Bottom Line
You can bet on it
Fuel costs may keep climbing, rates may be dicey, and freight markets may be unpredictable. But through all this, you can absolutely depend on one thing: your truck’s need to be maintained.

By Paul Abelson
senior technical editor


When performing maintenance, you are faced with choices. Almost any component that needs attention can be repaired, rebuilt or remanufactured. Each of those options has a different effect on the length of service you can expect from the part or component, and the warranty you can expect to receive from the vendor.

When components fail, your alternatives include one more option: replacement. Here are the differences to consider when deciding which option is best:

Replace: Remove the failed part and replace it with a new one. This is the most expensive option, but you get a brand-new part with a new-part warranty. You can also select a rebuilt or remanufactured replacement.

Repair: Find out what is wrong and fix only that. For example, if your alternator’s carbon brushes are worn out and not making contact, replace just the brushes. This is the least expensive in the short run, but it leaves you open to subsequent problems. Any warranty usually covers only the replaced part, and only for a limited time.

Rebuild: When a local specialist shop or a technician rebuilds a component, they take it apart and inspect it for wear, often using a micrometer to measure to fractions of thousandths of an inch. For example, in alternators, parts that usually wear, such as brushes and bearings, can be replaced with new ones. Shafts can be replaced or smoothed out with emery cloth if wear is within tolerances. Electronic voltage regulators should also be tested, as should all functional parts. Then the alternator is reassembled.

Warranties vary by rebuilder, but depending on when components are rebuilt, they may last longer than the current owner plans to hold on to the truck. While repaired components have only the failed item replaced, rebuilt ones are more thoroughly inspected and reconditioned.

Remanufacture: This level of reconstruction is as close to having a new component as possible. The component is shipped to a factory-like facility where it is completely disassembled. Skilled technicians examine any parts that may be salvageable to make sure they are suitable for reuse.

If parts cannot be reused, they are scrapped and replaced, either with parts from other components or with new parts. Parts prone to wear are automatically replaced with new parts. Work is performed on an assembly line, because the process uses the same replacement wear items regardless of the state of disrepair of the individual parts.

The philosophy of remanufacture is that if a part hasn’t worn yet, it will eventually. Savings come from reusing cores. Of the refurbishing processes, remanufacture is the most expensive, but provides the most reliable component with the longest warranty.

When buying rebuilt or remanufactured components, you usually get a credit for returning the old component, which goes through the process for another customer.

Other components undergo similar processes, varying according to the nature of the component.

Engines, for example, may be considered repaired when a broken ring is replaced in a cylinder or a failed bearing is discovered – and that bearing or possibly all the mains are replaced.

An engine overhaul, often done with the block remaining in the frame (hence the term “in-frame” overhaul), is a rebuild. Wear parts, including all bearings, seals, bushings and rings, are replaced. Other parts, such as cylinder liners, are removed and inspected. If reconditioning is possible, the liners can be re-honed to restore the scratch pattern that holds oil and lubricates piston rings. If liners are pitted, they should be replaced.

The job is done at the shop. A major overhaul may be called for if wear is so great that most parts will need to be replaced, including camshafts, the crankshaft and lifters or followers. A “major” is usually done with the engine removed from the chassis.

Every engine manufacturer has a remanufacturing operation. There are also some very good independents. The engine, removed from the truck and shipped to the remanufacturer, is completely disassembled.

All parts are thoroughly inspected. Many are X-rayed or magnafluxed to check for flaws. Connecting rods are tested for bend and twist. Crankshafts are demagnetized and machined. You get the idea. Remanufacture is the next thing to having an engine fresh off the assembly line. Everything is like new, up to and including warranties.

The decision to have repairs made or to buy rebuilt or remanufactured products depends on how long you intend to keep your truck. If something breaks on your way to trade it in, repair it and get on your way. If you want one more year before trading up, rebuilt parts will be fine.

If you plan to hold on to your rig for the foreseeable future, it will likely be worthwhile to get remanufactured components when repairs are needed. Many can even be upgraded to the latest specifications. LL

Paul Abelson can be reached at