From old to new: the Mercedes-Benz Used Parts Center

Did you know that more than 95 percent of a vehicle can be recovered? I recently visited the place where parts and materials from end-of-life vehicles are given a second chance: the Mercedes-Benz Used Parts Center.

The production of vehicles requires many different materials, including raw materials that are valuable and only available in limited amounts. Daimler not only aims to minimize emissions, but, just as importantly, to keep resource consumption as low as possible during a vehicle’s entire life cycle. To make this work, employees from development and production units have to think about the vehicles’ “second life” from the very start. Less and less automotive parts are disposed nowadays, thanks to clever dismantling and recycling concepts. Still functional parts are removed and reused, a sustainable life cycle is established. I was able to see this for myself at the Mercedes-Benz Used Parts Center (UPC) in Neuhausen near Stuttgart.

A bird’s eye view of the Mercedes-Benz Used Parts Center

The UPC in Neuhausen near Stuttgart is the very first manufacturer-owned recycling center for discarded vehicles (end-of-life vehicle recycler). The UPChas been dismantling Mercedes-Benz vehicles since 1996. I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like!

Talking with Uwe Grossmann and Manuel Pfeifer

Before I can get an impression of how such a recycling process actually works, I meet Uwe Grossmann, Head of the UPC, and Manuel Pfeifer from the marketing department in the office building. They explain to me how important the respectful handling of end-of-life vehicles is for the environmentally compatible life cycle of our products. After all, whenever a used part is applied instead of a new part, we can save valuable resources.

That’s why the UPC team meticulously inspects more than 5,000 end-of-life vehicles per year in order to reuse and sell as many parts as possible. A used part that lives on in another Mercedes-Benz vehicle reaches the highest level of recycling. That’s because no further resources need to be consumed that a new part would require. This not only benefits customers who can purchase spare parts at a lower price. We as a company are also happy when old becomes new.

From old to new

However, it’s not just parts that get a second chance in the UPC. The center’s approximately 260 employees also try to recover all of the operating materials, including the brake fluid and coolant, as well as valuable resources such as glass, aluminum and copper.

The EU stipulates that 95 percent of an end-of-life vehicle’s material in weight has to be recovered. Together with our partners, we do even better in some cases.

Uwe Grossmann, Head of the UPC

We head right through the big gate where several van drivers are waiting to hand over their colorful array of vehicle models to the UPC. The automobiles include used and crashed vehicles, vehicles with production flaws, and a large proportion of development vehicles that cannot be sold due to lack of series maturity.

Various vehicle models wait to be dismantled

The test bench: put to the acid test

After the vehicle has been accepted, the first thing to do is to check it out on the test bench. The tests carried out here determine which parts meet the quality standards and can be reused.

At the test bench, the employee closely examines every individual part, from the engine to the lid of the trunk. From around 200 possibilities, an average of 40 parts are released for dismantling. Anything that does not meet the company's high quality standards is sent to the materials separation unit.

Manuel Pfeifer shows me the test bench at close range

Once it is clear which parts can be reused and sold, it's off to a good start! However, this requires a change of location. We go into the "big" hall, where the vehicle is disassembled step by step into its individual parts at various stations.

The disassembly hall

The soundscape has something very special about it: clattering like in the heart of a machine room, humming of cordless screwdrivers, voices, a friendly "hello, how's it going?”.

The disassembly hall

The battery is removed before anything else is done. This is primarily a safety precaution to protect the employees.


Arriving at our next stop, we see an automobile about two meters above the floor on a vehicle lift. A bright yellow fluid flows through several hoses that are attached to the vehicle’s underbody. Black funnels catch big drops of liquid. The scenery underneath the vehicle lift definitely reminds me of chemistry class.

Draining the vehicle

Heiko Baum stands in the midst of it all and holds something in his hand that looks a bit like a spigot at first glance. He tells me that this is not very far off the mark: “Before we can remove any more parts, we have to drain the vehicle.” Drainage means removing hazardous substances such as petrol, diesel, used oil, coolant and brake fluid. The liquids are channeled through the funnels and hoses to separate containers.

The employees do the reverse of what we generally see happen at gas stations. And there is another good reason for this, apart from safety: the environment. By draining and removing all operating materials, we ensure that no harmful substances are released into the atmosphere. On the contrary, the transport vehicles operated by the UPC run on recovered diesel. The recyclers also process the used motor oil in such a way that it can still keep other engines smoothly running.

Ensuring parts are scratch-free is the main consideration

As soon as the next disassembly station is free, the vehicle is dismantled into its individual parts. If possible, this is done without creating any scratches. One employee is responsible for the entire disassembly process of a vehicle — which can be anything from a smart to a truck.

However, not only used parts are removed during disassembly. It is also a matter of recovering recyclable materials: Copper cables, aluminum and iron scrap, glass (discs), plastics, shock absorbers. Platinum and rhodium can be recovered from catalysts, while used tyres can be processed into asphalt. Electronic waste is recycled as well. This is particularly the case of the golden circuit boards, which contain rare earths.

Electro mobility thought sustainably

This applies in particular to the recycling of electric vehicles. The UPC is a permanent member of the recycling process chain and is jointly responsible for securing future raw material requirements. For several years now, the employees have been inspecting and dismantling batteries from frequently used all-electric car-sharing vehicles for example. Depending on its condition, the UPC hands the battery over to Remanufacturing in Mannheim, where it is processed for reuse in the automotive industry. The battery is disassembled and tested in order to rebuild the entire system after individual components have been replaced.

If this is no longer possible, MB Energy GmbH receives the battery in order to use it for stationary energy storage (re-use). Battery modules can be combined into large energy storage units at the end of their car life. In this function, for example, they compensate for consumption peaks in the German power grid.

A battery-electric smart waits for its last test
We are expanding our storage capacity for lithium-ion batteries in order to prepare ourselves for the increasing number of hybrid and electric vehicles.

Uwe Grossmann, Head of the UPC

Last stop: The compactor

In the end, only the compactor is waiting. This compactor presses the remaining car body with 60 tons of contact force to only a few centimeters of residual height. What used to be a vehicle outside the gates of the UPC comes out of the plant as flat metal flounder. Thanks to the special shape, more vehicles fit on a transporter, which saves trips to the specialist disposal companies. The mould, which is not too tightly pressed, also facilitates further processing of the metals by the partners.

The shipping center

Before I take off the protective caps, which have begun to feel rather heavy, I throw a glance at the Used Parts Center’s huge warehouse. Almost a bit overwhelmed by the colourfulness and size, we walk through the never-ending corridors.

The used parts wait here unpackaged, on ceiling-high shelves for dispatch and their second chance. Unpacked because waste avoidance has top priority here as well. The same applies to shipping: the goods are delivered to the customer in paper packaging. This makes disposal at the other end easier, is cheaper and protects the environment.

All of the packaging here is made of paper

Back at the gate, I’m almost sad to be back in the office tomorrow!

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