What is a write-off?
If your car is damaged, your insurance company might decide it’s either too dangerous or uneconomical to repair. If this happens, the car is a write-off – you won’t be able to drive it until it’s been repaired, or not at all if the damage is serious enough. There are four different categories that a damaged car can fall into, depending on how badly it has been damaged – A, B, S and N. These categories replaced categories C and D in October 2017.
The damage doesn’t have to look serious for the car to be written off – an insurance company can deem a car uneconomical to repair based on the value of the car and the cost to repair it. All insurers are different, but some say that if the cost to repair the damage is more than half the value of the car, then the car isn’t worth repairing.
Even with what looks like minimal damage, costs can spiral because insurance companies have to have the car repaired to how it was before the crash. Most specify that only manufacturer-approved parts and repair shops can be used, which is why a car might be more likely to be written off.
What is Category A?
Category A means a car cannot return to the road, even if it’s been repaired. The damage is so severe that the car must be crushed, and not even parts can be salvaged.
What is Category B?
Like Cat A, the car can’t be driven again if the insurance company have given it Cat B status. The difference between them is that working parts can be stripped from the car before it’s crushed and sold on.
What is Category S?
Cat S is a fairly new category and was formerly known as Cat C. These cars have suffered some structural damage such as a weakened crumple zone, bent bumpers or a damaged chassis. They have to be thoroughly and professionally repaired before they’re allowed back on the road.
What is Category N?
Formerly known as Cat D, this categorisation means a car hasn’t suffered any structural damage. Instead it could be a cosmetic or electric problem, or a problem with important parts. Even though damage might seem minimal, it could include the steering, brakes or engine electrics so it’s always best to get a thorough check if you’re thinking of buying a Cat N car.
What are the risks with Cat S and Cat N cars?
Damaged cars can look like a bargain, but you really need to make sure the vehicle you’re interested in has been repaired properly and safely. Otherwise it could be expensive to fix and, worse, you could be putting your own safety at risk. If a vehicle has been written off, its damage and repair should be detailed on the car’s history.
It’s worth bearing in mind that some sellers might want to shift damaged cars quickly, and might not disclose the extent of the damage, the quality of the repair or even that they’ve been written off in the first place.
Can I insure a Cat S or Cat N car?
Many insurers will cover cars that have previously been written off and repaired, although not all will. Your premium – the amount you pay for insurance – might be higher for a Cat N or Cat S car than a comparable car that’s not been written off.
You might have to submit an engineer’s report to be able to take out a policy. Companies such as the RAC and the AA can carry these out, but you’ll have to factor in the cost of a report and the possible higher premium when you’re weighing up if you should get a repaired car.
Should I buy a Cat S or Cat N car?
A written-off and repaired car can be significantly cheaper to buy than non-damaged equivalent cars, meaning you could pick up a bargain so long as all the necessary work has been completed to the best standard. If you’re in the market for a used car, considering a Cat S or Cat N car could get you more for your money, and impartial reports from the AA or RAC could give you more peace of mind on the car’s condition than a non-damaged car – even used cars that look great could be hiding problems.
Of course if you can afford it, a new or approved-used car won’t have these problems and you won’t have to dig around for the car’s history. Most problems that may occur will be covered under warranty if you keep within the terms and conditions of the deal.