SOARING metal prices are tempting motorists to sell their clapped-out cars to scrap merchants for a pittance -- with potentially serious knock-on impact on the environment.
Thousands of cars at the end of their lives go 'missing' each year, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
And that is leading to ground water being contaminated by engine oil and other pollutants.
Before the recession, demand for scrap metal was low so motorists usually disposed of their cars by going to a registered dealer who took it off their hands for free.
They were given a certificate to show the vehicle would be broken down and disposed of in an environmentally-friendly manner.
That meant all the dangerous substances such as oil, brake fluids, battery acids and tyres would be recycled.
However, recent increases in the value of scrap metal have prompted many motorists to opt for cash, sometimes as little as €50, from unregistered scrap metal dealers who then strip the car of valuable components.
There is no way to trace how the dangerous substances are disposed of.
This raises the possibility that many of the chemicals may be illegally dumped. And that could mean serious pollution and a major threat to drinking water sources for years to come.
The EPA says one solution is to force car owners to pay motor tax until they can produce a 'certificate of destruction' to show their cars have been sent to an authorised dealer.
An EPA spokesman said: "Metal prices are very high at the moment so you'll have fellows who will take the car off someone's hands for €50.
"Authorised dealers take batteries, oils, brake fluids, petrol and diesel and remove explosive devices used in airbags.
"If you give it to the man with the van, they're probably chucking these fluids somewhere else."
The EU has put enormous pressure on member states to comply with the End of Life Vehicle (ELV) Directive. We are not reaching its targets to recycle and reuse components.
In 2010, around 152,455 vehicles were legally destroyed, but thousands are unaccounted for.
Stiffer targets are on the way and the EPA says 'urgent' action is needed to increase the number of cars being properly recycled.
The Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) said that it is working with the Government on the issue.