Reader Question: Austin, I need a water pump for my BMW 325 I, and a new one is expensive for me, but a used one seems very cheap and within my budget. What is your opinion on used parts?
Thanks in advance, Chuck
Welcome to the world of expensive European car repair. You do ask a good question though, and this is something most people really don't give much consideration to. The salvage yard, or junk yard as they once were called, can be a great place to pick up a deal on a slightly-used replacement part.
In the body business, the term for a "used salvage yard part" is called Quality Replacement Part (QRP), or Like Kind Quality (LKQ). Both terms refer to a used part out of a junk yard, but to the insurance company, QRP sounds a heck of a lot more professional than "used junk yard part."
The salvage yard business has come a long way in the last few years. Many of them use computer databases to inventory available parts. The vehicles are brought in, and most of them are pre-stripped and the parts stored in like lots (i.e., fenders). Digging through heaps of rusty old cars is a thing of the past. Finding a part in a modern salvage yard is like shopping in any other retail store. In most cases, the fast-moving, popular parts like radiators, alternators, and seats are ready-to-go on display shelves.
The salvage yards are now linked together by a telephone system called the Hot Line. When you need a part, contact a salvage yard near you to check their inventory. If they don't have the part, ask them to "run it on the Hot Line." They can literally get you information about available parts at other salvage yards within seconds. The Hot Line can save you hours of frustration calling around yourself. When a salvage dealer finds a part for me on the Hot Line, I always ask him what he would have charged me for the part if he had it in stock. That way I know what ballpark amount I should expect to pay from another dealer.
You will probably pay about half the price of a new part. Everything is negotiable to an extent, so you are welcome to try to barter…but always expect to pay cash. If it is an item like a seat that is only in "fair" condition, you may be able to talk down the price even more. Word of warning: if at all possible, take the old part with you to the salvage yard to make sure they match. Sometimes parts don't get tagged properly, and what they think will fit your car doesn't fit your car. Returns are almost always exchange only-no refunds. The standard poster you will see in the salvage yard says, "If the part you bought from us doesn't fix the problem…you now have a spare."
All that said…now it's time to rain on your parade. I would NOT buy a used water pump from a salvage yard. To install the pump is very time consuming (labor intensive), and with any used part, there is too much of a chance that there may be a defect in the part or that it doesn't work up to par. The gaskets and seals on a water pump can tear when they take it off the car for salvage, and the likelihood for future failure is pretty high.
I also wouldn't recommend buying second-hand brake system parts for safety reasons. Any labor intensive jobs or repairs dealing with safety issues are not good candidates for QRP. I would however recommend using QRP for "hard parts" such as fenders, hoods, grills, and other non-mechanical parts that don't move much and are likely to be in good condition. You can also more easily assess the condition of these parts without really knowing a lot about cars, saving yourself the possibility of failure after installation. Another good candidate for QRP is expensive electronic equipment that is not labor-intensive to replace, like radios, computers, and sensors.
Austin C Davis
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