From time to time, you might come across motoring journalists (I’m including car YouTubers, reviews, influencers, print journalists etc all in this category) describe a car as a “parts bin special”.
But what exactly does “parts bin special” refer to?
In this short edition of Car Facts, I’ll explain the concept and how it relates to various vehicles.
I’ll also explain why manufacturers like to adopt this approach, and how it affects the price you ultimately pay for a car.
Reusing Existing Parts To Keep Costs Down
Long story short, the term parts bin special refers to a car that is built with heavy reliance on parts that were already in production from other model’s in the manufacturer’s lineup (or even sometimes parts from other “group” members e.g. Lamborghini is part of Volkswagen Audi Group, and various Lamborghini cars borrow parts from other VAG vehicles. I remember driving a 2006).
It’s common practice for automakers to recycle and share parts across their various models – this is just good business practice, as it costs a fortune to develop a car and deploy the tooling to make parts. If manufacturers didn’t reuse existing parts from other models, then the ultimate outcome for you as the consumer would be paying a higher price for cars.
In the journalistic context – e.g. when a reviewer tests a car – the term “parts bin special” is often used in a pejorative sense, indicating that the manufacturer has reused other cars’ parts on a more frequent than average basis. In other words, the manufacturer has basically recycled a bunch of existing parts into a sort of Frankenstein’s Monster to build something new, in order to save money and expand their lineup.
Where you often see the term used is in reference to more expensive/higher end cars, where the manufacturer has used switchgear or interior components from less expensive models in their lineup.
For example, I’m fairly sure that the early production years of the Lamborghini Gallardo with E-Gear transmission used the same shift paddles as the first generation/7L Volkswagen Touareg (certainly when I drove an early Gallardo, the shifters felt and looked exactly the same as those on my Touareg – but feel free to correct me in the comment section if I am wrong here). In fact, VAG is notorious for sharing parts across models of wildly different price points.
Another example is that the Aston Martin DB7 used the same interior door handles as the first generation Mazda MX-5/Miata:
Parts bin specials aren’t just about reusing interior components and switchgear; mechanical components, such as engines, transmissions, suspension and more can be used as the basis for building new models.
The 3.9L Rover V8 engine was used by a variety of manufacturers, such as Morgan, TVR and Land Rover.
It is also common for small volume car manufacturers to use parts from multiple other car makers, in order to build their vehicles. For example, British sports car maker Noble used Ford’s Duratec 3.0 V6 (with the addition of twin turbocharging) to produce the Noble M12.
Recap – What Does Parts Bin Special Refer To?
To recap, the phrase refers to a car manufacturer using parts from other vehicles in order to build a new car. Typically, the phrase is used as a bit of an insult in the context of more luxurious, expensive, or otherwise high-end cars using components from less expensive and/or older vehicles. The typical context is a motoring review referring to a higher-end car as a “parts bin special” (with the implication being you would expect unique components specific to that vehicle for the price you are paying)
From a pragmatic perspective of a car manufacturer trying to develop new models while minimising the crippling cost of doing so, it makes perfect sense to use existing components and put them into new vehicles.
I’m the first to admit that sometimes manufacturers go a bit overboard – particularly lower volume/specialist car makers for whom the drivetrain is typically everything, and all other components are just ‘whatever they can get their hands on for cheap’ – but at the same time without car makers taking a trip to the parts bin we would all be paying more for cars.
What are your thoughts? I’d be interested to hear in the comment section!