Feeling Like a Spare Part

You find us today in pieces and parts.

Image: tradekey

I bid you dear reader to recall the chastisement you once received from your parents, irate at the bomb site you’d made of the room as you built that model car, tank or plane. This usually plastic model kit required careful assembly, with precision and adjustments, where necessary. That missing, vital piece which caused untold distress, the carelessly applied glue which resulted in delays and rectification – the admiring glances over coming months of a job well done.

Assembling a modern motor vehicle is in essence little different to the description above. Components, sub-assemblies, fasteners, grommets; any typical car is made up of hundreds if not thousands of the things. The assembly plant merely has to put them together (hopefully in the correct order) as these components often arrive from external suppliers. Fleets of trucks delivering pallets or SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) from trusted third parties keep the system flowing, just in time. 

But some components need to be stockpiled, not for production but as spares. Belts, bolts, trim and sub-assemblies along with any number of body panels required by those needing accident replacement, servicing or, heaven forbid, warranty claims, manufacturers openly confess to having computerised warehouses covering several football pitches, chock full of these essential parts to keep that car of yours where it should be – on the road.

Not all carmakers are the same, though. A common myth being that components must be made for ten years after production has ceased is exactly that. Not only common, but good business sense decrees large amounts of spares should be carried for those big sellers. Huge profits can be easily made. In essence, the manufacturer has only to make enough spare parts to cover your warranty period. Add in these third parties who have the option to produce untold amounts, should they be in demand as tooling, set up, can be increased or reduced, accordingly.

Part of the Month – R107 transverse control arm. Image: Partssearch.mercedes-Benz-classic.com.

Mercedes are an exception. For example they continue to make thousands of spares for more mature models of many moons past. As long as your bank balance is deep, you can still acquire that R107 transverse arm (Spare Of The Month according to their website) part number A 1073302507 for €1,500 in Germany. Factor in postage, mind you. Honda are also something of an anomaly by keeping a policy to continue producing spare parts for models fifteen years after production has ceased. Your 2007 Accord is safe for you to continue collecting your pension, Gertrude.

Of course one can steer away from OEM parts and prices by heading to the aftermarket suppliers but that kind of behaviour can lead to not only scolding looks from aficionados but the dreaded lessening in value. You certainly wouldn’t want your Gullwing, nor your Prancing Horse fitted with parts inferior in manufacture and tolerance to those factory-made, would you? Carmakers with any sense of history are now extremely keen on keeping provenance in-house. Any manufacturer worth their nameplate has a classic section these days, geared up to keep those gears a-changing – clued up on clutches and positively enthralled with engines.

Image: Parts.jaguarlandroverclassic.com

In Britain’s West Midlands JLR’s classic arm holds stock going back many years. Should your MY 1999 S-Type Jaguar require the smokers kit, presumably lost in that last, very heavy garden centre trip when you were desperate for a crafty cigarette? No problem, madam. Part Number C2C11315 is an OEM, authentic Jaguar made piece. Handily, this will also fit the 2003-09 XJ, the XK from 2006-14, not to mention the 2009-15 XF. Just one example of a small but potentially significant part (should you be in need of nicotine (or more practically, charging ‘yer phone), playing its multi-mode role, all for £13.42, including VAT. 

Škoda remains keen to keep models from the pre-Volkswagen era running, annually shipping out three thousand orders for part No. 6U0905851B, the ignition switch, fitting models circa 1976: 105, 120, 130, 135, 136 and the Favorit including later Felicia models. Impressive numbers for forty plus years, does this suggest ham-fisted operatives or swathes of those rear engined bolides still dodging about?

VW Currywurst. Image: Autocar

For the Wolfsburg line worker, Volkswagen have had more than a hand in making a product more prolific than any vehicles they have made. 199 398 500 A is an actual part number that refers, not to any warranty claim, nor service part but one which can only be found in factory canteen areas: Currywurst. 

Predating Golf, Polo or Passat, the Beetle, along with the Type 4 were first to be assembled by employees lunching on VW’s own sausage recipe, with 500 A production beginning in 1973. Consumption of this pork based component, served in the seventeen Wolfsburg restaurants and canteens ran at its peak to over 18,000 per day, with nearly seven million produced in 2019 alone.

Being as clandestine about their production and ingredients, as any other process within the VW assembly lines, the sausages apparently arrived in either five (13 cm) or ten inch (25 cm) varieties after being hung in racks and cooked over smoked beechwood for one hundred minutes at 349 degrees Celsius. Once cool, 199 398 500 A was packed into fives.

