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water pump gear, plastic vs steel, what years?

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So while working on my 1996 cr250 rebuild, noticed the water pump gear on my 1996 is plastic.  On one of the spare engine cases, the water pump has a steel gear.  What years had the steel vs plastic gear?  I am thinking the steel would be preferred.

If steel is better, is there any reason to split the water pump cover?  The other was a pain in the butt and not sure it was necessary.  The right side cover the steel geared water pump is on is in good shape, should I just use it instead of swapping the steel pump from one to the other?

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