The automobile industry is generally not considered to be the most environmentally friendly. Cars require a great deal of resources to make and they typically run on fossil fuels – but nonetheless, the industry’s impact on the environment is becoming significantly lighter as more manufacturers focus on refurbishing and reusing the whole vehicle, all the way down to aftermarket headlights.
Most of the time, discussion of “greening” the automobile industry focuses on how vehicles are designed and what they run on. The lack of widely available electric cars, which would put out effectively no carbon emissions, continues to be a sticking point for people who want to see their cars run greener. And of course, all major manufacturers are engaged in a race to offer the most fuel-efficient traditional cars and the highest performance gas/electric hybrids. But the reduction in fuel use and emissions only tells part of the story of how the auto industry is cleaning up its act.
For example, Ford has expanded its vehicle recycling program significantly. Auto manufacturers have always sought to reuse viable parts from aftermarket vehicles, but, until recently, very few parts were eligible. Any imperfection, such as a scratch, ding or spot of rust, once rendered a part unusable, consigning it to the landfill. But manufacturers like Ford have substantially widened the range of parts they will reuse and the definition of what qualifies as acceptable condition. Parts will be repaired and refurbished, then put back to use, rather than being passed on to the scrap heap.
Why the change of heart? In many ways, money is driving force. More automobile parts are made of expensive plastics than they once were, and the price of high grade plastic has risen. At the same time, auto parts are, on the whole, more complex than they once were, with more “fiddly bits” such as electronics built into parts across the vehicle. The cost of manufacturing such complex parts is high, so the relatively lower cost of refurbishing them is worth paying.
A perfect example is headlights. Ford has only recently begun accepting headlights into its recycling program, but recapturing and refurbishing used headlights – which are often large pieces integrated into the contour of the car itself – has made for big savings. The refurbished headlights can then be used by Ford and its dealerships or marketed as aftermarket headlights direct to the consumer. Is this a new era of green for the auto industry? Potentially, but one thing is for sure: more recycling means less waste, and a lower price tag for the customer.
Samantha Wideman is part of a team of writers and specializes in writing about current news events, technology, and the environment.