Any old iron ?

Posted on November 16th, 2015 by Rob Marshall

Will cars be abandoned in your street, with the collapse of scrap metal prices?
scrap car

Not that long ago, metal was worth so much that anything not nailed down tended to undergo a disappearing act. Even religious buildings were targeted, with estimates being reported of one church, for example, being under ‘nighthawk’ assault every day. Anything, from manhole covers to war memorials were ‘weighed-in’, as thieves sought to benefit from sky-high raw material demand, fuelled by the seemingly insatiable hungry economies of countries based many thousands of miles away from these shores.

With demand now flat-lining in the far-east, plus the recent collapse in oil and energy prices, we have witnessed the effects at home, including not only the sorry collapse of SSI UK, the owner of the Redcar steelworks, but also a significant reduction in the demand for scrap metal.

When scrap prices were high, itinerary scrap metal collectors prowled suburbia regularly in open-backed trucks, on the hunt for “any old iron.” The number of such operators has exploded in recent years, undercutting more legitimate business (including car breakers) that carry the appropriate environmental licenses, comply with the various laws and do not deal in cash.

I had experience of this several years ago, when I sought to sell a car for scrap, or spares. Several fly-by-night operators were quite insistent that should I sell the car to them for cash, with no questions asked. Naturally, this would have put me in a quandary, as I would have been required to tell the DVLA to whom I sold the car, to absolve my legal responsibility as its registered keeper. In the end, I used the services of a professional breaker, who paid a fair price and provided evidence to the authorities that the car had been disposed of, in an environmentally-friendly manner, and that was the last that I heard of it. However, this was in the days, when end-of-life cars had some value.

Now that the price of scrap light iron has dropped ten-fold (from ~£250 to ~£25 per tonne in the last 18 months), the jobbing amateur scrappy is noticeable by his absence, paving the way for licensed car breakers to do their legitimate job. In certain cases, the cost of processing the car for scrap might exceed its value in raw material and parts, meaning that the keeper might have to stump-up the cost of covering the short-fall, especially if the car is non-roadworthy and cannot be driven to its final resting place. However some unscrupulous owners may decide that it is cheaper to remove any trace of the car’s identification and dump it, to avoid any charges.

Since the last scrap metal price slump, which saw the number of abandoned cars explode, carmakers have a legal onus to take back their unwanted vehicles free of charge. There is even a scheme to take back orphaned marques, such as Rover and Daihatsu, for example. However, it is likely that charges will be made for collection services but nobody is quite sure how the scheme will work, especially if a particular geographical area has no specific manufacturer representation.

As we have not been confronted with a scrap metal price crash for a long time, especially since such take-back schemes were established, nobody is sure how they will work in reality, making it possible that we might see an unwelcome re-emergence of the abandoned scrap car that poses health, safety and pollution hazards.