;

Year / make / model – you’ll get a higher price for something more common and desirable as the spare parts will be worth more.

Condition / mileage – the higher the number of good condition sellable parts, the higher wreckers will pay.

Salvageable materials – the cost to actually wreck or break apart the vehicle is also factored in as are the resulting materials.

How do I know when to sell my old car to a wrecker?

Generally, people decide to sell old cars to wreckers when a number of other options are exhausted;

It’s unsellable

You’ve put an add up online trying to sell an old car without any luck.

It’s costing too much

The repair bills, registration or insurance are simply more than the car is worth.

It’s unsafe or unroadworthy

Defective cars are dangerous and are often deemed a write off.

Sometimes, after years of transport and hundreds of thousands of kilometers of driving, owners simply decide the car has earned back its original sales price and trying to resell it isn’t worth it.

Having an unregistered and undrivable car on your property might be taking up space, looking awful and preventing you from getting a bit of extra cash from a wrecker.

Other options


Part it out

Some owners of old cars prefer to ‘part them out’ by removing sellable parts and advertising them online. This should only be attempted if you have the know-how, safety equipment, tools and expertise.


Other owners prefer turning their old cars into a weekend project. They’ll replace interior parts like seats and infotainment systems and modernise the vehicle. Some people even replace the engine and drivetrain. You’ll need to check with your state’s laws when renewing registration and driving on public roads. Again, this should only be attempted if you have the know-how, safety equipment, tools and expertise.

Turn old cars into new carsnew car (1)

Most people deal with an old car at the end of its driving life at some point. Selling something you’ve relied on for years to a wrecker only for it to be recycled may be a little sad, but getting a new car can make it all worthwhile.

Many drivers of old cars are surprised to find the options available when upgrading to a new vehicle.

Angela Monroe
Angela Monroe is the Community Manager at The Positive Group, specialising in giving people the information that they need when they need it, and putting you on the path to a fair financial future. She has 8 years of experience in helping Australians find the right finance solutions, and regularly contributes articles to empower Australians with the knowledge they need to become financially healthy.


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