When your personal daily driver or commercial vehicle experiences a major failure, it’s important that you, as a value-conscious consumer, enter the shop with a working knowledge of what your options will be. While simply disposing of a failed vehicle and purchasing one new or used is certainly an option to consider, if your first instinct is to go to the automotive shop and not the junkyard, it’s likely that you sense the value in exploring your other options, which are to rebuild or remanufacture the failed components.
Often, and incorrectly, these two terms are used interchangeably, confusing the important differences between the two services. In this article, we’ll discuss these differences and how choosing one over the other can grant you the most value for your dollar.
When Your Vehicle Fails in a Major Way
Your vehicle is one of the most important commodities you will ever own. You, your family, or your business rely on your vehicle(s) to carry out your day-to-day activities with the most success and efficiency. Knowing the signs of failure can help you act quickly enough to spare yourself the inconvenience and frustration of losing your main mode of transportation for longer than necessary.
Aside from the more obvious signs of engine failure—a car that won’t drive, for example—there are other ways to know that serious trouble is on the horizon. These are, to name a few:
- Excessive and dark-colored exhaust from the tailpipe
- Excessive oil consumption and low oil pressure
- Leakage and clanking noises
The causes of failure can be linked to poor maintenance, heavy usage leading to overheating, poor lubrication, or simply the unavoidable wear and tear of years of use and accumulated mileage. When it fails, the option to simply scrap the vehicle entirely—rather than take it to the shop—may not be the best one even if it seems to be the easiest or most reliable choice at first.
After all, who wants to gamble on the expense of rebuilt or remanufactured components when you can “guarantee” a problem-free vehicle by buying one new? The answer is “not many of us,” but the fact remains that you’ll never be able to eliminate the gamble in any of your car-related decisions.
There is risk even in buying a new or used vehicle. But what you can do is narrow down your options to the one that delivers the most value.
Choosing Value Over New
When you drive a brand-new vehicle off the lot, it immediately loses value. Estimates have the depreciation of new vehicles at an average 10% loss the moment it’s driven off the lot, followed by an extra 10% drop after the first year. All told, that shiny new car will, on average, lose at least 60% of its total value by the time it’s five-years-old.
Even used cars older than five years can and will depreciate, but the rate it will depreciate is inconsistent and sometimes unpredictable. You’ll have to do your research on a number of factors, but it all depends on the popularity of the model in question as well as market forces beyond your control: for example, when new car production exceeded demand in the early 2000s, ushering in a temporary reign of leasing, there was a subsequent swell in the used car market that resulted in a drop in the demand for used cars. Depreciation rates promptly accelerated, and many used car buyers felt the heat.
The new and used car scene can be a fickle and fluctuating market, so if the situation allows for it, opting to rebuild or remanufacture the failed components of a vehicle you already own is often the most value-conscious choice.
Let’s Talk Numbers
It’s estimated that the cost of bringing new life to the typical car or truck with a professional rebuild or remanufacture is 10 to 20% of what you would spend on a vehicle fresh off the production line. For example, while you can expect to pay between $2500 and $8000 for a professional transmission rebuild/remanufacture, the first-time purchase of the most popular vehicle models can range between $20,000 and $30,000.
While the cost range for a rebuild or remanufacture of any failed component will naturally vary based on vehicle make and model, extent of the damage, and other issues, this range strongly competes with what you can expect to pay for even a used vehicle that is in like-new condition or has low miles.
Additionally, used vehicles come with history, whether known or unknown, which should play into your decision-making process. Has it been in any accidents? Have the previous owner(s) been diligent about upkeep and maintenance? Has the dealership or the previous owner disclosed even the minor defects of the vehicle? Also keep in mind that, in general, the lower the cost of a used vehicle, the greater the risk of future problems.
Value That’s Hard to Beat
Much of the value of a rebuild or remanufacture comes in the form of:
- Piecemeal repair and replacement of failed components
- Being spared the costs of a full-vehicle purchase (This includes taking on a new car loan and paying on interest.)
- An expense that is fortified with added warranties
- Reduced annual insurance costs (It’s more expensive to register and insure a new vehicle than it is older models.)
