Using Recycled Parts

Know the differences, and save money and the environment with recycled parts.

If you're trying to be environmentally conscious, or if you're just interested in saving some money, you might want to consider having your mechanic use recycled parts for your next repair. Recycled components save precious metals, raw materials, and energy spent on manufacturing.

"We've seen that in the past few years many more people are becoming aware that there is an alternative out there (in recycled parts)," said Brad Slater of the Automotive Recyclers Association.

But the terminology referring to these parts can be confusing. What's the difference between rebuilt, remanufactured, reconditioned, and recycled parts, and how do they compare to new parts? More so, are they cost effective in the long run?

Recycled is a broad reference to used parts collected from older vehicles by salvage yards (a.k.a. junkyards) or parts brokers. In recent years, it has become a more positive name in place of 'used'. These recycled parts might be perfectly fine, but they are merely used and there is no claim of how well they will work. On the other hand, used parts can be a real bargain, especially those from late-model vehicles.

Rebuilt parts are those that have been completely disassembled, cleaned, and adjusted (usually by hand) to perform like new. Any wearable pieces (like bearings and brushes, in the case of alternators) are replaced. Mechanics or driveway grease monkeys can order rebuilding kits for some parts, which include these wearables, along with specific instructions on how to do it.

Remanufactured essentially means the same thing as rebuilt, according to the American Parts Rebuilders Association, but it tends to refer to parts that have been rebuilt in a large-scale facility, often repackaged similarly to new parts. For instance, parts that have been rebuilt assembly-line style are usually termed factory rebuilt, or remanufactured. Remanufactured parts are widely considered to be similar in quality to rebuilt parts. Sometimes, but not always, the remanufacturer will have a minimum performance level for its parts.

Reconditioned refers to specialized rebuilt parts for old cars that are often no longer in OEM production. Reconditioned parts are a mixed bag, because it depends even more on the expertise of the rebuilder. Properly reconditioned parts will include rust removal, replacement of any wearable parts, and innovative, customized repairs for pieces no longer made.

So what kind of savings can you expect? If you go with rebuilt or remanufactured parts, they can cost up to 50 percent less than original-equipment parts. Used parts can go for a small fraction of the original equipment parts. It's good to shop around, because on some popular models the savings might not be very significant. But on rare older models and many newer import brands, the savings can be huge.

Recycled or used parts usually come with an extremely limited warranty, or no warranty at all, while rebuilt and remanufactured parts come with more comprehensive warranties. Reconditioned parts will often come with limited warranties, too. Few, if any, of these warranties on recycled parts cover the cost of labor, though.

The bottom line is that the savings can really pile up, but you need to make sure you won't be paying more in labor to frequently replace parts. Before you start using recycled parts exclusively, ask your mechanic for some input. For your car, some parts might typically be problematic when recycled, yet others might really be as trouble-free good as new. Avoid the ones that tend to be problematic, unless there's very little labor involved in installation. Keep in mind that rebuilt and remanufactured parts often take into account improvements to design flaws that the original-equipment parts had, and for that reason they can sometimes be even more reliable.