Parts smarts

With the core trade-in discount, owner-operators can save 50 percent or more on a remanufactured driveshaft as opposed to a new one.

When buying heavy-duty parts, “make sure you know what to ask for,” says owner-operator Ray Watkins of Marion, Ind. Watkins learned this the hard way by buying a clutch – and problems. “They used cheap springs, and I got bits of spring wedged in,” he says. “If I’d known better, he says. “If I’d known better, I’d have asked for a name-brand clutch. I’m not sure what they put in there, but a friend of mine suggested that maybe they put a rebuilt clutch in it.”

Don’t buy parts unless you know what you’re getting, especially if you don’t want to spend the money to buy new, or new parts aren’t available. In those cases, you have two choices: rebuilt and remanufactured. The key to choosing wisely is to know your truck and be mindful of prices, uptime and that ever-important warranty.

Remanufactured parts are completely disassembled, and any worn elements are replaced or retooled. “We bring it back to original spec,” says Charlie Murphy, an engine manager at International Truck and Engine. Parts makers save by recycling raw materials, and they pass those savings – a 25 percent to 60 percent discount from new parts prices – on to the consumer. Some parts makers also pay a hefty core discount when you bring in the used component on trade.

Reman’d parts come in several flavors: brand-name, which are marketed by the original manufacturer; parts remanufactured to the original maker’s specifications but marketed under a different name; and off-brand parts that might be made to name-brand standards.

Unlike reman’d parts, rebuilt parts aren’t completely dismantled, retooled and upgraded, but are reworked only to running condition, cleaned and sometimes painted. Major OEMs don’t market rebuilt parts, so these parts also lack the liability, warranty and technical support of remanufactured parts.

On the other hand, a transmission rebuilt at the local garage probably costs less than one fully remanufactured by the OEM, although a hefty core rebate for the old transmission can help make the reman’d price competitive.

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When you buy a quality reman’d, you can be confident you’re getting the latest technology. “If the product has been enhanced, such as by a new type of O-ring or valve, that will be updated in the remanufacture, so the product is brought up to standard,” says Dave Schultz, marketing chief for Bendix’s Valve Division.

This was part of Watkins’s lesson. “I had to replace four hydraulic cylinders in my clutch,” he says. “I was losing one every three months. So after the third one, I asked if there wasn’t some new technology, and there was.” The old clutch design had the cylinder installed vertically. “Water was collecting in the rubber boot and getting down into the cylinder,” he says. Installing the fourth cylinder horizontally solved the problem.

In many cases, you get what you pay for. “All of our remanufactured parts carriers must meet QS9000 standard requirements,” says Sandy Landgren, ArvinMeritor’s drivetrain products manager, referring to an industrial certification. Smaller or unknown aftermarket dealers might not have the resources to compete with original manufacturers, experts say.

“The OEMs have the tech support to do all the testing and development, whereas the knockoff aftermarket dealer might not have that,” says Rick Sullivan, a FleetPride shop manager in West Palm Beach, Fla. Sullivan says he stocks the same name brands the original makers use and sells them for less. “The only difference is theirs have their parts number, and ours don’t,” he says.

About a third of Sullivan’s business comes from customers who either can’t or won’t afford name-brand reman’d parts. “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,” Sullivan says.

But it’s important to know exactly what you’re buying, says Rick Easterling, parts manager at Freightliner Trucks of South Florida in Riviera Beach. Some owner-operators choose the cheapest available parts that will fit, Easterling says.

“If Eaton reman’s a clutch, they’ll throw out all the old springs and use new ones,” says Easterling, who has 30 years in the truck parts business. “A guy selling will-fits might just put a flat washer under the old springs and call it reman’d.”

Easterling also cautions against “black paint reman’s.” Unscrupulous parts sellers take, say, a transmission, steam clean it, change a couple of the outer bearings, paint it and sell it as reman’d “without ever even checking the inner bearings and gear wear and clearance,” he says.

Mechanically inclined owner-operators have an advantage when buying parts. “If you go away from the OEM’s original spec, you have to know what will match up with what you have,” says parts specialist Jason Thiery, also of South Florida Freightliner.

Beware, too, of under-spec’ing just to save money in the short term. “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,” Sullivan says.

On older trucks built before OEMs began using electronic control modules, mixing and matching wasn’t such an exact science. But newer products require more precision.

Thiery cites an alternator that tops out at 130 amps, but has variable output based on the engine’s need, and is controlled by and integrated with the ECM. “If the owner-operator goes with a 150-amp alternator, the ECM will give him enough time to get somewhere safe and then shut the truck down,” he says.

Knowing what parts you can use without voiding your warranty is another consideration. “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,” says Jim Lainio, a Ryder mechanic in south Florida. That’s why Lainio buys only from licensed parts dealers.

Post-sale support is also important. “There’s such a gray area with aftermarkets,” says FleetPride’s Sullivan. “A lot of times you don’t have the warranty and tech support, unless it’s a good aftermarket from a name-brand OEM or from an off-brand.” Sullivan is careful about what he hands over the counter to customers because their business is his business. “We built our reputation with quality parts,” he says.

If a cheaply made, off-brand aftermarket part breaks, the cost can be greater than just a repair. “The owner of the company I’m leased to wants all the people who work on his trucks to carry $1 million in insurance,” says owner-operator John Brooks of Chicago, Ill. “They could be sued. We don’t always know what kind of parts they use, but they sign off on the repairs.”

Ultimately, the parts you buy and where you buy them can be the difference between getting your load delivered and being stuck in the shop. “There’s no way you can make a living out here with a truck that doesn’t run,” Watkins says. “I want to put the best part in there I can get, one that will last even longer than the original, and I’ll spend a little more for that.”

Parts remanufacturers can’t do their job without a steady supply of parts. When you turn in an old part to its original manufacturer, you can receive a substantial discount on the remanufactured part.

For example, a part that retails for $150 and has a core value of $100 will cost only $50 with a trade-in.

Some core values can go quite high. For example, one manufacturer assigns its turbochargers a $1,100 core charge. “Without the core trade-in, it was $1,900,” says Freightliner parts specialist Jason Thiery. “With the trade, it was $800.”

“Sometimes the core value is higher than the cost of the remanufacture,” says Dave Schultz, Bendix’s marketing manager.