Nov 16, 2023

Parts Is Parts…Except When You’re Returning Them

Parts Is Parts…Except When You’re Returning Them

I gave a part to the technician
He put it in his bay
Bright early next morning
He tried to send that part away

Wait, what? Is that not how the lyrics to “Return to Sender” by Elvis Presley go?

Whoops. Uh, sorry about that.

Those, um, creatively adjusted lyrics do in fact relate to the topic we’re bringing to the blog today: Shop procedures for cores and parts returns, and why you need such procedures if you want to run a smooth operation.

You could have done that without Weird Al-ifying Elvis Presley, Fullbay, you might be saying.

Yes, we could have, but that wouldn’t have been as fun.


So! Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. All shops have to deal with part and core returns at some point. Don’t get us wrong—in both cases you are technically returning a part. But we’re going to differentiate a little between the two for the purposes of this blog:

  • A returned part is something that just didn’t get used, for whatever reason. Yes, this happens. You’ll usually pay a restocking fee. We should really just call this parts you’re going to return, but brevity is the soul of wit and all that.
  • A returned core is a used part that you can return to the manufacturer for some cold hard cash. Well…sort of. You’ve already paid a fee for it (cleverly referred to as a core charge); you can compare that fee to a deposit. If a part is $500 and your core fee is $50, then you’ll pay $550 for the part in total. Bring back the core, get the $50 back. Voila!

In an ideal world, this would all be very easy and seamless and parts and cores would just return themselves to your respective vendors. Alas, in a busy repair shop it’s all too easy to forget where things came from or where they’re going. What should you do with parts you don’t use? How do you keep cores from piling up on creepers?

No, really, how do you do it? We’re asking you.



For real though, we asked Fullbay COO and former Shamrock fleet manager Chris O’Brien for some help on this one, because our writer can’t be trusted to keep her coffee mugs organized, much less explain to shop owners what to do with used parts.


We’ll start out by focusing on unused parts that need to go back to the vendor or manufacturer. There are times when this just happens—you bought a part thinking it’d go on a truck, but then it turns out you don’t need that part after all. Happens to the best of us.

But if you have a lot of parts you need or want to return, that may indicate buying problems. “Most returns are by way of an overstocked facility,” Chris explains. In short, you’ve got parts you need to return because you’re buying too many of them.

There are a few reasons why this might happen:

  • You’ve been traumatized by the parts shortage and have turned to hoarding.
  • You’re purchasing tons of parts at one time because you don’t want to go to the store again.
  • You’re purchasing tons of a part at one time because the vendor is offering you a screamin’ deal.
  • You’re purchasing parts based on gut instinct, not data.

The latter two bullets can be somewhat mitigated by turning to repair shop software like Fullbay (c’mon, you knew this was coming). Our inventory velocity report, for example, shows you how quickly things are moving (or if they’re moving). It provides facts, not a gut feeling; you’ll know for sure if you do or don’t need 10 zerks.

Here’s what happens when you buy a ton of parts you don’t use: they go bad.

They may not go bad overnight, but they do go bad. They dry out, or rust, or fall to pieces, and then you’re out for however much you spent on them. Your inventory is cash on the shelves; if you aren’t using it, you’re bleeding money.


Used cores, also called dirty cores (we did not come up with that name), are parts that have been used and abused and are no longer worthwhile to a vehicle. With that said, the manufacturer can usually still do something with them, so they’ll pay to get them back.

(Well, sort of. You saw our mention up top—you pay a fee for the core when you buy the part.)

Usually, these pop up in your shop after you pull them out of a vehicle. You know they need to go back to the manufacturer, but what often ends up happening is that the cores end up, well, sitting. They make themselves comfortable. Eventually they overrun the place.

You don’t want that, right?

Of course not.

But your vendors and manufacturers also aren’t going to just show up and carry away dirty cores like, I dunno, some kind of diesel tooth fairy. You actually have to set things up so the cores will disappear and you’ll have that core fee in your shop’s bank account.

Here’s how.


The Fullbay crew has three big recommendations for any shop owner to follow when it comes to prepping a shop for seamless returns. How you implement them will depend on the size of your operation; a lone wolf mobile tech might find certain aspects easier to embrace than a big shop with lots of staff (and vice versa).

Ready? Here we go:


Clear out a space for your returns. Divide that space up by regular returned parts and used cores so they aren’t all in a box together (trust us, that makes things even harder).

Do not let them mingle with the rest of your parts.

Do not let them go out to dinner, even if they promise to be back by seven o’clock.

Once you let your returns hang out with the rest of your inventory, it’s all over. What’s used? What isn’t? Has this been paid for? Wait, what do we do with this one?

It becomes death by a thousand cuts. A little bleed here, a little bleed there, suddenly you need a transfusion.

So make a place for returns and make sure all returns and dirty cores go there. Chris suggests bringing them to a cage or bin where the vendors come to pick them up.

Speaking of vendors…


How often are your vendors stopping by to pick up returned parts and used cores? Get them on a schedule (or as close as you can to a schedule) based on how many returns you’re seeing. Maybe that’s once a month or once a week. Maybe you have a huge, ultra-busy operation and the vendor comes by once a day.

When the vendor does come to pick up the parts, someone from your shop needs to accompany them when they collect the returns to make sure they’re taking what they should and accounting for them correctly. Returned parts are worth money. Dirty cores are worth money. Don’t let that money just walk out the door.

Oh, speaking of money…


Techs aren’t always thinking about returning dirty cores or unused parts. They’re more interested in the actual repair—so they’ll toss a part or core to the side. Understandable. You hired them to wrench, after all!

So you let them know THIS STUFF IS MONEY. That returns are, in fact, part of your revenue stream.

Make sure techs are only taking what they need and returning what they don’t use, whether it’s parts, nuts, brake fluid, or something else (Fullbay makes this pretty easy, by the way). It’s verrrrrry easy to reach into a bin and grab a handful of bolts, for example, when the part you’re working on only needs four.

Death by a thousand cuts again

“Shops underestimate all that small stuff,” Chris remarks. “If I [as a tech] am getting more than I need, I should return the rest to you. [All that stuff] is inventory, too.”


Now, contrary to popular belief, we here at Fullbay are not your parents. We are not going to tell you to clean your shop before you go out with your friends.


A clean shop is much easier to organize and keep organized.

There, we said it.

A clean shop lets you spot things that don’t belong (like dirty cores, or decaf, or the entire Star Wars sequel trilogy). This is especially useful when it comes to smaller parts—a turbo core might stick out, but nuts, bolts, and other little things can find their way into corners, under coffee cups…

(Editor’s Note: Suz is projecting again.)


How do you keep dirty cores and parts from escaping your notice? Besides putting them where they belong, that is.

You track them.

(Sorry, were you expecting a more exciting revelation? Nah. Just track them.)

You can do this via pen and paper, or you can spend hours parked in front of spreadsheets.


(Drumroll, please!)

Fullbay has a core module that attaches to your inventory.

(Yes, this is a shameless conclusion!)

When you purchase a part and check off the box that indicates it has a core, Fullbay associates dollars and inventory quantity to those cores. You’ll know at all times what your liability is and—when you’re pulling back dirty cores—the software will keep track of that and put them into inventory.

Boom. You’ve suddenly got records for everything. This makes life easier for you, your crew, and the vendors who stop by to pick up dirty cores and returned parts.

Do you strive for this level of organization in your shop? Do you dream of a day when your dirty cores and returnable parts don’t hide out in your regular inventory and muddle things further? Give the tips above a try—and hey, maybe check out what else Fullbay can do for you!

Suz Baldwin