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Used Parts vs New! Versus!

Posted in Features on December 3, 2018
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Photographers: Harry Wagner

Buying parts for your 4x4 is often a fun game we all like to play. Whether you are planning a full build or just want to upgrade things as they break, wear out, or test your patience, you’ll need parts. You’ve probably browsed through various online and paper catalogs drooling over new parts. Everyone loves fantasizing about buying the best shiny and new parts for their 4x4, but is that always realistic?

Being consummate cheapskates means you hate spending your hard-earned dime on anything that isn’t worth what you have to pay. Used parts are usually a great option and can be exactly what you need if not exactly what you want. Hell, when things are slow at work we love to go to the junkyard to see what’s there that can be had for a steal, or we digitally window-shop on eBay, Offerup, and Craigslist for used parts.

Of course, it sure is nice working with fresh clean new parts instead of scraping off years’ worth of gunk. Buying used parts is always a gamble. You have to ask yourself, “Do I feel lucky?” If you don’t feel lucky, you might go with the guaranteed higher price but also possible warranty and tech support that come with new parts.

Mmm, it’s still got that new engine smell. Rather than mess with the ancient 302 that’s in our 1969 Bronco project we opted for a complete throttle body–to–oil pan injected engine from BluePrint Engines. The Bronco-specific engine makes 356 hp, and every nut and bolt is new.

Verne Simons

Tech Editor
I love used parts. Hell, I enjoy going to junkyards just to see what I can find. I think I’d rather go junkyarding than go clothes shopping (which I do at least once a year whether I need to or not). The ingenuity in the solutions people come up with to save a dime and make trail repairs is part of why I love off-roading.

Having said that, I think we can all agree that there’s a time and place for quality new parts. I never mind paying for new parts when I’m getting a high-quality part or tool. But quality can make me lean toward buying used, too. I’d much rather spend a bit more on a used, even slightly broken tool or part from a name brand I know and trust over some el cheapo copy fresh off the boat. One great example was on a used older Warn 9,500-pound integrated winch. The clutch lever wouldn’t turn and the body had some wear, but I only paid $350 for what was a $1,000 winch. All it needed was a little TLC and some grease on the shift collar.

We’ve messed with plenty of used engines with varied results. A Dodge 440 that looked good wound up having a cracked cylinder head. A junkyard 4.3L V-6 turned out to have a rod knock after we installed and fired it in our S10 Blazer for the first time. An awesome mullet-machine Camaro 350 had rings so worn the engine burned a quart of oil every 7 miles. Any of these could have been rebuilt into reliable drivers, but when you’re trying to simply stab in a junkyard engine to get a project up and running quickly without major work, a junkyard engine will always be something of a gamble.

Harry Wagner

Crate engines are great, particularly if you live in California where buying a GM Performance Parts EROD engine makes a lot more sense than gambling with a smog referee. Nothing I own makes a ton of horsepower, but emissions aside, I see the value in something like an LSA crate engine. It is hard to imagine a cheaper way to get 550 reliable horsepower with a warranty. I do enjoy scouring junkyards for used parts, although I must confess that sometimes I spend more to rebuild them than I saved in dollars and it would have made more sense to buy new. Some things, like brakes or ring-and-pinion gears, I won’t buy used, but axles, transmissions, wheels, and tires are all fair game. My favorite used part to purchase are coilover shocks, since they can be rebuilt and revalved relatively easily and typically cost far less used than they do new.

If you are paying for labor though, to rebuild shocks or set up an axle and install all new components, the appeal of new products goes up pretty quickly. When you price out building a junkyard Dana 44 with all new parts (ring-and-pinion, locker, axleshafts, brakes, ball joints, and so on), then the labor and cost of a new axle assembly from Dana, Dynatrac, or Currie starts to look pretty reasonable.

There are few things sweeter to a hardcore off-roader than plucking a brand-new Dana 60 out of its crate. You know the assembly has been handled with the same level of quality control as every factory axle. The Ultimate Dana 60 blends (relative) affordability, strength, survivability, and top-notch components.

Trent McGee

Nuts & Bolts author
I’m as big a fan of the junkyard as anyone, but about 90 percent of the time I’m going to opt for new parts—or at minimum, new components within a used part. I’m a cheap bastard, but I also despise doing things twice. I’ve rolled the dice with enough used parts in the past to realize I personally have about a 50-50 shot at success. It’s a hard thing to gauge, but time and again I’ve seen people spend more money trying to make a used part work than if they had just bought a new one in the first place. Sometimes you can save a lot of money, but other times it’s just not worth the gamble.

I also consider the difficulty of replacing the part in question in addition to the cost of buying new versus used. I don’t think I see myself ever installing a used clutch since new ones are cheap and replacing a clutch is a major pain. But I’ll take a chance on a $50 junkyard computer when a new one is $1,000 and it takes five minutes to swap out.

Christian Hazel

My cop-out answer is that it really depends on what kind of part we’re talking about. If it’s just a chunk of metal like an intake manifold, then used is fine. Although I once had some stripped threads on an aluminum intake I pilfered from a junkyard, but that was easily enough fixed.

I used to literally lie awake at night dreaming about scoring 1-ton axles or big-block engines in the junkyard, but I think nowadays I’m more inclined to skew towards brand new parts that come in a crate ready to go. I know how to rebuild an engine, and I can cite cam specs and cylinder head flow numbers off the top of my head. But why bother dealing with a machine shop and assembling parts when many places offer take-out or brand new crate engines at realistic prices? Junkyard axles can be a bargain, but by the time you have rebuilt the ball joints or kingpins, regeared, locked, set up steering components, and everything else you need to do, how far ahead are you compared with a crate axle from any number of builders? While I appreciate low-buck tech and repurposing a GM injection system on a vintage Ford engine, I think given the time it takes, I’m a new parts guy these days. Maybe when I retire I’ll have more tinkering time again.

We’ve lucked into our fair share of junkyard gold when it comes to 1-ton front axles, like the ball-joint Dana 60 we found on the side of the road in Mexico and bought for a song. If you’re dealing with a lighter-weight rig with moderate tires, a junkyard Dana 44 can be a huge upgrade, and the aftermarket offers pretty much everything you’d need from steering components to high-quality RCV axleshafts. One caveat, though, is that you may find yourself pumping almost as much money into a Dana 44 as you would simply going to a larger 1-ton axle, so build smarter, not harder.

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