What is a Cat N car and should I buy a car with Cat N?

June 11, 2024 by

Sometimes you see a car advertised at a bargain price. You’ll look at the pics, read the description, then scroll down to the bottom of the ad where you’ll discover that the car is ‘Cat N’.

What exactly does Cat N mean? Should you buy a Cat N car? If you do shop for a Cat N car, what are the pitfalls to watch out for?

Don’t fret, Carwow is here to answer all these questions and more.

What is a Car N car?

A Cat N car has been ‘written off’ by an insurer.

What’s an insurance write-off, you may ask? Well, it’s a car that has been damaged beyond economic repair. In other words, the insurer has decided that it’s too expensive to get the car fixed and back on the road, making a payout to the owner instead.

That doesn’t mean it can’t repaired, or even that the cost of repair is greater than the value of the car. An insurer will take into account the expense of transporting the car, storing it, administration and so on before deciding to repair it or write it off.

Insurance write-offs fall into different categories. Cat N refers to a car that has non-structural damage that can be repaired.

You might also see cars described as ‘Cat D’. The insurance industry changed the names for the different types of write-off back in 2017. Cat D is the old name for Cat N, so cars damaged before this date may still be described using the old term.

What might Cat N damage entail?

A Cat N car might have damaged bodywork. It could also have busted suspension, brakes, or steering.

Importantly, what it won’t have is damage to the chassis – the fundamental structure of the car. To put it in human terms, a Cat N car has some severe bumps, cuts and bruises, but no broken bones – the skeleton of the car is still intact.

A Cat N car might look thoroughly bashed around, but underneath the damage the structure is still solid.

If the damage to a write-off is structural but repairable, it’s a Cat S. Cars that are Cat A or Cat B are damaged beyond repair, but in the case of a Cat B the car can be stripped for parts.

A car could look like a wreck but as long as it is structurally sound it could be classed as a Cat N car

How can I remove Cat N from a car?

You can’t. Once a car is Cat N, it keeps this categorisation for its life.

However, a Cat N car can be returned to the road, provided it is repaired so that it’s safe and roadworthy. The repaired car retains its original registration.

Does Cat N affect my insurance?

Yes. Some insurers may refuse to cover a Cat N car. Others may insist on an inspection to make sure the repairs are up to scratch. Some insurers may offer cover but with a higher premium.

How much does Cat N devalue a car?

It makes a big difference to a car’s value. Many used car buyers won’t consider a vehicle that’s been written off, even at a bargain-basement price.

Others may be prepared to buy a Cat N car, but only at a big reduction over the normal market value.

Just how much does Cat N devalue a car? It’s tricky to be precise, as there are so many factors that determine a car’s value. Age, mileage, colour, and condition all play a part, as well as being Cat N. But for an older used car, expect the price to be several hundred pounds less. For a nearly new or more recent used car, the difference will be thousands.

Should I buy a Cat N car?

That’s the million-dollar question.

The short answer is ‘maybe’. The longer answer is to only buy a Cat N car if it’s significantly cheaper than the going rate for a model of similar age and mileage.

If you’re handy with a spanner and have the time, you could buy a Cat N car and repair it yourself. This could make for a bargain, but only if you have the expertise and spare weekends to do the job safely and properly.

More likely you are wondering if a Cat N car that’s been professionally repaired is worth buying. Well, it needs to be massively cheaper than a car that has never been written off. You have to keep in mind that when you come to sell your car on, there will be used car buyers researching the same question you are pondering now, and coming to the conclusion that a Cat N vehicle isn’t for them.

So, if you do buy a Cat N, you’ll save money in the short term, but you’ll lose out when you flip roles from buyer to seller.

For that reason, a Cat N is easier to justify if you are buying an older car that you intend to hang on to for many years. If you are going to run a car into the ground, it doesn’t really matter if the resale value is poor.Car-dent-cat-n-car

Any Cat N that’s been repaired properly has the potential to give years of safe and happy driving. The trouble is, the used car market doesn’t see it that way, so a Cat N is always going to be worth much less than a regular car.

You also need to be very sure that the repairs have been made to a high standard. It never hurts to pay for an independent mechanical inspection to be sure the work has been done properly.

When doing your sums, keep in mind that insurance is likely to be more expensive, too, eating into whatever saving you make buying a Cat N over any similar car.

So, should you buy a Cat N car? For most used car buyers, the answer is no. But if you are buying an older car, the standard of work has been checked, and you plan to keep the car for several years, a Cat N can be a cheap buy.

Cat N car FAQs

How to check if a car is a Cat N?
Any trustworthy seller will advertise the car as Cat N, but you don’t need to rely on trust.

Pay for a history check on any used car you are thinking of buying. As well as showing if a car is an insurance write-off, it will reveal if the car has been stolen or has outstanding finance.
If you find out a car is Cat N and the seller has kept this a secret, walk away. What else is the seller trying to hide?

Does a Cat N car need a new MOT?
No. Because the damage isn’t structural, a Cat N car can be put back on the road without needing a new MOT. It’s different for a Cat S car with structural damage. These do need to go through a new MOT before getting back on the road.

While a new certificate isn’t required, a Cat N car still needs a valid MOT. So always check it has one, even if the MOT is dated from before the damage.
If the car has not been MOT tested since it was repaired, it makes sense to have a mechanical inspection carried out before parting with any cash so you know that the car is roadworthy.

If you do buy a Cat N car, make sure you book the next MOT in plenty of time.

Can I drive a Cat N car?
Before or after it has been repaired? Because after the repairs are complete, then yes, it can be driven like any other car. It needs to have a valid MOT if the car is over three years old and it must be insured, the same as any other car.

If it hasn’t been repaired yet, and the insurer has written it off, then it no longer has insurance cover. So even if it’s in roadworthy condition, don’t get behind the wheel until it’s insured. And to insure it, the Cat N car will need to have been repaired.

Do I have to declare Cat N to my insurer?
Yes, if a car has been classified as Cat N then you must tell your insurer. If they do cover the car, it’s likely that the premium will be higher than normal. It may be that the insurer won’t cover the car at all.

It might seem unfair that affordable cover for a Cat N car is hard to come by, but don’t be tempted to fib when you are searching for quotes.

Insurers have access to a shared database of written-off and stolen vehicles. So, if you ‘forget’ to come clean about your car being a Cat N, they’ll soon find out.

It’s a good idea to check the price of cover for a Cat N car before you buy, so you can factor this into your decision making. It would be a shame to waste the saving you make buying a cheap Cat N on costly insurance.

Do I have to declare Cat N when selling a car?
Yes, you’re obliged to tell future buyers that the car was a Cat N.

Some buyers will run a mile, some will rub their hands together expecting a bargain.

If you are selling a Cat N car, do everything you can to maximise the value. Keep the paperwork relating to the repair so you can show that the work was carried out by a professional. This will help put the buyer’s mind at rest.

If the car is in good condition, it may seem unfair that your pride and joy is worth less because of damage long since repaired. Maybe it is. But you still need to tell a potential buyer that the car is a Cat N.

If they do the sensible thing and have a history check carried out, they’ll find out anyway. Better to hear it from you as an honest and straightforward seller.

Looking for an easy way to change your car? Then Carwow is the place to go. You can sell your old car for a great price, and get the best deals on a new one. All through our network of trusted dealers and all from the comfort of your home. Tap the button below to get started today.