HomeTips & GuidesCar Looms and Wire Harness Recycling: The Grades and Recycling Processes

Car Looms and Wire Harness Recycling: The Grades and Recycling Processes

This article will examine the car looms and wire harness recycling process.

The average vehicle built in the US contains about 50 pounds of copper: 40 pounds in electrical wires and 10 pounds in non-electrical components. 

Because the electrical pathways have more of this valuable metal, recycling car looms and wire harnesses is necessary to cut costs and minimize wastage. 

Also, recycling helps reduce the impact copper mining has on the environment. So let’s look at this recycling process, plus what drives this need to recycle metal.

Table of Contents

Is Car Loom and Wire Harness Recycling Lucrative?

The forces of supply and demand play a significant role in determining if this business is lucrative. 

Globally, the market for copper wires is on a steady incline due to the increase in hybrid and electric vehicles, wiring complexity in modern vehicles, and infrastructure-related copper wiring demands.

These factors have driven copper prices through the roof, which is good news for copper recyclers because copper scrap metal prices have also risen.

Copper wires in an EVs lithium battery pack

Copper wires in an EVs lithium battery pack

And this recycling is good for some countries. For instance, the US was largely self-sufficient in satisfying its local demand for copper in the late 90s and early 2000s. 

And almost half of this copper came from recycling. But recent advancements in electric vehicles and renewable energy have made the deficit huge.

So recycling is still big business because the deficit keeps the prices high. And premium-grade copper scrap can cost as high as 95% of the value of the metal obtained from mineral ores.

Grades of Copper Scrap From Car Looms and Wire Harnesses

Copper scrap falls into two categories.

New Scrap

This scrap is the premium-grade type because it is unused copper. It comes from factories making copper products, such as wiring harnesses, bus bars, and pipe manufacturers. 

This excess or waste material from this production process undergoes remelting to produce other copper products. 

And it accounts for the largest category of copper metal recycling.

Post-Consumer Material Scrap

We are more interested in this category because car looms and wire harnesses end up in scrap yards at their end of life. 

Recovering this material is costlier than new scrap, so the extent of reusability usually fluctuates depending on the copper prices. 

And since the prices are high, recycling these wires is also lucrative.

Cars dumped in a scrap yard

Cars dumped in a scrap yard

Car Loom and Wire Harness Recycling Process

You’ll need the following equipment for the recycling process.

  • Copper wire granulator
  • Industrial double-shaft shredder
  • Copper single-shaft shredder
  • Aluminum single-shaft shredder (some cables have aluminum wire strips to cut weight)
  • Wire stripper
  • Vibrating separator
A vibrating screen separator

A vibrating screen separator

Traditionally, recycling car looms and wire harnesses has been difficult due to the bundled wires and extraneous material (tubes, plastic connectors, fuses, etc.). 

Although the process has become less complicated, removing the outer layers is critical before handling the wires.

This step is necessary to remove trace impurities in the recycled copper, which can affect the quality and properties of the copper.

 Otherwise, you might end up with affordable wire looms but with poor-quality harness wires.

And please note that you can only use newly mined copper or new scrap to make high-conductivity wires or cables for similar high-performance applications.

High conductivity wires in an EV battery pack

High conductivity wires in an EV battery pack

Recycling Process

After removing the plastic connectors and shields, some processes use mechanical methods to cut and strip the wires to separate the metal from the insulation.

 This technique leaves the recycled metal purer but requires more work.

Damaged car wiring harnesses

Damaged car wiring harnesses

An easier way to remove this insulation is by incinerating the wires to burn the insulation, leaving the metal exposed for recycling. But incineration pollutes the environment.

This low-temperature burning process releases harmful toxins like furans, lead, and polycyclic hydrocarbons into the air, soil, and water. 

So it is better to leave the wires in automobile scrap yards than cause this pollution.

The alternative is to crush and shred the car looms and wire harnesses. This process eliminates the need to strip the copper from its insulation.

 After that, these crushed and shredded materials head into a gravity sorting system to separate the resins from the metals.

While in this form, the metal and resin components of the looms and harnesses will be separate. 

The gravity sorting system separates the metals from the resins because the former is heavier.

These metal particles then go through a mesh strainer to filter the terminals from other metal parts.

 The remaining metal pieces pass through a magnetic screening system to eliminate ferrous (iron) materials.

Purity Levels

The latter process can produce stable copper with purity levels of 99.96%. 

Toyota developed this recycling technology in 2013 and anticipated copper production to increase by about 1000 tonnes as early as 2016. 

So currently, the figure must be significantly higher, especially considering the high copper price incentive.

Wrap Up

With such recycling purity levels, car loom and wire harness recycling can only get better and compete with new scrap or freshly mined copper. 

And the copper shortage, coupled with high copper prices, incentivizes the process. The only remaining bit in the equation is Government incentives. But so far, so good. 

That’s it for now. Comment below to let us know what you think about these recycling efforts.

Hi I am Christa, sales manager of Cloom.

I have extensive expertise and experience in wiring harnesses and I believe I can help you.

And we have a very professional technical team who can clearly understand the customer’s needs and give professional suggestions and solutions after receiving the drawings.

If you also have wiring harness needs, please send me the drawing so that we can give you our quote and start our business.

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