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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Auto Drainage Systems

Automobiles are awash in fluids. Start with the gasoline or diesel fuel that powers the engine. Add the engine oil, coolant, transmission fluid, power-steering fluid, and brake fluid that keep everything running smoothly. And don’t forget air conditioner refrigerant and windshieldwasher fluid. Before auto dismantlers and recyclers relieve vehicles of their resalable parts and log, crush, bale, or shred them, they must remove and capture every one of those fluids. And, given tighter regulations and the rising value of recycled fluids, their work needs to be good to the last drop.

Legal requirements for fluid removal vary. The regulations primarily focus on preventing the direct release of fluids into the environment and what happens with the fluids once they’re extracted. “As long as you’re not spilling [them] on the ground, there are no specific rules,” says a representative of one auto drainage system. Canada and the states of New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, California, and Oregon have some of the strictest containment regulations in North America; other states have recommended practices or guidelines. For example, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection’s Auto Recycling Industry Compliance Guide is specific about the area in which to drain fluids: It should be covered, with a sealed concrete-pad surface. About the draining process itself, the guide is less explicit: “Use fluid removal and handling equipment, such as suction systems, drain racks, and/or funnels and stoppers for the containers.”

Over the years, dismantlers and recyclers have devised a variety of ad hoc techniques to extract fluids from vehicles quickly, “everything from building their own frame to puncturing gas tanks with a knife on a stick and catching the gas in a barrel,” says Ronda Collier, marketing director for 360° Resource (Eau Claire, Mich.), maker of Auto Tap. These companies “rely on gravity, buckets, drums, and often self-built tools to drain some of their liquids, often in dangerous ways,” says Michael Hoeher, director of business development, North America, for SEDA Environmental (St. Petersburg, Fla.). “Antiquated—but, unfortunately, still widely used— methods include puncturing fuel tanks with pickaxes” or using a forklift to drop the scrap car onto a brass-spiked bathtub, he says.

Such do-it-yourself draining creates substantial risks, however. Fuel tanks can catch fire or explode from nearby sparks or ignition sources, and heavier-than-air gas fumes can coagulate into highly flammable pools. Workers might get drenched with fuel or stumble on a slippery floor, resulting in injury and employee turnover, not to mention potential litigation. Further, contaminated fluids lose their resale value, and the cost to properly dispose of them can be high. Over the last decade or so, a few companies have created what they believe is a better way to drain fluids from an end-of-life vehicle.

An automobile fluid drainage system should allow workers to operate quickly and safely, collect each fluid separately for disposal or reuse, and comply with applicable local, state, and federal regulations. Most of today’s systems allow a single operator to do all of those things in a space of roughly 40 feet by 60 feet. Some systems are stationary; others can be moved around a yard, typically with a forklift. These systems differ most pointedly in three areas: vehicle access, draining process, and disposition of fluids.

Access to most fluids is from below the vehicle, so before anybody drains anything, workers must mount the vehicle on some kind of rack to get access to the underside. A forklift deposits cars on the Enviro-Rack by Iron Ax (Wadley, Ga.), which gives operators safe access to the vehicle along grated catwalks. The adjustable rack can accommodate any size of vehicle, tilting left or right to drain fluids at the side of a tank. Superior Recycling Solutions (Binghamton, N.Y.) extols the virtues of its “tilt-and-roll” fluid recovery lift. Becky Brechko, director of sales and marketing, explains that with other racks, when the forklift removes the car after draining, it tilts the vehicle and additional fluids run out onto the ground. “We came up with something [to] do that while [the car] was still on the rack and contain that fluid,” she says. The hydraulically operated rack can lift, tilt, and roll vehicles to any of five positions.

The scissor lift by Crow Environmental (Ipswich, England) gives dismantlers the option of raising the vehicle to a variety of heights. A forklift loads the vehicle first onto a heavy-duty frame built around the lift, which “protects the lift from heavy-handed loading and unloading,” says Crow President David Pinner. Workers can get under the hood and drain tanks in the engine bay, then they elevate the lift to get underneath the vehicle. “The scissor lift allows you to do both those things in one operation, without having a forklift truck move [the vehicle] halfway through,” Pinner says. “It doesn’t matter whether the [worker] is 5-foot tall or 6-foot-6—he can set the height of the vehicle at the appropriate working height for him.”