Maintaining that listening approach to good human relations, VW have since added a Currywurst soup along with, for the past ten years, a vegetarian option. Accompaniments include chips (or should that be fries?  – no part number) and VW ketchup, which is labelled, you guessed it, part No. 199 398 500 B. But food carbon emissions it seems have become more troubling than anything relating to ‘Dieselgate’ – the pork Currywurst is off. Upsetting workers, unions and ex-Chancellor Gerard Schroder alike[1] when first announced in August 2021, the vegan and vegetarian options of bean and pea protein encased in alga (to maintain that sausage ‘snap’), will soon be all that’s available[2].

CEO, Herbert Diess defended the move, suggesting that offering over 400 different recipes and meat free diets, better ingredients and less animal carbon-emissions would be “better and healthier for everyone, as this will improve the health, mood and productivity of employees.” The bean (or sausage) counters have well and truly spoken.

If only everything in life was as reliable… as being sold spare part sausages.

[1] Schroder was quoted as saying, “A vegetarian diet is good, I do it in phases. But no meat Currywurst? No, no, no!”

[2] If it hasn’t happened already.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

28 thoughts on “Feeling Like a Spare Part”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. One of my friends had an A208 that needed a new catalytic converter. Despite Mercedes Benz’s reputation for having many items on stock, he had to wait 4 months to get it.

    I never knew Honda produced spare parts for older vehicles. Hondas are rare here nowadays. I have very good experience with BMW. Having driven older Bimmers all my life on the few occasions I needed a spare part I always got it next day. I think Porsche and Volvo are good in this respect too.

  2. Interesting that the company determines the diet of its* employees. Amazing anyone puts up with this sort of foolery.

  3. Good morning Andrew. Sadly, I have yet to sample a currywurst, made by VW or otherwise. I do recall a spare part anecdote concerning VW Group, however. When I bought my Mk1 Audi TT convertible (secondhand) the bright metal trim was missing from the brake pedal:

    I made enquiries and was shocked to discover that Audi wanted around £120 for replacement pedal rubber and trim! After a bit of hunting through Google images, I discovered that the Mk1 Fabia vRS had what appeared to be the same pedals. £64 later, I was in possession of the item, which was indeed identical. That’s still a lot to pay, but it shows how it pays to think laterally when liking for spare parts.

    OEM spare parts have always been outrageously expensive. I remember in my biking days reading in a motorcycle magazine a feature where they priced up the cost of building (I think) a Honda CBR600 entirely from OEM parts. The total came to around £35k when the retail orice of the bike was around £6.5k…

    1. Good morning, Daniel. It’s not just cars. I worked in a hospital until 2014 and we had complete machines that the technical staff took apart for parts.

  4. I have sampled Volkswagen sausages & can report that although they are OK, there is really nothing very special about them, except the price.

    1. I can get these online. € 10,35 for five five-packs. That doesn’t sound to bad, does it?

  5. Italy is probably the worst in this. Parts availability is a problem even for current production models, let alone 10+ older ones. Essential components and consumables are scarce and usually quite expensive. During the last few months, even ALFA Giulia/Stelvio air/cabin filters are hard to find. For classic and historic models, the situation is laughable. Almost nothing is available from FCA Heritage (they don’t even reply to originality certificate inquiries), and one naturally has to resort to ebay hunting, or the reputable aftermarket suppliers, usually from Germany and the UK, who are essentially the only ones keeping these cars still on the road.
    I recently did an engine rebuild on my daily MY14 JDM-Spec Volvo V40 T5 AWD, with a I5 2.0T unit. This engine was not offered in Europe or USA, so I couldn’t find any aftermarket pistons/rings or big end bearings. Luckily, Volvo was very helpful, and ordered a new set directly from Sweden which were delivered within a week. Steep price, but great service.

    Kudos to Mercedes, Porsche and BMW classic divisions, who value their heritage, albeit at a very high cost for consumers.

    1. Having no money (or desire) to own a Mercedes, I use a Smart Roadster Coupe as my daily driver.

      As a neighbour broke my front bumper a few days ago while parking, I found on the Mercedes-Smart dealer that the part is no longer available nor produced.
      Ditto the left headlight enclosure, also broken.

      Pity Smart has not a tree-pointed star on the bonnet…

  6. When I was working at the parts department of a big Toyota dealership, in Toronto, one day a customer called, asking for the shifter cable (manual transmission ) for an early 80 Celica. Surprisingly the part was available at the Kentucky warehouse but the price was 400 plus Dollars, the guy said: “Are you kidding me? I paid $1,500 for the whole car”.

