Remanufactured parts have been a mainstay of the aftermarket. Traditionally, reman parts have been a less expensive alternative to new parts for motorists who are trying to save money when they buy replacement parts. But in recent years, a flood of imported new parts from China has changed that equation. Nowadays, many parts are cheaper than reman parts.
Right or wrong, many consumers have the notion that new parts are always better than reman parts. So if a new part costs the same or just a little more than a reman part, they will often choose to buy the new part. And if the new part costs less than the reman part, it seems to be a no-brainer that the new part is the better deal.
But is it?
Many consumers assume that new parts are essentially the same as original equipment (OEM) parts in terms of form, fit and function. They assume new parts are designed to the same specifications as OEM parts, that they are manufactured with the same materials, the same quality and the same workmanship as the OEM parts they replace. In some cases, that’s true. In fact, the part in the box may be identical in every way to the OEM part it replaces. It may even come from the OEM supplier. Brand name parts from OEM suppliers are usually parts you can trust — unless, of course, they are counterfeit parts (which is another issue that continues to plague the aftermarket).
Just because a part is new does not mean it is identical to the OEM part, or that it is better than a reman part. In some cases, the part inside the box may actually be inferior to the OEM part or a quality-built reman part. No-name products that are sold by the container load at dirt-cheap prices may turn out to be not such a good bargain after all.
Mechanical parts such as water pumps and brake calipers may use bearings and seals that are not the same grade or quality as those in OEM parts to reduce costs. Electronic parts such as alternators, starters, fuel pumps and ignition modules may also use cheaper or inferior grade components that may not provide the same dependability and longevity as the OEM parts they replace. The new part may fit the application, but chances are it won’t hold up like the original part or a quality reman part.
A perfect example of this is “lightweight” brake rotors from China that have less iron in the discs to reduce manufacturing costs. The thinner rotors don’t have the same mass as OEM or other aftermarket rotors, so they can’t absorb and dissipate as much heat. This may increase the risk of the brakes running hot and fading in certain driving situations. Thinner rotors will also have a shorter service life because they can’t handle as much wear or resurfacing without becoming dangerously thin. The lightweight rotors also have a greater risk of cracking once they become worn.
Rotating electrical parts such as alternators and starters are high-cost replacement parts.
Reman alternators and starters traditionally enjoyed a significant cost advantage over new parts (OEM or aftermarket) because they reused the bulk of the components when the part was rebuilt or remanufactured. But today, that cost advantage has evaporated. New alternators and starters are very cost competitive with reman alternators and starters. What’s more, there are no core returns or core deposits when a customer is buying new parts, which makes for a cleaner, less-complicated transaction.
Every time a new part is sold without an exchange, that’s one less core that rebuilders and remanufacturers can recover and recycle. The old part usually ends up in the trash and goes to a landfill. Or, it might be sold for scrap and melted down. Either way, the core is gone for good.
WHAT EXACTLY ARE REMAN PARTS?
There is no standard definition of what exactly constitutes a reman part. Essentially, it is a used part that has been recovered, recycled, repaired or reconditioned so it can be reused again.
The Automotive Parts Remanufacturers Association (APRA) offers the following description for reman parts:
“A properly rebuilt automotive part is the functional equivalent of a new part and is virtually indistinguishable from a new part. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) required that such parts be labeled as ‘rebuilt’ so they they are not mistakenly accepted as new.
“For all practical purposes, remanufacturing automotive parts is very much like assembling new parts except that many of the components are taken from used parts, especially the housing. In remanufacturing, the part must be completely disassembled, cleaned and examined for wear and breakage. Worn out, missing or non-functioning components are replaced with new or rebuilt components. Electrical parts frequently need rewinding or rewiring. After all work is done, the part is reassembled and tested for compliance with performance specifications.”
APRA also says that although many people use the term “rebuilt” interchangeably with “remanufactured,” the latter term is more accurate for parts that have been reconditioned to like-new condition or to OEM specifications.
Some parts rebuilders simply test and repair old parts so they will work. Components that are not worn out or have failed are not replaced or reconditioned. These tend to be the lowest-priced products — and the least dependable. But they do provide a cheap fix for consumers who are not concerned about long-term durability.
