How To Get Rid of Toxic Used Car Fluids, Tires, and Parts Properly
Disposing of fluids is important, and so is recycling spent parts whose materials can be repurposed.
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If you do any car work that leaves you with waste chemicals like used coolant or chewed-up tires, it’s tempting to squirrel that stuff away in random containers and stick them in a corner. The pile of waste might be forgotten but it never disappears on its own. That toxic stash gets harder to get rid of the bigger it grows. Luckily for you, this guide will help you clean it out properly so you can claim the corners of your garage back.
Trust me. One day, when you emerge from underneath your 15th project car as a grizzled veteran speaking only in broken English, there will be used oil, brake fluid, tires, and coolant everywhere. Today that grizzled veteran is me, and I have to get rid of all this impossibly toxic junk.
Trouble is, it’s inexplicably hard to get rid of used and useless car stuff. The various oils and oil-based fluids are actually easy enough to recycle, but getting rid of coolant, tires, and brake fluid is supremely difficult, at least if you do it the correct way. You should never just throw tires out and you should definitely never pour coolant down the drain. I figured it out so you don’t have to.
Used Tire Disposal
I decided to tackle my tire problem first because of the magnitude of the issue. I had no less than six used Michelin tires laying around that I kept with the idea of drift spares or similar throughout the past two years. Over time, the desire to get my space back dictated that I must get rid of them at a recycling center. They also rotted away in the sun.
There are two avenues for your approach: Keep your eyes peeled for a local tire recycling event hosted by your local municipality or find a recycling center that is willing to accept tires. I found that these events are rare and I couldn’t catch one for months, though it is the most convenient option for anyone with some time to spare. I wanted to rid myself of the tires quickly, so I took to other state resources to find a tire recycling center. Unfortunately, most tire shops won’t accept discarded tires from randoms, at least in California.
I used this handy Earth911 search engine to find tire recyclers near me. It seems that larger cities accept tires no problem, but smaller centers charge a fee of around $5 to $10 per tire recycled. I live in the boonies of Los Angeles County, so I had to rock up to a random, almost abandoned-looking place to drop my tires off. Hopefully you won’t have to knock on a door and wait 10 minutes for a response, but be prepared to explore some interesting places to dispose of tires. Otherwise, it was easy enough, and the tires were out of my life. Good vibes.
Throwing Out Brake Pads, Light Bulbs, Rubber Hoses and Belts
As far as the pile of brake pads I swept up from my garage, those are safe to go in the trash or to a metal recycling place. So are any halogen, xenon, and LED bulbs from your cars, all safe for the normal trash bin. Rubber belts and hoses, too.
Car Battery Disposal
Most folks don’t have car batteries laying around, but if you do have a car battery to get rid of, you can also just take that to your local auto parts store or a local battery recycler. Sometimes the local folks give you cash money for old batteries, a nice bonus.
Contrary to what you might have seen on Quora you should not, in fact, throw your old car batteries into the ocean. We did a rundown of that meme in 2021 if you’re wondering what the hell that’s all about.
Coolant is annoyingly tough to get rid of. I had a few gallons of the stuff from the rebuild of my GTI and my Outback engine swap project and I ended up using the same Earth911 search engine to find a suitable facility for my antifreeze. Instead of a normal recycling place, antifreeze (any color) goes to a hazardous waste facility thanks to its chemical composition with ethylene or propylene glycol. It’s stuff that should never go down a drain, even if getting rid of it properly is a mild pain in the ass. I made sure to have the antifreeze in secure containers and dropped them off at my nearest waste disposal joint. Again, it seems like major cities have dedicated facilities that make this especially easy, but there are private and state-subsidized places that accept it all the same.
Brake Fluid, Power Steering, and Gasoline Fluid Disposal
If you also have brake fluid and power steering fluid, chances are that the local hazardous waste facility will also accept it in its own container. Though it is tempting to mix brake fluid in with engine oil, brake fluid is generally not considered a waste oil, so it can’t be mixed. In fact, I have been advised that it is strongly frowned upon to do so. Regretfully, 17-year old Chris is probably due for a visit from Captain Planet because of this. Make sure to keep brake fluid (same stuff that goes in clutch hydraulics) in its own container and take it to a hazardous waste facility. That same search engine from earlier will help you find one that accepts it.
The worst case scenario is having a hell-cocktail of mixed substances like milkshake from coolant and motor oil mixing, or brake fluid contaminated with engine oil. These will have to be dealt with at a hazardous waste disposal facility that is willing to accept it. Especially call around for this service and make sure that they will take it, because they will turn you away at the door. This stuff can’t be recycled and can only be destroyed by approved methods.
If you have some old gas laying around, a similar facility should take it as well.
Used Motor Oil Disposal
Finally, I left my oil, the easiest one, for last. Though it might not seem like it, I spent a reasonably annoying day driving around and figuring out which facilities were open and actually accepted the materials stated on their sites. The best pro tip I can give is call ahead and don’t be afraid to knock on the doors of dilapidated post-American strip mall units. Mercifully, disposing of waste oils like engine oil, gearbox oil, and differential oil is easy-peasy.
You can safely mix those three oils together and consolidate them into a single container. Most auto parts stores take waste oil no problem, as long as they aren’t contaminated with water or other fluids. Just roll up and drop it off. If you want an alternative option, most cities have a permanent waste oil collection site, as well, that are better suited to larger amounts of oil, rather than five quart jugs. You can also bring used oil filters to any site that accepts used oil.
After that journey, I can finally return home to a clean(er) garage without fluids and tires laying around, and so can you. It takes a little more effort to get rid of the more random waste products of cars, but it is well worth the effort to avoid contaminating the environment or breaking any laws.
You could also avoid all of this by not keeping old junk around and properly storing and disposing of oil quickly rather than letting it lay around and accumulate. Don’t be like me, kids.