    1. Insurance company thinking. It infuriates me. Like any job lot, the whole might cost less than the sum of its parts. The Celica guy ought to have been grateful to get the part from the OEM. The real question is how much does it cost to replace the car.

  7. Many years ago a friend’s 204 cabriolet needed new pistons for clutch master and slave cylinder – a common fault with these hydraulic clutch systems.
    I went to the Peugeot dealer and asked for the parts. The desk guy didn’t look into his microfiches but directly went to the spares. When asked he told me that he knew the thirteen-digit parts number because he needed it that often.

    Spare parts situation for older FCA products is a desaster. Last week I needed a thermostat and a gas strut for the boot lid for my bachetta. If there weren’t aftermarket suppliers there would be no way to keep that car on the road. For barchetta, Coupé Fiat and Alfa 916 there is absolutely nothing you can buy at a dealer.

  8. Good afternoon Andrew. An interesting article as always and I love the “Sausage and Currywurst” references, knowing that you are an “aficionado” of both!
    Your point about Mercedes and their parts catalogue is well made but in recent times even they have come under severe criticism from Classic and Old Timer owners. I recall MB Club UK making representations to The Manufacturer suggesting that they release the patterns for numerous spare parts that were NLA on their stock lists so that Third Party suppliers could make them and MB flatly refusing to do so.
    That is not to say it is impossible to make the necessary bits using Computer Aided Manufacturing techniques if you have an original to copy but heaven knows what MB would do then…

  9. Here’s an ad where Volkswagen reassures its American customers it has all the parts they could need. Like so many Volkswagen ads of the time, it’s short, clever and memorable. It made me smile, too.

    1. That’s a brilliant advertisement! Thanks for sharing, Charles. 👍

    1. My brother is in Leipzig now. This is what the fridge in his temporary looks like.

      Are the car gods trying to tell me something? He also drove past the Porsche factory there. They produce there own honey.

    1. My girlfriend is Japanese. It all makes sense now 😉

    2. Mitsubishi is one of the once typical Japanese industrial conglomerates that make just about everything from banks, musical instruments, ships, mining tools to cars and radios.
      The common denominator is the Three Diamonds logo that doesn’t necessarily relate to cars.

    3. Yes, the keiretsu model. Mitsubishi is one of the “zaibatsu” (big four) keiretsu. Nikon, for instance is part of Mitsubishi too.

  10. I remember an Eighties Unipart advertising campaign: ‘We stock thousands of parts for millions of cars’
    Typical comment ‘except the one you need’

    1. Yes – I remember the jingle.

      Another series of adverts that had humour and was well done.

  11. Last year I was warned at the Spanish MOT that my 2004 Avensis (360.000 Km) had a suspension element showing signs of fatigue.

    I called to my Toyota dealer to perform preventive maintenance and change it before the part failed.

    The next week it was changed. 120€, including labour. I have the worn part as a memento: An elegant piece of metal slightly larger than an electric toothbrush.

    Not bad for a 17 years old car.

    It is one the reasons I own a Toyota.

  12. I ran a 8 to 12 employee restoration shop here in America. As with many restorers here, we knew that for many pre-1975 GM cars like ’55 to ’57 Chevrolets, most Corvettes, or early Pontiac GTOs, while the original chrome trim was still available from OEM parts sources, the reproduction trim pieces were often far better in appearance, and longer lasting due to better plating processes. [Many modern plating companies who know how to make older vehicle trim look better, using a final chrome mix with nickel added, giving it a “bluer” appearance.]

    Having owned multiple US cars from the Korean War era [1950 to 1953], I am aware those cars didn’t have any copper plating under the very thin layer of Chrome, as copper was needed for ammunition. Many of the manufacturers sprayed these parts with a layer of clear lacquer to help protect the chrome plating as well. I remember restoring my 1950 Packard Super 8 limousine and buying all 11 OEM chrome parts for the complete grill, but because the bumper was too far gone, I had the front bumper replated at a high quality plating shop that specialized in antique vehicle plating. In assembling the car we found the OEM plated parts, while always having been stored in the original boxes, looked terrible next to the freshly re-plated bumper, so I ended up sending out all the original chrome front grill parts to the same plater. A few years later I was able to find a NOS front bumper, and I used all the original parts in restoring my 1948 Packard Super 8 convertible.

