Waste case: 'Inheritance' leads to headache

Dear Tom and Ray:

Back in the '80s, when there wasn't anywhere he knew of to take used oil for recycling, my dad started pouring it into a 55-gallon drum in the garage. Not just oil, but anything sort of like it: transmission fluid, brake fluid, you name it. That drum filled up long ago, and it's still there! Other than leaving it in place for eternity, what's the best thing to do with it? – Dottie

TOM: Wow. Your dad left you a 55-gallon drum of waste oil. I'm going tell my ex-wife never to complain again about that lousy, chipped tea set her mother left her.
RAY: Do you live anywhere near that big nuclear waste facility in the Rocky Mountains, Dottie?
TOM: Actually, it shouldn't be very hard to dispose of. But it's not easy, either.
RAY: Most states have strict regulations about how you can transport and dispose of waste oil. And they'll only license certain companies, that meet the qualifications, to handle waste oil properly.
TOM: "Properly" means, first, not spilling it, because a single gallon of spilled oil can contaminate a lot of ground water. And second, safely delivering it to someplace where it can be recycled – most often burned as heating fuel in a waste-oil furnace.
RAY: So, first you're going to have to check with your state's department of environmental affairs and find out what the rules are.
TOM: Based on what you learn, you'll probably have to call a licensed waste-removal company to handle this.
RAY: If what's in the drum is just waste oil (like motor oil and transmission fluid), they'll come and pump it out of your drum and cart it away for, most likely, between $100 and $200. Not too bad, right?
TOM: But here's the bad news: If there's brake fluid in there – you say there is – it's no longer considered just "waste oil." It's considered a "federal hazardous waste," and, by federal law, it has to be handled much more carefully.
RAY: If the waste oil is mixed with brake fluid, the stuff can no longer be burned as heating fuel. There are chlorines in brake fluid that are poisonous to humans when burned, and a small amount of brake fluid can contaminate an entire barrel of otherwise reusable oil.
TOM: For that reason, it has to be handled differently– usually shipped somewhere for safe processing– and that increases the cost to you.
RAY: And here's the other bad news: You can't just lie about it and say there's no brake fluid in there. Licensed carriers will test a sample on the spot, to figure out if they have to treat it as waste oil or hazardous waste. If it's hazardous waste, you're probably looking at more like $300-$500 to have it taken away.
TOM: But you really should get it done, Dottie. And the sooner, the better. Because if that barrel ever rusts out and starts to leak, then you've got your own little EPA superfund site, and the costs of cleanup only go up from there– sometimes exponentially.
RAY: Start by going to the website of whatever department in your state deals with environmental protection. Or call. If you're prohibited from transporting it yourself, they should be able to give you a list of companies that are licensed to cart away waste oil and hazardous waste.
TOM: Call a few of them and shop around for a good price. Let them know over the phone that there may be brake fluid in the oil so you can get an accurate price quote.
RAY: Then bite the bullet and get rid of the stuff. And don't forget to say, "Thanks, Dad" as you write the check.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I recently needed to replace my brakes, and the shop sold me on ceramic brake pads. The pads have a lifetime warranty, which is very appealing. I also was told that ceramic pads will generally prevent rotors from warping, eliminating the pulsating affect that one feels when braking with warped rotors. After making the purchase, I've been told by several people that ceramic pads wear the rotors more evenly, preventing warping, but they also wear the rotors far more quickly. In your experience, did I save money by going with ceramic pads? Or am I actually spending more money, both up front (on the pads) and down the road (on additional rotors)? – Jared

RAY: Here's the brief, sordid history of brake pads, Jared. The first pads were made out of shoe bottoms. My brother remembers sticking his foot out the door and dragging his shoe on the road until the car either stopped or hit something.
TOM: Yeah. That was last week, in my '78 Fiat!
RAY: Brake pads in recent years have been made out of asbestos, other organic materials, semi-metallic materials like steel wool and iron and, most recently, ceramic compounds mixed with copper strands.
TOM: Each of these materials had its advantages and disadvantages. For example, asbestos brake pads were nice and quiet, but they caused lung cancer. Non-asbestos, organic pads were safe for humans but didn't always stop the car very well. Semi-metallic pads performed well but made obnoxious brake noises and left black brake dust all over people's wheels.
RAY: So the current state of the art is the ceramic pad, which seems to balance all of the criteria of brake pads pretty well. It lasts a good long time, stops the car well, dissipates heat quickly, absorbs noise better than metallic pads and leaves a nice, light-colored brake dust that's a lot less visible and bothersome than the black stuff.
TOM: So, you got the right pads, Jared. That's what we use on our customers' cars these days, mostly to eliminate complaints about noise and dust.
RAY: When ceramic brakes first came out, I remember that the suppliers warned us against using them with cheap rotors, because they are harder than the older, metallic pads– that's what makes them longer-lasting. But rotor makers have caught up, and we haven't had any problems in recent years. So as long as you're not buying your rotors from a guy in a trench coat who says, "Psssst!" I don't think you'll have to worry about excessive rotor wear.
TOM: As far as we know, however, ceramic pads do not prevent warping. If you misuse or overheat your brakes, rotors will still warp. It's possible that the improved heat-dissipation qualities of the ceramic pads may help prevent warping to some degree, but you're not going to be immune from warped rotors.
RAY: You will be immune from black brake dust and ear-splitting brake squeal, though. So congratulations on a wise purchase, Jared.
       * * *
       If it ain't broke, you won't have to fix it! Order Tom and Ray's pamphlet "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!" Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Ruin, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.
       Get more Click and Clack in their new book, "Ask Click and Clack: Answers from Car Talk." Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or email them by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.
       (c) 2013 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman
       Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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1 comment

Is this a fairly new, regular feature? If so, thanks a lot. I really like these guys. They're entertaining, plus you learn something. I've heard that they both have Phds from M.I.T.