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.
Verne SimonsTech 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.
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.
Trent McGeeNuts & 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.
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.