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Motor oil, battery acid, gasoline, car wax, engine cleaners, antifreeze, degreasers, radiator flushes and rust preventatives are examples of automotive products containing toxic chemicals.

Some car owners do their own maintenance work and improperly dispose of used automotive products by pouring them down a storm drain, down a sink drain or onto the ground. These disposal practices can seriously contaminate ground and surface waters. One quart of motor oil can contaminate a million gallons of drinking water. The oil from one engine - four to six quarts - can produce an eight-acre oil slick. If poured down a household drain, motor oil can foul wastewater treatment plants and septic systems.



Used motor oil is regulated as hazardous waste in New Jersey. Composed of a mixture of several hundred organic chemicals, motor oil becomes contaminated with heavy metals and chemical additives as it is used. Each year, New Jersey residents who change their own motor oil generate over 9 million gallons of used motor oil. By law, they are required to bring their used motor oil to a used motor oil collection center, located at service stations or at many local and county recycling centers.

Recycling used motor oil helps protect the environment while conserving a valuable petroleum resource. Motor oil that is not properly disposed of and finds its way into either surface or ground water, can cause significant damage at low concentrations. One part per million (1ppm) can make water unsafe to drink; 35 ppm can produce a visible oil slick that damages aquatic life, including fish and shellfish; and 50 ppm can foul a wastewater treatment plant.

The harmful effects of used motor oil in an aquatic environment arise from both characteristics of the oil itself and the contaminants being picked up during use. Aquatic animals can be smothered either directly when covered with oil or indirectly through reduced resistance to infection and disease. Plants can also be killed or their growth stunted. In the long term, toxic substances are released as the oil breaks down, exposing aquatic plants and animals to potentially carcinogenic compounds.



Used motor oil is recycled into valuable products through two methods: reprocessing and re-refining. Reprocessing involves removing water and sediment from used oil, which is then blended with virgin oil for use as a boiler fuel. The re-refining process removes additional impurities from the oil and actually returns it to its original state. The re-refined product is sold as motor oil.



Antifreeze is also a hazardous chemical and can be toxic in high concentrations. If spilled, pets, children and wildlife are attracted to antifreeze because of its sweet taste. The main component of most antifreeze products is ethylene glycol, which is fatal if enough is swallowed. Do not mix antifreeze with gasoline or cleaning solvents. Cross contamination can result in creation of a hazardous waste.

There is currently no statewide recycling or disposal program in operation for antifreeze. However, some private companies do recycle antifreeze. Call your county's Solid Waste Management Coordinator to find out if your county has a program for disposal of antifreeze.



Lead acid batteries used in automobiles are required to be recycled by law. At a minimum, retail establishments are required to accept old batteries in exchange for the purchase of a new battery. The system for recycling lead acid batteries i well established and economical. In addition, local and county hazardous waste collection facilities generally accept used lead acid batteries. It is estimated that 75% to 80% of all lead acid batteries are recycled.

Lead is a very toxic material. The average car battery contains 17 to 18 pounds of lead. The safe drinking water standard for lead is five micrograms per liter. Although the proportion of batteries which are not recycled is low, the toxicity of their contents is a matter for concern.



Motor oil, grease and antifreeze that drip from improperly maintained vehicles is another concern. Think of a parking lot and the stains that are frequently located in each parking spot. When it rains all the oil, grease and other chemicals are washed into local waterways or infiltrate into ground water. Maintain your car or truck properly so that these fluids do not leak into roadways, parking lots or the ground.



Consider using a commercial car wash that recycles its wash water. Rather than washing your car in your driveway, on the street or in your yard, take it to a local car wash. This not only conserves water but also eliminates the running off of harmful pollutants. If you do wash your car or another motor vehicle at home, then be sure to use a car wash detergent that does not contain phosphate. The detergent label should indicate whether or not phosphate is contained. If possible, wash your vehicle where the rinse water will be directed to a grassy area where the water can be absorbed rather than a paved area where the water will run into a storm drain.




  • If you change your own motor oil, put the used motor oil in a clean, reusable container with a cap or lid that closes securely. You should use one of the oil changing kits that are now available. Be sure to recycle used motor oil.
  • Never mix other substances such as antifreeze or paint thinner with your used motor oil. This contaminates the oil, making it impossible to recycle and difficult to dispose of. These other substances should be saved for disposal at your county's next Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day.
  • Never pour antifreeze or other automotive fluids into septic systems, storm drains or streams, or onto the ground, where it can enter water supplies or poison pets, children and wildlife if ingested.
  • Recycle used automotive batteries.
  • Support motor oil recycling by purchasing re-refined motor oil for your vehicle.
  • Maintain your vehicle properly so that automotive fluids, such as motor oil and antifreeze, do not leak.
  • Use a commercial car wash that recycles its wastewater.
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Last Updated: July 11, 2018