Where clunkers go to die

Used autos given up by buyers under the federal Cash for Clunkers program travel a rough road to the scrap heap. Here's the usual route:

• A clunker is stored on a dealer lot until the dealer receives federal money owed under the Car Allowance Rebate System rules.

• Once money is received by the dealer, oil is drained from the clunker's engine.

• At the dealership, a solution of sodium silicate, known as liquid glass, is poured into the engine's oil intake and the engine is run. Technicians say a running engine will seize at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, rendering it useless.

• The dealer contacts a government- certified dismantler-recycler to remove the clunker from the dealership.

• Recyclers-dismantlers remove pieces of a clunker, anything from tires to doors to dashboard controls. These are a potential treasure trove for auto technicians and collectors seeking specific parts. Other parts are recycled onto cars in accident insurance settlements. Nothing in a clunker's drivetrain can be salvaged under CARS rules.

• Once stripped of parts, a clunker usually is crushed flat top to bottom. Dismantlers say crushing a clunker into a cube is atypical. Some large-volume metal recyclers have a pricey machine that can shred a clunker carcass into smaller bits. Dismantlers have six months after picking up a car before they must crush or shred it.

• In most cases, the remaining carcass of a clunker is sold to a metal recycler. Some of that metal might see second life as an auto aftermarket part or in other recycled metal-based products sold in the United States.

• Under CARS, the dealer provides an estimate of the salvage value of each clunker, which the customer is supposed to get back, minus a $50 administrative fee, in addition to the rebate. Estimates of salvage value have varied widely across the state, from $50 to $200.

Source:, Sacramento Bee research

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