Reader Question: Vanishing Parts?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

TJ writes: I’m in the process of helping my son rebuild the engine on a ‘99 Frontier (sans manual) that his grandpa gave him. Shortly after the hand-off my son blew a head gasket from overheating. We think a faulty temp gauge or water pump. Nonetheless, it has been a good experience for my 16 year old so – for us to bond, him to roll up his sleeves and get dirty and walk through the rebuild process. We actually only disassembled and then sent to head out to be worked on. He loves cars/trucks and even got a wielding job during the plandemic when he had to do online school until early afternoon, and then went to work while still 15 yrs old at the time. He‘s back in school but still puts in 2-3 hrs at his job after school.

In any case, we went to inquire about a piston ring kit from Nissan. Their response: “There are none throughout the U.S. in our system.” A quick call to O’rielly remedied the problem in sourcing the kit. Next call to Nissan is when the three large bolts for the timing (for sockets at cams and crank) were misplaced and we couldn’t find our originals. O’rielly said they don’t carry them and it would be a dealer part only. We called the dealer again and their response was: “The parts have been discontinued because of lack of demand/sales which is reflected in the system.”

Seemed like an odd response, much like the ring kit, and I specifically asked if it was due to a supply line issue, which they said no, not at all, we haven’t had too many issues with supply lines. I sure hope Nissan (and other OEMs) are to trying to pull off planned obsolescence of ICE cars/parts as they try and move into this new, old, electric chapter in cars. We won’t be denied, we will have to bolts/washers made if need be. Kinda fun teaching my son how we all grew up living – before the Amazon overnight era came to be.

My reply: I think this is odd – because (as you probably know) the ’99 Frontier is essentially/mechanically the same as my ’02 Frontier and other Frontiers made through the redesign circa 2004. Not that long ago – and Nissan built a lot of pick-ups equipped with this engine. I’ve not yet had any issues getting parts for my ’02 (I also owned a ’98) though some (like the fuel pump assembly) are obnoxiously expensive from Nissan. That said, good used parts are still easy to find – at least, in my experience – and there is a substantial aftermarket support system for these trucks.

In your son’s case, I’d consider cruising the junkyards in your area for a complete engine from which you can scavenge hardware such as bolts and so on. A good core could come in handy, too, in the event you need a block/crank/head or similar. Having the FI parts is good to have on hand, too.

I do think – per your question – that as this push to “electrify” accelerates, it will become harder to get parts for the non-electric. I worry, actually, that the government will “act”  to make it harder to keep non-EVs operational, as via extortionate taxes on fuel/registration and possibly even by outlawing the sale of replacement parts.

Another good reason to get spares now, while you can!

. . . .

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  1. Doesn’t help that junkyards are being really squeezed these days on property taxes, enforced building codes and zoning too. Good luck starting a new one from scratch, even the poorest towns won’t let you open one anymore. In my area a LEXUS dealer was built next to a junkyard. How long do you thing that junkyard has? I am surprised its still there yet to be honest, there are many that want it gone due to it’s pretty visible location (when it opened it was far in the “country”, not anymore).

    Fifty years ago, a junkyard could take in a car and if most of it was still there thirty years later, not a problem. If it took that long to pick it clean, they had the room for it to just sit. Now if a car sits long without parts being sold off of it, it gets sent to the crusher. Some models probably get the sellable parts pulled off and the rest crushed right off the bat. Too bad for that person fifteen years down the road that needs the part that was destroyed or recycled ten years ago already.

    Electric cars won’t and don’t go to junkyards either. The batteries are too dangerous for one, so operators do not want them and regulations will probably prohibit them. And how many parts are going to be re-sellable if all the automakers go the Tesla way and make used parts useless?

  2. Some complete timing rebuild kits could have the bolts you are looking for. I believe Melling Engine Parts might supply such a kit for the Frontier.

  3. I rebuilt quite a few engines in the 90’s. Back then, you could get pretty much any part for anything. These days? Engines (at least for the more modern vehicles- i.e. made within the last 25 years or so) aren’t not being rebuilt as much, because so many of the vehicles are essentially disposable, and the engines are often so complex and festooned with plastic parts and electronics which usually all need replacing during a rebuild (Plastic is cracked..or will crack when you disturb it….electronics may be unobtainable once out-of-production) that the cost and or prospect of not being able to obtain peripheral parts makes rebuilding unfeasible. And the days of having a shop do a rebuild- which is what constituted the bulk of the demand for rebuild parts, are long gone- as the cot is utterly prohibitive now…and a lot of the mechanics are even incapable of doing a quality rebuild woth all of the complex and delicate systems involved these days. There are so many ancillary parts which even if not defective yet, one would want to replace while the engine is out/accessible so as not to have to incur major labor costs in the future- like a turbo charger which might require engine, suspension or cab removal to access if it goes bad later- that a conscientious rebuild could easily run into 5 figures. So the dealer guy was right…there is just little demand now-a-days, because cars have become basically disposable transportation appliances. 🙁


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