Other rebuilders completely disassemble the old part, discard everything that typically wears and replace the old components with new to restore the part to like-new condition. In some instances, the part may actually be re-engineered to overcome a weakness in the OEM part that may have caused it to fail prematurely. So in this respect, some reman parts may actually be superior to the OEM parts they replace.
Parts that are remanufactured to a higher level of quality and workmanship typically come with longer warranties and experience fewer problems and returns.
Every remanufacturer has its own procedures for remanufacturing parts. Some may have two sets of procedures, one for a quality brand product, and sometimes a less extensive and expensive process for a “value” line products (which typically use a higher percentage of the original components within a part).
For example, if a remanufacturer is doing a steering rack, these are the steps that may be employed to produce the finished product:
1. Cleaning: All gears are externally degreased.
2. Disassembly and Inspection: All seals are discarded, metal is inspected and then polished to specifications. Pinion and valve assemblies are sorted to ensure a proper match for final assembly, and any out-of-range valves are scrapped.
3. Parts Preparation: All individual parts are degreased and cleaned a second time.
4. Assembly: All seals, O-rings, bushings, valve rings, boots and clamps are replaced with new, OEM quality parts. No old seals, boots or rubber parts are reused.
5. Testing: Every steering gear is put through a series of tests to make sure it is functioning.
6. Test Result Documentation: Test results are recorded before the reman steering gear goes in the box and is shipped.
With reman rotating electrical components such as alternators, some remanufacturers may automatically replace the troublesome diodes in the back of the unit that convert the alternator’s alternating current (AC) output to direct current (DC). Others may simply test the diodes and replace them only if needed. The former approach reduces the risk of a repeat failure down the road and provides a higher quality product (which costs more), while the latter approach reduces remanufacturing costs and provides a less expensive replacement alternator for the consumer.
Which product is the best choice depends on the customer, their situation and how much money they are willing to spend. That’s why many parts stores stock more than one brand or line of reman product. They have a quality brand or line of reman parts for customers who are willing to pay a little more for a dependability and a better warranty, and they have a value brand or line of reman parts for the customer who only wants the cheapest possible fix.
Customers are generally better off paying a little more for a quality brand or line of reman parts, especially if they plan on keeping their vehicle for the foreseeable future, and are not just looking for a cheap fix so they can sell or trade their vehicle.
OTHER ADVANTAGES OF REMAN PARTS
According to APRA, reman parts offer a number of significant advantages compared to new parts:
• If an OEM part is out of production or a new part for the application is not available, a reman part may be a customer’s only option if they don’t want to risk installing a used part from a salvage yard.
• Remanufacturing salvages and recycles valuable castings and components that might otherwise end up in landfills or scrap heaps. Rebuilders annually save millions of tons of natural resources such as iron, aluminum and copper. This reduces the need for new raw materials.
• Remanufacturing saves energy. Extending the service life of a component consumes less energy than making a new part from scratch. Energy savings can range from 30 percent to as much as 85 percent depending on the part, how much of it can be reused, and how much cleaning and machining it requires. This saves millions of barrels of oil, tons of coal and megawatts of electricity that would otherwise be consumed and pollute the atmosphere.
For example, one study said starter remanufacturing in the U.S. saves about 8.2 million gallons of crude oil from steel manufacturing, 51,500 tons of iron ore, and 6,000 tons of copper and other metals.
A remanufactured engine requires 50 percent of the energy and 67 percent of the labor needed to produce new engine. And it reuses several hundred pounds of iron and/or aluminum that would have to be melted down and recast to make a new engine block, cylinder heads and manifolds.
Studies by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, demonstrated that the yearly energy savings by remanufacturing worldwide equals the electricity generated by five nuclear power plants or 10.8 millions barrels of crude oil which corresponds to a fleet of 233 oil tankers! The yearly raw materials saved by remanufacturing worldwide would fill 155,000 railroad cars forming a train 11,100 miles long! That’s a significant impact.
So think about these things the next time you ponder the benefits of reman parts versus new.