What's a Core Charge for Auto Parts?

auto parts
Brake calipers usually require a core deposit. photo by Matt Wright, 2014

*Core: A rebuildable auto part used as a partial trade in for a new or rebuilt part.

If you've ever purchased an auto part, you've probably heard of a core charge, core return, core deposits - all sorts of things that relate to a core. But what's a core anyway? We're talking about car parts here, not produce, right? 

If you buy brake pads or spark plugs at the auto parts store, they don't talk about cores.

That's because a core is a rebuildable part. Lots of components you replace on your car or truck have either been rebuilt already, or they can be.

A starter is the perfect example of a rebuildable part that you would have to pay a core deposit on. A starter is an electrical component, and electrical parts tend to wear out. One reason is the fact that they usually involve movement, and anything that moves a lot will eventually wear itself out. The second reason is that the electrical contacts inside a starter, while pretty tough, are actually sensitive to heat. Engines are hot, and starters are hot, too, since they are using a lot of electricity to try to get your car moving. The heat wears out the electrical connections, and your starter stops starting. One real reason for a starting problem. Your starter may be bad now,  but what's really bad are the electrical connections inside. The rest of the starter -- the housing, the gears -- these parts are fine as they haven't seen enough abuse to destroy them in most cases.

So you get your new or rebuilt starter from the parts store and pay for not only the starter you're buying, but also a core deposit. You take the starter home, install it in your vehicle, then take the old starter back to the auto parts store. And guess what? You get your deposit back! It's a great way to ensure that the people at the parts factory have enough rebuildable parts to satisfy the demand of rebuilt parts.


If you're really on the ball, you can remove the old part before you go to the auto parts store to buy the new or rebuilt part. Then you just trade it in right over the counter and you don't have to pay a deposit at all! This is a worthwhile move if possible, I can't tell you how many times I haven't gotten around to returning a core to get a $15 or $20 deposit back. That's a lot of wasted money! 

Steps in Buying an Auto Part With a Core Charge

  1. Order the needed part from the parts counter
  2. Tell the clerk you don't have the core
  3. Pay a core deposit
  4. Go home, fix your car
  5. Take old greasy part back to the parts store
  6. Get your $$$ back.


Core Charge: The deposit you leave when you buy a rebuildable part.

Core Deposit: Same as Core Charge, above.

Core Return: The act of returning the core to the store.

Core Refund: Getting your money back for the core.

Common Parts That Require You Return the Core

  • Batteries
  • Brake Calipers
  • Starters
  • Alternators
  • Cylinder Heads
  • Brake Master Cylinders
  • Power Steering Pumps
  • AC Compressors
  • Transmissions