Weighing Options When You Need to Buy Parts

close up of diesel engine

There are plenty of risks to buying lowest-price parts, but buying the highest price part isn’t the answer either. What you really want is to find the sweet spot that’s right for your situation and your truck.

In Heavy Duty Trucking’s article, “Five Keys to Best Parts-Buying Practices,” Mark Terry, general manager, truck and bus at Yancey Bros. Co. (a Georgia-based dealer and parts supplier) explains that the cost-benefits analysis depends partly on how long you plan to keep the truck.

For “people who trade a truck every three to five years,” Terry says “it’s going to be original equipment parts wherever possible. But for owners of used trucks, the cost-benefits scale tips more toward all-makes. And, especially for someone who buys a truck and keeps it for 10 or 12 years, aftermarket parts exceed the price premium they would pay to the OEM or tier 1 suppler.”

Remanufactured vs. Rebuilt

Remanufactured parts are more expensive, but in the long run may be the better deal since they’ve been brought all the way back up to spec. Rebuilt parts are only reworked to running condition, usually aren’t covered by warranty, and may set you up for some unexpected breakdowns.

Parts that are remanufactured can be off brand or name brand. Name brand is generally less risky, but a reliable, trustworthy remanufacturer may be able to offer an off-brand part with the same reliability and better cost-effectiveness.

In “Part Smarts” on Overdriveonline.com, Rick Sullivan, a shop manager at Fleet Pride says his company offers discounted parts that differ from OEM only in that they don’t have parts numbers. “An owner-operator who’s in a cost-sensitive situation can go with quality, off-brand aftermarket parts that will save him 25 percent or even more and still be confident he has good parts that aren’t going to wear out faster,” he says.

In that same article, ArvinMeritor drivetrain products manager Sandy Landgren suggests owner operators, “look for remanufactured parts that meet QS9000 standard requirements.” Using parts that satisfy this industrial certification offers assurance that the part will perform well.

Buyer Beware

Both remanufactured and rebuilt parts have their risks. Rick Easterling, parts manager at Freightliner Trucks of South Florida in Riviera Beach says in this article, “it’s important to know exactly what you’re buying…If Eaton reman’s a clutch, they’ll throw out all the old springs and use new ones, but a guy selling will-fits might just put a flat washer under the old springs and call it reman’d.”

Easterling, who has 30 years’ experience in the truck parts business, also warns parts buyers to be on the lookout for “black paint reman’s.” A transmission, for example, may be freshly painted and look remanufactured, but it may have only been steam cleaned and had a few pieces changed. The seller may have replaced the outer bearings but hasn’t checked “the inner bearings and gear wear and clearance,” he says.

Brake shoes are sometimes called “remanufactured,” even though they aren’t truly brought back up to spec. John Thompson, sales manager, commercial vehicle NAFTA, at TMD Friction says if shoes haven’t been set in a die and pressed at very high tonnage, they can’t have been brought back to their original, factory shape. That misfit will mean you’re in for shorter brake life and more frequent maintenance.

“Some reliners only remove and replace lining,” he explains. “This is not the best starting place for a brake reline, as the high forces involve in braking will ‘stretch’ or distort the shoe in normal operating conditions.”

Cost Savings is Great, But Also Consider Value

In Heavy Duty Trucking, Meritor’s aftermarket business unit director for drivetrain, Aaron Bickford, says that lower-priced brake friction could seem like a deal, but premature wear will mean it has to be replaced more frequently, and “the parts and labor cost will quickly outrun any initial piece parts saving.”

Under spec’ing is probably not worth the savings either, says Sullivan: “If your brake linings are originally spec’d to 23,000 pounds, and you buy 20,000-pound linings to save money, you might have trouble.”

That sort of trouble from mixing and matching parts can be compounded on newer trucks that have electronic control panels. Unlike with older trucks, parts for more recent models require precision fit to avoid mismatches that can lead to breakdowns.

Working with a licensed parts dealer can prevent another problem: voiding your warranty. On Overdriveonline.com, Jim Lainio, a Ryder mechanic in south Florida, says, “If I put a bad-quality, off-brand turbo on a warranty engine, and a turbo blade comes apart, then I’ve got bits of turbo blade up around the pistons, and I’m out some big dollars for a new engine.”

Don’t Forget Core Value in Your Calculations

OEMs will usually grant significant discounts on a remanufactured part when you turn in the old part, according to Overdrive. In fact, David Schultz of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems says, “sometimes the core value is higher than the cost of remanufacture.”