Common Car Parts used in different models. Good or Bad?

Car Parts

Market forces shape our lives on a macro scale – the efficient use of capital is paramount. The mass production of cars is not free of these forces. Ever more efficient processes are demanded and supply chains refined. Economies of scale slim supply chains; and, this means a rationalisation of the amount of parts needed in a process as well as the variety of parts. This has benefits for the motorist:

  • A more efficient manufacturing process coupled with fewer parts supplied from a common supply chain means a cheaper end product.
  • More efficient supply chains means cheaper spare parts – whilst the model of car is still in production.
  • Plentiful supply of parts if that part is used in many different models of car. So what if your particular model has ceased production if common parts are still being produced for a different one?
  • Common use of parts means that sourcing the right part is easier. Even the same model of car can have different designs for the same part in a given year at present.
  • Mechanics and repairers can gain a better understanding of more vehicles by having to recognise fewer parts. So less training is required.
  • These advantages will translate into the used car parts market as well: Need a part for one model and it is in scarce supply? Don’t wory, get a part from a different model that uses the same part.

So far so good. The efficient use of capital is serving the customer well. You can get better value new cars, and cheaper spare parts. Whats not to like. Well with roses come thorns…

Total [car parts] Recall

The market place is not always economically perfect. There are various interests and risks inherent with fewer suppliers and types of part in a market. This affects car parts too.

  • Look at this example from The Guardian newspaper: Toyota parts recall! If you use the same part for many types of vehicle you increase the risk if something goes wrong. The recall when there is a problem is bigger. You also face a restriction on where you can find an alternative part.
  • You also face a restriction on where you can find an alternative part. If the part is faulty how do replace it in the supply chain?
  • Fewer manufacturers in play mean that you face the danger of cartels being formed. These suppliers can group to gether to dictate the price. This is generally illegal but it can still happen. Look at this example from Reuters news service: Watchdog raids exhaust makers! And this one from the European Union: Commission fines car parts suppliers for operating wire harnesses cartels! The risk of cartels being formed can mean more expensive spare parts not just new ones for car manufacturers.
  • Standardisation can have benefits but it can be restricting too. One size, one power output, one look? It could lead to lack of differentiation. People like to express themselves in non economically rational ways. Our cars can [are?!] be an extension of how we like to project ourselves. The plutocrat in his Bentley, the working person in their Ford, and the boy racer in, well, their boy racer. The specifications for these vehicles will vary and thus limit the interoperable parts that can be used. Less really isn’t more.
  • Homogenised specifications so that one specification suits no one could also lead to a lack of innovation. Where is the incentitive to produce new, better, or interesting ideas for parts if the design must be locked down to suit a network of models. You can’t try a variation without risking inter-operability.

So there are pros and cons to the use of common car parts. Like many things in life, it is finding the right measure of their use to balance price and risk, standardisation and individulity. The things to remember when looking for used car parts:

  • Can I get the part I need from another model? Ask the breaker as they have a great font of knowledge. Remember to check the part numbers match!
  • The same part for the same model can vary depending on year and specification. Remember to check the part numbers match!