    Individually, both cars looked wonderful, but placing the 2 restored cars next to each other, it was fairly easy to see the difference in shine between the OEM and restored front chrome parts.

    In the 1980s I also operated a vintage limousine service, and I had 4 Vanden Plas Princess limousines. We had problems with original Girling wheel cylinders and kits, as they were all old OEM parts from Girling. We especially had problems with the alloy rear wheel cylinders as the pistons were steel, and often froze solid after only a year or 2. So I contacted a company in Surrey called Brovex, who made aftermarket cylinder kits, and they were very willing to make cylinder kits for us [as long as I ordered a minimum of 50 kits], even the very unusual front cylinder kits that had a stepped bore [one end is 1.25″, the other end is 3/4″, and the larger cup has a hole in the middle for a self adjusting rod. These were only used on the 1957 to 1967 DM4 limousines and impossible to find. We sent out the old cylinders to have them sleeved with polished brass, and that made a difference as well. Those sleeved cylinders with Brovex kits lasted 10 or more years, and were a fraction of the price for OEM.

  13. Another good one: a fuel pump assembly for my XM cost 400 euros, the pump cost about 15. I used up 400 euros finding and fitting the right 15 euro pump. Aaargh.

  14. Excellent article. So many interesting comments. I have worked in automotive for many years. There are many unsaid things that have been going on for many years regarding parts. OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and sometimes called OE (original equipment) supplier is a hot topic.

    Jim Farley Ford CEO recently addressed the issue saying he was concerned the traditional mark-up on OEM parts was high and that it was affecting retail counter sales in Ford dealer parts departments.

    I believe the problem is the Insurance Repair industry and the greedy mark-up by manufacturers on OEM parts related directly to insurance quotations and insurance repairs.

    Then you have the secret ‘Availability Agreements’ whereby a manufacturer will restrict sale of non-OEM parts made by the same supplier. E.g. Denso make a certain MAF sensor for a Volvo model that Denso cannot sell as a Denso boxed part for the usual £71 they charge through Denso motor factors and stockists in UK. Instead Volvo and Denso have signed an agreement to ensure the part is only available to purchase from a Volvo main dealer in a Volvo OE box at £457.23

    That’s quite some mark up by any industry and probably explains why our insurance policies are so high.

    Now I realise why my local Toyota dealer gives two repair prices. OEM and non-OEM parts. They are the only dealer I have ever dealt with that does this.

    Interesting that the only difference 99% of the time between OEM parts the non-OEM parts is the box and/or markings on said part. The trick is to find out who the original supplier was.

    I notice my new Mercedes-Benz GLE has Textar brakes pads with Mercedes-Benz markings. Pagid/Textar/Mintex (Parent company TMD Friction of course being a Tier 1 OE supplier).

    Tier 2 and 3 OE suppliers also supply factory OEM parts with many competing with rivals for lucrative sole supply rights. Tier 1 is the highest trust in quality control for just-in-time parts to the factory assembly line.

    OEM alloy wheels are usually made by BBS, Borbet, Ronal, Alcoa, Speedline, OZ again stamped with both supplier and car manufacturer markings but always unavailable aftermarket unless you want something vaguely similar for a fraction of the OEM price.

    I always tried to justify paying the hugely inflated OEM parts for my old 1989 Mercedes-Benz 190E but I found it difficult. I was always impressed the dealer had the part in stock or availability overnight from the warehouse. I tried to justify the mark up by the length of time that part has been gathering dust in a Mercedes-Benz warehouse waiting for the day I might need it.

  15. Been into the old Italian car cult – it’s not just the usual bad customer service experience offered by Fiat dealers to blame for lack of parts, but also that in the old days Italian manufacturers used to rely on small family businesses as suppliers, especially for limited and coachbuilt models that left little to no documentation or mold tools behind.
    That said, it’s only frustrating until you learn that the Italian word for spare parts is ‘ricambi’. ‘Ricambi’ can do magic to Google search results – do not even bother browsing the English-speaking internet for anything older than 25 years, it’s a waste of time. Also, if you visit an Italian historic car show there are usually tons of ‘ricambi’ exhibitors with mountains of brand new, scrapped or remanufactured parts ranging from Fiat 500 pickup hub caps to Lancia Delta seats for all Evolutions. Sometimes it takes a little bit of networking to get to the correctly matching size and shape of a part that saw dozens of modification throughout the model years – but overall it’s a really lovely atmosphere.

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