However, while the comparative value of rebuilding or remanufacturing a vehicle next to purchasing one new or used can be clear-cut in most situations, there are important differences between the two options that should be explored even further before a final, value-conscious decision is made for your vehicle.
Remanufacture vs Rebuild: Why Choose One Over the Other?
When a major component of your vehicle fails and needs replacing—your gas or diesel engine, the manual or automatic transmission, and/or differentials and rear axle assemblies—the hard reality is that a major expense is in your future. The trick is ensuring that for every dollar you choose to spend, you’re getting your money’s worth in the form of a reliable, long-lasting vehicle.
For serious automotive repairs like those listed above, your decision will be based on the value you expect to get out of the investment, which is ensured by the quality of the refurbished components, the technician’s expertise, and the warranties made available by the manufacturer to give you peace of mind.
To give you a baseline idea of the quality difference between rebuilt or remanufactured components, we’ll start with what it means to go with the lowest option, which is to purchase used parts from a salvage yard, often for the sake of savings over value. Because the quality only goes up from there.
Used Engines, Transmissions, and Differentials
With used components, you can’t be certain what you’re getting and putting into your own car. They are pulled directly from retired vehicles, normally from a salvage yard, and generally bring with them a history of poor maintenance or unseen damage sustained in an accident, not to mention additional wear if the unit has been left to the elements for some time.
Without a set standard for quality control, there are no reliable provisions for cleaning, disassembling, inspecting, or testing parts from a salvage yard.
That being said, some salvage yards take greater care with salvaged components in the ways the parts are selected, stored, and organized, and you can let the quality of the operation inform your decision.
However, even with some kind of warranty or return policy in place, trusting in used components, especially essential ones like engines, transmissions, and differentials, will likely not be worth the time, cost, and labor of installation when the part fails again.
Rebuilt components are a leap above used in terms of quality, but while the pros are significant, there are still a few cons to consider.
Pros of Rebuilding
- Less expensive than remanufacturing and more reliable than used salvaged parts
- Parts are cleaned and inspected before installation (And used only if they fit within the manufacturer’s acceptable wear limits.)
Cons of Rebuilding
- Quality of components can vary between one rebuilder and the next (“Acceptable wear limits” is can be an unfixed standard that rarely means “like new.”)
- May only come with a limited warranty
- After a rebuild, components will be unequal in terms of age and use, which may lead to premature failure
- It is common to have to change out rebuilt parts multiple times before the vehicle performs as hoped for
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The most important difference between rebuilding and remanufacturing is that to remanufacture components means to refurbish the part until it is in like new condition.
Pros of Remanufacturing
- Testing and inspection of parts are performed to original manufacturer specifications and production standards
- All wearable parts within the component as a whole are automatically replaced
- Core materials (pistons, connecting rods, rings, bearings, camshafts, lifters, oil pump, etc.) are tested to meet correct dimensional tolerances, durability, and quality
- Remanufactured parts generally carry a much longer warranty than rebuilt or used
- Closest option to buying a car brand new, but without the expense
Cons of Remanufacturing
- More expensive than rebuilding or repairing the vehicle with used parts
As an example of the type of warranty you should expect, if not demand, from any remanufacturer, look for coverage that lasts 3 years or 100,000 miles for gas engines, both manual and automatic transmissions, and differentials.
This is the warranty offered by JASPER, the nation’s largest remanufacturer with 43 branch locations across the country and the ability to deliver applications to installers, such as Dickerson Automotive, within a few days.
Extending the Life of Your Vehicle
At Dickerson, our aim is to give the best automotive advice not only for your vehicle, but for your situation. It can be a relief to defer to a technician’s recommendations entirely, because the average car owner often feels in over their head when they enter an automotive shop. We know that most of the time all you want to know is that your car will be in working order as soon as possible and for a good deal.
However, the best mechanics don’t just provide affordable and reliable services, and they don’t try to make your decisions for you. The greatest mechanics seek to give you all the available information to help you make the best choices for yourself.
Depending on your situation, it may be that a used or rebuilt component is the most feasible option for now, but if you know you don’t want to start paying on yet another new car loan, or wonder when the next failure is going to put your car out of commission, a remanufacture may be for you, allowing you to confidently extend the life of the vehicle you already own.