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Used 4x4 Parts Tips - Other Junk

Posted in How To on June 1, 2006
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Photographers: The Primedia Archives

Parts is parts. If they're the right ones and if they're not worn out, then who cares if they're used? Besides, used parts are cheaper than new, and new ones aren't even an option if they don't exist. Sometimes used is not even used at all, as in the form of leftover surplus from the government or large companies. Surplus is about the best deal in used parts you can get because (1) they're not really used, or if they are, then barely at all, and (2) they're unwanted surplus: these parts are being gotten rid of because they're taking up space, they're obsolete, or both.

A third option for used parts lies with rebuilders. Rebuilt parts are just as the name implies, parts that have been reconditioned (many times carrying a warranty) and sell at a lower cost than new parts.

We've put together a few tips and places for you to seek some parts for your ride. We've even found a few specialty parts resources that you might not know about, so take a look and see if there's a new source for you to find your used parts.

No matter which way you go-used, surplus, or rebuilt-make sure to never pay more than a part is worth new (unless we're talking hard-to-find out-of-production parts, then they have you by the short and curlies). Used parts are supposed to always be a better deal than new equipment, and if you're dealing with a stubborn seller that insists on his firm pricing, then just walk away. The buyer has the most power in these situations. Use it!

Drivetrain Bring a big wrench and breaker bar when buying used drivetrain parts. In fact, bring screwdrivers, a socket set, and box wrenches too, if the owner will let you do a little tearing down of the proposed item for sale. On axles, check ball joint or kingpins by grabbing the knuckles and shaking them to check for wear on the ball joints. If a removed transfer case, axle, or tranny won't turn with some good ol' human power, ask the owner for an explanation, and be wary of rusted and seized parts within drivetrain housings. new if you can When buying almost anything electrical for a vehicle, make sure the owner will be able to turn it on and show you it works. If he/she doesn't have the means, bring a voltmeter, some alligator clips, and a 12-volt battery or cables to run from your truck's battery and wire it up yourself in their driveway before you plunk down cold hard cash. If the owner has a problem with this, then the part he's selling you might not work and it's best just to walk away.

Engine Man, it's hard to buy these things and know they're OK without hearing 'em run first. If hearing it run is a possibility, then by all means make the potential seller show you what it's got. Even if you can't hear it run you can still check a few things to better ensure you don't get a screwjob. Put a wrench on the crank and turn. Resistance should be pretty fluid. If you feel any grinding or anything else funny, then it's best not to bother (unless you're good at rebuilding motors and don't really mind). Also turn the crank back and forth and check how much play is in the timing chain (assuming the engine has one and is not a geardrive). Pull a few plugs-in fact, pull 'em all and [with a flashlight] peer inside the cylinders and make sure you can't see anything weird. Look at the sparkplug's electrodes as well for any signs of abnormalities. Used heads should be checked with a straight edge for any signs of warpage, and (if possible) the valve springs should be removed and the guides checked for slop.

Exterior Chances are that if you're reading this mag, then you're not too concerned with your sheetmetal, but having a clean-looking truck is nothing to be ashamed of. If you go to pick up a new (used) fender, view it from multiple angles and look for small pressure dents from things such as fingertips on the front of hoods. Even if it doesn't bother you, it can be good ammo when trying to haggle for a lower price. All those tiny dents will either have to be banged out or filled. The seller has no idea that this will probably be the straightest piece of sheetmetal on your truck.

Interior Interior is easy: look for signs of wear. If you see any, then don't bother. Unless you're OK with seat covers, reupholstering a seat will probably be more than the cost of a used one in good condition. Also look closely at the stitching (especially leather) for signs of wear that will lead to broken threads and ripped seams. As far as headliners go, you shouldn't even be looking at a used one unless you can't source a new one. Time is not their friend, and buying a used one is like buying a ticking time bomb, ready to explode and rain little fuzzy junk onto your head. Plastics that are cracked are expensive to repair, so if new is an option, we'd suggest just going this route.

From a Junkyard Depending on what junkyard you're shopping in, some parts may or may not come with a warranty. It might only cover a few days, but it's nice if you get one. Check to make sure the part is not too beat up. Junkyards are not too big into haggling, and most have set prices. But some junkyard dogs might still be willing to bargain, and this can be good or bad. If you make him happy, you might go home with a part for next to nothing, but if you tick him off, he might suddenly remember he was "holding it for someone."

From a Private Party Private-party sellers are the best to buy from. Unless they are reselling a part they just bought themselves, they usually know the history of the part and its condition. Many times privateers think their parts are worth almost as much as gold, but with a little persuasion you can usually get them to be a little more reasonable. Haggling is expected, so don't be afraid to ask for a better deal.

Surplus Parts Most surplus parts have either very little use or wear or none at all. These are parts that are either taking up valuable space, have become obsolete, or are being liquidated for financial reasons. Much of the surplus liquidation will come from the government, with most of the rest coming from large companies and corporations. Surplus can be a great deal, since most surplus is already (fiscally) accounted for on the books, and anything gained from selling surplus can be thought of as petty cash for The Man. Odds are that surplus parts you buy will be in good condition.

Rebuilt Parts Rebuilt parts have to be our favorites. Rebuilt parts have been gone over and tested by rebuilders, many times to closer specs and tolerances than the equipment was held to when brand new. Since the parts have already been used, there is a more scrupulous eye on rebuilt parts, so your chances of getting a good part might actually be better than when buying it new. On top of that, almost all rebuilt engine and drivetrain parts come with some type of warranty. They'll be a little more expensive than the motor out of the guy's Nova down the street, but in the long run it'll be worth it.

Automotive Recyclers Association
Ecology Auto Parts
Scotty's Jeep, Truck, and 4x4
Virginia Used Truck Parts
online parts forum
government liquidations
junkyard locator to find yards in your area
parts locator, not an actual parts source
classifieds for all thing off road in the Community section
online 4x4 information and source of used parts
good clas-sified section for all things off road
good for all automotive

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