Currently reading: Everything you need to know about car insurance write-offs
An insurer can write off your car even after a light bump, and it pays to understand what the different categories mean. We explain all
Autocar-Felix-Page
News
4 mins read
1 September 2020

It’s every motorist’s worst nightmare: you get into a bit of a scrape, call your insurance company and within days you’re told the car is not economically viable to repair, and has been written off. 

This can be especially frustrating when the damage caused has no bearing on the car’s roadworthiness, nor on its resale value. If a car is worth £500 and you so much as crack the front bumper, chances are the insurance provider won’t pay out for a repair or replacement part. A rule of thumb is that if the cost of professional repair is more than half the value of the car, it is likely to be written off.

All is not lost - there are different grades of write-off, and you don’t always have to say goodbye to your pride and joy after a bump. But should you be put off a second-hand car with a write-off on the books, and what can you do if you disagree with the damage assessor?

Car insurance write-off categories

It all comes down to which ‘category’ of write-off a damaged car has been labelled. There are four levels, and understanding what they mean is crucial to knowing what to do with a written-off car. 

The government revamped the write-off system in October 2017, giving new names to the categories at the lower end of the scale. This can be intimidating if you’re not familiar with what the letters mean, so let’s start by explaining the scale. 

Category S

Formerly called Category C, this tier is for vehicles that have received structural bodywork damage - a bent chassis or creased door frame, for example - but that can be repaired and put back on the road. 

It’s important to note that, although a Category S write-off is among the least severe, the vehicle will be deemed unsafe for use until it has been professionally repaired. 

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Category N

This replaced Category D in October 2017, and is used to describe vehicles that have received non-structural damage that the insurer has deemed not worth repairing. 

Though the damage may be less visibly severe than a Category S write-off, ‘non-structural damage’ could affect the electronics, brakes, suspension or mechanics of a car, so it will still usually need rectifying before it goes back on the road. 

As it is normally relatively easy to repair this level of damage, many Category N write-offs can be found in the classifieds, and shouldn’t cost much more to insure than a non-damaged car. 

Category B

Category B is used for cars that have received extensive damage - be it structural, mechanical or electrical - and cannot be put back on the road.

While the car’s shell must be crushed to avoid it being used again, serviceable parts can be removed from Category B cars and used on other vehicles. Only Authorised Treatment Facilities (ATF) are permitted to handle Category B vehicles, and will only sell them to businesses that have certification to prove they are allowed to store and destroy such vehicles. 

Category A

Reserved for the most severely damaged vehicles, a Category A write-off condemns an entire vehicle to the scrapyard, and means not even seemingly serviceable parts can be repurposed.

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High-speed impacts, complete burnouts and extensive vandalism will usually result in a vehicle receiving a Category A designation.

What happens after a write-off?

When an insurer is notified that a vehicle has been damaged, it will assess the damage to determine whether it should be written off, and to what extent. 

An insurer will offer the owner an agreed market value for the damaged vehicle and take legal possession of it until it is sold or scrapped. If the owner wishes to keep the vehicle - whether because it is only a Category N write-off and it can still be driven, or because they are able to repair the damage for less than the cost of a replacement - they can refuse the offer and keep the car. 

In all cases, the DVLA must be notified of the write-off, and will need to assess any repairs made to a Category S car before it returns to the road. Given the usually superficial nature of Category N damage, it does not require further assessment, but must still be kept in a roadworthy condition. 

Should you buy a written-off car?

Category A write-offs go straight to the crusher, and cannot be purchased or put back on the road, but you will often find Category B cars being ‘broken’ for parts in the classifieds. You are unable to buy the whole vehicle (the shell must be scrapped) but can purchase individual components if they are still in a serviceable condition.

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As for Category N and Category S cars, buyers must thoroughly inspect the standards of any repair work carried out, and take the time to ensure that they know exactly how the damage occurred. 

Comprehensive vehicle history checks aren’t free, but could save buyers a fortune in repairs down the line, and given a written-off car is likely to be discounted, the extra outlay is negligible. 

Can a written-off car be insured?

Insurers are naturally wary of write-offs, because they’re taking a risk on any non-factory-standard repairs that might have been made, and so premiums are often higher. 

An insurance company can insist that an independent engineer inspects the vehicle before it agrees to provide cover, though an MOT certificate can also be used as proof of roadworthiness. 

Some insurers won’t ask about a vehicle’s crash history when providing a quote, but will check the records in the event of a subsequent accident to ensure a poorly carried out repair wasn’t a factor. 

READ MORE

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Sharon Mawson Q... 5 June 2020

Understanding Ts and Cs

This is why it is critical when buying insurance that you are fully aware of the Ts and Cs as otherwise you can find yourself with a write off if the worst was to happen. Our research shows that the best way to understand the insurers attitude to writing off is to phone and talk tpo them when purchasing the policy. This way you can talk to them about your own specific needs. Our research also shows that phoning for quotes also returns the cheapest deals - so either way you’re a winner!!

All of the relevant phone numbers can be found on our website to save you having to find them.

Sharon Mawson, QuickPages

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