Pollution Prevention Guides for 
Auto Body Shops - Fact Sheet 9

Automotive Fluids

Used oil is defined as any oil that has been refined from crude oil or any synthetic oil, and has been contaminated by physical or chemical impurities as a result of use. Used lubricants and transmission fluid are also considered used oil. Grease can be considered a used oil as long as it has been refined from crude or synthetic oil.

Through normal use, metal and dirt can contaminate vehicle oils. These potentially toxic contaminants could cause the used oil to be characterized as hazardous. Fortunately, used oils are exempt from federal and some state hazardous waste regulations Fact Sheet 3 - Defining A Waste) as long as the oils are reused or recycled and are not mixed with other hazardous materials such as chlorinated solvents.

The main pollution prevention options for used oils include:

  • Reusing and recycling used oil appropriately
  • Disposing of used oil properly

Reusing And Recycling Used Oil

Instead of having it hauled off as a waste, used oil can be used as fuel for space heaters and industrial kilns, furnaces, and boilers. This practice can help you reduce your fuel and waste disposal bills. Depending on the circumstances, the payback period for installing a used-oil heater can be very short.

Small businesses in some cases can burn their own used oils or that from "do-it-yourselfers" (homeowners) as long as the shop heater does not exceed 500,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs) per hour (as comparison, an average-sized Montana service station needs a heater rated at approximately 100,000 BTUs per hour). The exhaust gases from the heater must be vented to the outside of the building.

If you do not have a space heater in your shop, the next best option is to recycle your used oil. There are a number of companies in Montana that will pick up your oil and transport it to a re-refining or reprocessing facility. You may also be able to purchase recycled oil for use in your shop from these same companies.

Disposal Options For Used Oil

Used oil that is to be disposed of, and contains a listed hazardous waste or exhibits a hazardous waste characteristic, must be disposed of as a hazardous waste. If the used oil is non-hazardous, then it must be disposed of according to solid waste regulations. Contact your local solid waste management facility for assistance.

In general, it is illegal to use used oil generated by a shop for dust suppression or weed killing on publicly owned roads or parking lots. Improperly applied used oils can contaminate soil and surface water or groundwater systems. One gallon of used oil from a single oil change can pollute a million gallons of drinking water -- a year's supply for 50 people.

Used Oils
1) Do you use oil additives?

Oil additives sometimes contain chlorinated compounds which can be a regulated hazardous waste. Keeping chlorinated products out of your used oil is important in maximizing your reuse and recycling options.

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2) Do you keep used oil separate from other wastes?

Keeping used oil separate from other wastes is important in maximizing your reuse and recycling options.

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3) Do you reuse your used oil in a shop heater?

Many shop owners have found significant cost savings when they use used oil in their space heaters.

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4) Do you have your used oil collected by a recycler?

If you don't, consider having your used oil recycled by a company that reprocesses or re-refines used oil. In return, purchase your oil in bulk from a re-refiner to encourage used oil reuse and recycling.

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5) If you recycle your used oil, do you combine it with other oils for recycling?

Some recyclers allow the mixing of non-hazardous used oil and other non-hazardous oils generated in a shop. Check with your oil recycler to determine whether you can combine transmission oil and/or brake fluid with used engine oil.

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6) Do you accept used oil from individuals?

Auto body shops can in some states accept used oil from homeowners for recycling or reuse in the shop's burner as long as it is specification oil (see Glossary). However, it is recommended that you always question the source prior to acceptance.

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Montana State University Extension Service
Pollution Prevention Program Taylor Hall Bozeman, Montana 59717
(406) 994-3451
funded by
The United States Environmental Protection Agency
(Fact Sheet 9 of 18)

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