no start after distributor came apart inside

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Yes, you can tell the difference between an iron vs a steel gear... Its subtle but its there..
what about metal bits all through your engine?
Most of that ate up gear metal will have went right thru the oil pump and will be in the oil filter
Causing no problems unless you are the worrying type (only your psyche will be affected)
I would like to think I could tell the difference but would sure want both gears sitting side by side to compare
Cranks are easy small parts not so much IMO
I can't remember exactly ( I shoulda been in politics) but one end of the gear will have a machined look if its steel, and the Iron one will have more of a cast look... Still its very subtle.......