What is a write-off?
For a car to be written off by an insurance company, it is deemed to be so badly damaged it becomes uneconomical to repair. If your car is written off, you won’t be able to drive it again until it’s fixed – although that could be impossible.
Write-offs come in four different categories, which measure how badly damaged your car is. These are Categories A, B, S and N, the last two of which replaced the old C and D classifications in October 2017.
The distinctions are important because, sometimes, a car doesn’t have to be very badly damaged to be a write-off. A good rule of thumb is that if the costs of repairs would be more than half the value of your car, it’s likely to be written off. This means that, if your car didn’t cost you much, even a low-speed bump or a door being badly keyed could make it a write-off.
What is Category A?
A Category A write-off is the most severe. This means that the car has been deemed totally unrepairable by the insurer, never to be driven again under any circumstances. Furthermore, the damage on a Category A car is so extensive that it can’t even be sold off as individual parts.
What is Category B?
Category B write-offs are still heavily damaged, but not quite as much so as a Category A. These cars can never be driven again and the bodyshell must never be re-used, but they can be sold on in individual parts – including the engine and other mechanical parts.
What is Category S?
Cars written off in Category S have suffered structural damage, such as damaged bumpers, a twisted chassis or a collapsed crumple zone. The good news is that it is possible for these cars to be repaired and put back on the road; the bad news it could cost an arm and a leg.
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.