Rebuild or Replace?
Nov 15, 2018
I talked the other day with an independent mechanic in the eastern U.S. who makes a darned good living fixing Caterpillar equipment. He said he has more customers and work than he can keep up with, because, "I fix things. All the young dealership mechanics want to do is replace computer boards, or replace gearboxes, or replace stuff. My customers like that I'm willing to tear down gearboxes and cylinders, replace the faulty parts and rebuild them for less cost than what it takes to put in a whole new piece."
I admit that we at the dealership often replace instead of rebuild a lot of gear cases and other components. Here's why.
First off, right or wrong, our hourly rate is a lot higher than an independent mechanic's. Most mainline dealerships' shop rates are in the neighborhood of $100 per hour, and probably more. Independents charge from $50 to maybe $100 per hour, depending on their local market and their reputation. I'll defend the higher rates of dealerships by pointing out we have a lot more support and overhead than an independent. Heck, the independents come to us for parts, sometimes for advice, and occasionally send us work that they can't or don't want to do. Hopefully our customers get better service, parts and supports for the extra money they pay.
Shop rates definitely play into decisions on whether to rebuild or replace components. It takes the same amount of time to remove and install a gearbox, whether it's a rebuilt gearbox or a new gearbox.. The difference is how long it takes to rebuild a gearbox. If it takes four hours to rebuild that gearbox at a dealership, by the time you add the cost of parts it may be nearly the price of a new or re-manufactured gearbox. That's where an independent mechanic may be able to do a rebuild cheaper than a dealership.
Hydraulic cylinders are a different deal. It's generally much cheaper to put a seal kit in a cylinder than to replace it with a new one. But experience has taught me that in many cases, whatever caused the seals to fail--a scored cylinder wall, a pitted piston shaft, or some other mechanical problem--will quickly damage the new seals. And if I take time to tear down the cylinder and inspect it to determine if it needs more than just a seal kit, well, you're adding labor charge to the cost of whatever parts I find that need replacing.
So lately, on hydraulic cylinders, I've been leaning toward just replacing them. Frankly, it's a good way for me to cover my butt. If I rebuild a cylinder and it fails, the blame is on me. If I install a new cylinder, the manufacturer generally offers a one year warranty, so all I'm out is the labor to remove the old cylinder and install a new one.
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide how you want your machine repaired. Don't be afraid to ask your mechanic his opinions about rebuilding versus replacing. He's probably got a range of options from which you can choose to obtain a repair that gives you a blend of durability and price that you'll be comfortable with.