What are 'green' car parts and why are we talking about them?

By: John Evans

What are 'green' car parts?

No, they're not mildew-covered window rubbers; instead, they're parts salvaged from scrap vehicles that have been checked and tested, if necessary refurbished and cleaned, clearly identified and their origin recorded before being sold to the public and the motor trade.

Why are we talking about them now?

Because they play an important role in helping the motor industry reduce its carbon footprint, so are better for the planet than new parts. Also, as everything becomes more expensive, they are a good way of reducing vehicle repair costs since they're much cheaper than new parts by up to 70%. 

Are they popular?

Put it this way, according to motor industry trade body the SMMT, waste to landfill per vehicle fell to its lowest level in 2021 – down 2.6% year on year and down no less than 96.2% in 23 years. Amazingly, this is without many vehicle owners realising green parts exist and to know to ask for them when repairing their cars, so there's lots of potential for further reductions.

 

What green parts are available?

Apart from wiring looms, which are difficult to extract without ripping and tearing them (although the copper they contain is captured and recycled), pretty much every type of part is available including engines, transmissions, suspension parts, body panels, electrical components, interior trim and glass.

 

How are parts salvaged without being damaged?

A leading innovator in green part recovery is vehicle recycling company Charles Trent Ltd, based in Poole, Dorset. Earlier this year, it launched a so-called 'deproduction line' down which scrap cars – category A write-offs are excluded and must be crushed – travel on steel carriers to be systematically stripped of their parts by hand. It's not easy work so to assist the operators and provide better access, car and carrier can be turned through 90 degrees.

What are the stages of deproduction?

The first and arguably the most important one, is the vehicle logging stage where vehicle IDs are logged and causes of loss and mileages recorded so there's no doubt about the origin and nature of the parts salvaged from them. Then comes the depollution stage where oils, fluids and gases are drained and captured, followed by the removal of doors and bonnets, lights and centre console and, at stage five, removal of the engine, gearbox, rear axles, catalytic converter and tailgate. At stage six the dashboard, wiring, radio/infotainment system and heater control unit are removed. Stage seven sees the engine and major mechanicals removed and checked ­– the engine repair area turns out six checked and functioning engines per day. The whole deproduction process takes 15 minutes. Including its Poole operation, Trent plans to have six deproduction centres recovering three million parts from 275,000 cars each year.

 

What happens to the green parts?

Each part (Trent's Poole plant can store up to 70,000 of them, including 7000 body panels) is catalogued and many of the parts then sold and shipped by eBay via the site's My Garage portal and Certified Recycled hub. Trent isn't the only company salvaging spare parts on an industrial scale. Another is ASM Auto Recycling in Thame, Oxfordshire.

 

Who buys green parts?

The public accounts for the lion's share followed by garages, among them main dealers who buy them to beat the long delays on deliveries of many new parts. As long as they are genuine parts, as in manufacturer-approved, or do not cause consequential damage to existing parts, they can use them without invalidating a vehicle's warranty. If you're in doubt, check the warranty small print before agreeing to their use. Insurers are increasingly using green parts as well, to reduce claims costs and speed up repair times. While most policies permit them to use green parts, those they use must be no older than the car they are to be fitted to.

 

How do the prices of new and green parts compare?

A new door mirror for a 2020-reg VW Golf costs £306 but a used one bought on eBay Certified Recycled is around £200. A new rear door for a 2021-rg Tesla Model 3 Long Range

is £558 but a used one, again via eBay, is around £360. A new headlight assembly for a 2018-reg Mini Cooper is £598 but bought through eBay costs around £275. Parts are graded A to D with bodywork parts checked and judged on appearance and mechanical components on their operation and the source vehicle's mileage.

What green parts should be avoided?

Accredited green parts suppliers are not allowed to sell airbags and, in any case, you should be wary of buying any safety-related parts. Parts, especially absorbent interior ones such as seats and carpets that have been salvaged from flooded vehicles should be avoided, too, since they may be contaminated.

 

What measures are in place to guarantee the origin, traceability and quality of green parts?

The Vehicle Recyclers Association (VRA) Certification scheme provides independent assessment of a recycler's policies and procedures to ensure every reclaimed vehicle part has been accurately identified, recorded, tested and graded. Look for the symbol. Currently, 120 recyclers recognised as Authorised Treatment Facilities (ATF) hold VRA accreditation, so you're never far from one. Mechanical parts have a three-month warranty and body work, one year.  

 

What other green part initiatives are there?

Last year (2022), Renault launched its so-called Refactory for recommissioning used Renault cars and other makes using parts from scrap cars sourced from salvage yards and dealers. Parts salvaged from Renault's own recycling centre, also located on the site, are used as well. The plant can refurbish 55 cars an hour. Another Renault facility repurposes used EV batteries for energy storage. 

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