Manufacturers have devised equally unique and innovative techniques for penetrating fluid tanks and extracting fluids. Auto Tap does it with its Auto Point Probe, a pyramidshaped, anti-spark brass spike hydraulically inserted into each tank. “It rips a 3-inch hole in the gas tank and makes it like a funnel, so you don’t have those hidden spots where gas can hide out,” Collier says. “It drains the tank thoroughly.” For maximum leak protection, Iron Ax’s drill and funnel are a single unit, which catches the liquids flowing from fluid reservoirs. It’s a totally air-powered system, with no gas or electric motor to create sparks, the company notes.

To drain top-end fluids, SRS’ Rapid 45 Fluid Suction System uses airactivated guns that closely resemble .45 automatic pistols. The guns’ nozzles are color-coded for each tank or fluid, be it antifreeze, windshield washer fluid, or brake fluid. The gun is “designed to be fun yet ergonomically friendly, easy to hold onto, and push-button activated, so there’s no flipping switches or running back and forth between the vehicle and the pumps,” Brechko says. Afterward, technicians go underneath to cut hoses and drain the remaining fluids into a single catch basin.

SEDA uses UL-listed, explosion-proof, double-diaphragm compressed-air pumps to create powerful suction. The pumps create a vacuum that evacuates the gas, separates contaminated from reusable gas, and filters the remaining gas to gas-station quality with a minimum of overflow.

AutoDrain (Leeds, England) offers low-volume customers a vacuum-based system and higher-volume yards a combination of vacuum- and pump-based systems. “It’s a sealed system,” explains Mark Drake, sales manager. “It seals against the tank and actually sucks the vapor and the fuel directly away to the storage tank, so there is no risk of any fire.” Disposition. Whether fluids are pumped, suctioned, or drained by gravity, they have to go into some kind of container for storage, resale, or disposal. Iron Ax funnels fluids into four separate all-steel collection tanks, for oil, gasoline, transmission fluid, and antifreeze. The system avoids spills with a dual catch-pan system—a 249-gallon catch pan directly below the vehicle and a 360gallon lower tank for spills.

Fluids captured in SRS catch basins flow into an oil/antifreeze separator. “It all happens automatically,” Brechko says. “Nobody touches any fluids, nobody moves any buckets [or] 50-gallon drums, nothing.” When fluids in the separator get high enough, float switches in the separator activate a pump that automatically dispatches each one to its final storage destination.

Crow Environmental’s high-volume system pumps all fluids directly into separate tanks. The system has three fuel tanks—for gasoline, diesel, and “dirty” (polluted) fuels—that reside just outside the drainage facility. Fuels sent to the gasoline or diesel tanks pass through a filter that catches particles as small as 5 microns and removes water. These tanks come with electric dispensing pumps, Pinner says, and “fuels stored in the gasoline or diesel tank are directly reusable by the client in his own vehicles.” Other fluids go to tanks for engine oils, hydraulic oils, coolants, and windshield-wiper fluid.

The vehicle draining system universe is new and small enough to have relatively few players. Here, in alphabetical order, are six top manufacturers and descriptions of their products.

AutoDrain. “Depending on the size of the business, we’re building bespoke [custom-made] equipment for different types of vehicle dismantlers or scrap metal processing yards,” says Mark Drake, sales manager of AutoDrain, which also runs its own auto drainage and dismantling facility in Leeds, England. The company’s vacuum systems and pumps suck liquids and vapors into specialized tanks. The firm offers single, twin, and custom lifts; an AutoShear, which snips off catalytic converters; and an airbag tool that detonates airbags in place.

