Clunkers get junked; junkers get shredded

By Rick Rouan

Vehicles from the federal Clunkers program are hitting the recycling bin.

GIRARD — Gary Chandler said that he has scrapped Mercedeses, Cadillacs and BMWs at the Furnace Lane shredding yard he manages.

To reduce those road-worthy cars to pieces of metal the size of a fist pains the general manager. But the so-called Cash-for-Clunkers program has mandated that those vehicles be taken off the road and dropped into the shredder.

“I always struggle to shred a Land Rover or a Jaguar,” said Chandler, general manager at Interstate Shredding in Girard. “Any material that can be recycled, we handle,”

The Car Allowance Rebate System was a federal program designed to stimulate the auto industry and send gas guzzlers to the scrap pile. The $3 billion program, which gave $3,500 or $4,500 rebates to car owners looking to upgrade to a more fuel-efficient vehicle, ended in late August.

Now the clunkers that car buyers cashed in are in the hands of salvage yards and shredding plants, where they’ll be cut up and shipped to be melted and formed into usable steel.

The program mandated that the engines be destroyed and the cars be recycled within six months. Dealers kept $50 to process the cars, and customers pocketed the additional money the dealers made from recyclers.

Nearly 700,000 cars were exchanged in the program, and Interstate Shredding was ready to capitalize on the stockpile the program created.

“Basically, we went in to the car dealers and told them, ‘We’ll be your one-stop shop,’” Chandler said.

Chandler said that the company went to car dealers with a plan to buy the cars and transport them.

The company’s pitch was good enough to net more than 1,000 cars, Chandler said.

Once the cars are on the Interstate Shredding lot, the company removes gasoline, oil and Freon from the vehicles before sending them to the shredder, Chandler said.

Cranes lift the cars onto a conveyer belt, dumping them into a shredder, which works like a cheese grater, Chandler said. The fist-sized pieces of metal are sorted from nonmetallic material by magnets and eventually loaded onto trucks or railroad cars to be melted down at local steel mills.

About 76 percent of the vehicle is recycled, Chandler said. Other materials that can’t be recycled go to a landfill.

Chandler would not specify how many car dealers sent clunkers to Interstate Shredding, but none of the car dealers called by The Vindicator said they used another recycler or junk yard for the program.

“We felt we covered the majority of the car dealers in the Mahoning and Trumbull counties,” Chandler said.

Some local junk-yard operators said that they were either priced out of the program or dealers were unclear about the law because of the number of last- minute changes the federal government made.

“We didn’t think we’d stand a chance,” said Violet Schulte of Schulte Auto Wrecking in Youngstown.

Joe Novak, owner of Ohio Auto Sales and Salvage in Columbiana, said that the federal government was unclear about where the clunkers could be sold and that junk yards were left out as a result.

“We missed the boat,” he said.

To participate in the program, dealers had to comply with strict guidelines and file extensive paperwork for each vehicle. Chandler said that he had to sign certificates pledging to recycle each car within six months and turn in the car titles to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, a Department of Justice database of car titles.

Media reports have surfaced that six months is not enough time for pick-a-part salvage yards to maximize profit from the clunkers before sending them to the recyclers.

For recyclers such as Chandler, though, the cars do not need to sit and wait for customers seeking auto parts to fix broken down cars. Chandler said that Interstate Shredding could recycle all of its Cash-for-Clunkers vehicles in two days, and he expects to be finished by the end of November.

The program had little effect on business, Chandler said, adding that the cars recycled through Cash for Clunkers would represent less than 1 percent of the annual material the company recycles.

The effect of Cash for Clunkers on the auto industry and the environment has been called into question too.

The automotive Web site issued a report that said only about 125,000 of the nearly 700,000 cars sold in the program would not have been sold anyway. Earlier this month, the Associated Press released analyzed federal data and determined that the most common car swap was from one pickup truck to another slightly more efficient pickup truck.

Chandler said that Interstate Shredding processed “a lot” of pickup trucks through Cash for Clunkers and that many of the vehicles were still drivable.

“We have shredded some cars that were definitely road-worthy,” he said.

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