No adaptations are required for North American customers, Drake says. Costs range “from around $700 for a simple brake fluid suction vessel to $100,000 for an all-singing, alldancing depollution system for 200 cars a day,” he says. “Most customers fall somewhere in between.” Visit

Auto Tap. Randy Schlipp, the owner of Randy’s Recycling yards in southwest Michigan and northern Indiana, invented Auto Tap in the mid-1990s. Instead of using air compressors (which tend to freeze during cold Midwestern winters), Auto Tap hydraulically powers the Auto Point Probe, an anti-spark brass pyramid that “taps” 3-inch, funnel-shaped holes in each tank. Auto Tap platforms come in two varieties: those that remain stationary or within one yard and portable, rolloff models that can serve several yards. All of their “junkyard-tough” units are built to customer specifications, with modifications to comply with state regulations. Basic units cost around $30,000; options such as catalytic converter covers, pan covers, and bolt-on steps can bring the price up to $42,500. Visit 360_resource/autotap.html.

Crow Environmental. This British firm’s system uses air-operated diaphragm pumps with color-coded controls. “Simple symbols show their operations to make [it] as easy as possible,” Pinner says. The pumps distribute fluids to six tanks installed away from the extraction facility itself. The tanks hold gasoline, diesel fuel, polluted fuels, engine oil (including gearbox oil, power-steering fluid, and shock absorber fluids), hydraulic oils (clutch and brake fluids and synthetic oils), and alcohol-based fluids (coolant and windshield-wiper fluid). Once the tanks are in place, three or four work stations—each capable of processing up to 30 vehicles a day— can feed into them. The product is certified to meet ATEX regulations on equipment used in potentially explosive environments. Crow makes one modification to its product for the North American market: “The depollution plant itself is the same across the world, but for U.S. sales we use a heavier lift than we would use in Europe,” Pinner says. “In Europe, we use a 3.2-ton lift, and in the U.S., a 3.6- or 4-ton lift because utility vehicles tend to be bigger in America.” The company has systems installed across the United States and Canada. Visit www.crowenvironmental.

Iron Ax. The Enviro-Rack is “the first and only portable, fully self-contained fluid-removal system on the market,” the company states. Forklifts place vehicles on the elevated racks; then adjustable funnels, some with compressed-air-driven drills inside to reduce leaking, collect fluids and distribute them to separate tanks for oil, gas, transmission fluid, and coolants. The rack itself is light enough to be moved by forklift. Enviro-Rack complies with U.S. EPA and state regulations for fluid removal by ensuring no fluids touch the ground, according to company representatives. The tiltable rack hovers over a 249-gallon catch pan set within a 360-gallon tank. A single operator can drain most cars in as little as five minutes, the company states. Visit

SEDA Environmental. “We don’t rely on gravity to get the job done,” says SEDA’s Hoeher. Instead, SEDA’s systems, refined over the past 25 years, use a combination of suction and air pressure to remove 98 percent of all liquids, he says. SEDA claims more than 3,000 customers in more than 40 countries. The company offers U.S. customers four basic systems: the EasyDrain Fluid Evacuation System, which can be paired with any rack; the EasyDrain Evacuation Station With Working Platform, which includes a tilting rack; the Mobile Drainage Rack, designed for any location and on any flooring; and the Rapid Quick Install, which has one pump set designed to serve two vehicle racks. Drainage of up to 70 cars per station per day takes from 6 to 8 minutes each, including miscellaneous steps such as removing converters. Prices range from $10,000 to $45,000. Visit

Superior Recycling Solutions. Auto dismantler Gary Beagell of Gary’s U-Pull-It (Binghamton, N.Y.) designed the SRS Fluid Recovery System. In contrast with some other systems, “it is not meant to be portable,” Brechko says. “It is a permanent fluid recovery system with a patented tilt-and-roll rack.” The SRS Upper Suction System’s high-speed pumps connect to Rapid 45 air-activated “pistols” with colorcoded nozzles that drain top-end fluids such as antifreeze and windshieldwasher, brake, and power-steering fluids. Operators then poke holes and cut hoses underneath so fluids drain into a catch basin and feed via gravity down to an oil/antifreeze separator. “[That] keeps it simple,” Brechko says. Best suited for larger yards but easily customized to suit most applications, she says, an SRS system with a double-sided rack, separator, and upper suction system is about $118,250. Visit

Theodore Fischer, September/October 2008 Scrap Magazine -

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