What is a Cat A, Cat B, Cat S or Cat N write-off car?

April 19, 2023 by

While browsing the classifieds, you might notice some low cost cars with a label such as ‘Cat N’. Here we’ll explain what these letters mean and whether you should buy one of these cars.

A ‘Cat’ (short for ‘category’) car is a vehicle that has been involved in an incident that resulted in an insurance claim significant enough for the car to be ‘written off’ as being beyond economic repair – IE it was cheaper for the insurer to replace the car than fix it and return in to the road.

There are four main ‘Cats’ to be aware of, each indicating a different level of severity of incident: Cat A, Cat B, Cat S and Cat N.

Cats C and D were replaced by Cats S and N in 2017 and we’ll now get into that, amongst other things you need to know about write-offs, in this article.

What is an insurance write-off?

In simple terms, a vehicle will be written-off when it has suffered damage (perhaps sustained in a collision, fire or flood) significant enough to render it either unsafe to return to the road, too expensive to repair for the insurance company.

Interestingly, the cost of the damage repair itself doesn’t have to be more than the car is worth for a car to be written off: insurance firms have to factor in things like transport, storage and administration costs when determining if they will have a car repaired or replace it, while rising parts prices and garage rates also have a bearing here. As a result, a repair bill that is between 50-70% of a vehicle’s value is typically enough to see it deemed a Category write-off.

These Categories are A, B, S and N, with S and N replacing the old C and D categories. The switch happened in 2017 after a review by the Association of British Insurers. The main difference is that the new system puts a greater focus on highlighting any structural issues that could affect the safety of a vehicle.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the four write-off categories, with a more detailed explanation below.

  • Cat A – Car has suffered severe structural damage and cannot be repaired
  • Cat B – Car cannot be repaired, but it can be stripped for parts to use on other cars
  • Cat S – Structural damage that can be repaired
  • Cat N – Non-structural damage that can be repaired
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Cat A cars, or scrap cars

Category A write-offs are vehicles that have suffered severe structural damage. They can’t be repaired. The car’s chassis and/or body shell (the components that give a car its strength in a crash) may have been heavily damaged in an accident, or it may have been burnt out in a fire.

Whatever’s left of the car must be scrapped and a certificate of destruction issued after the car has been destroyed. You can’t even take the gear knob off it.

Your insurance company will do all the hard work here. Because the car must be destroyed there’s not much else for you to do, other than send your vehicle log book (V5C) to the insurance company, keeping the yellow ‘sell, transfer or part-exchange your vehicle to the motor trade’ section from it, and telling the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) your vehicle has been written off.

Cat B cars, or break for parts cars

Category B write-offs have suffered severe damage that can’t be repaired. The remains of the car can be stripped for parts for use on other vehicles, but the chassis and/or body shell must be scrapped because this may have suffered serious or irreparable damage.

It’s a similar process for Cat B cars, with your insurance company taking responsibility for the car and you having to do some admin. These cars can have non-structural parts removed, so you can usually buy back parts or have the whole vehicle returned for a fee once the insurer gives you a payout.

If you take the car back in this state you will be responsible for scrapping it, and the insurer might ask for proof this has been done properly.

Cat S cars, or structurally damaged cars

Cat S write-offs have suffered damage to structural areas of the vehicle such as the chassis or crumple zones. A Category S car can be repaired and put back to a roadworthy condition and used on the road again.

However, the car must pass an inspection by an accredited engineer. Depending on what parts have been used to carry out repairs, the DVLA may issue a new registration number for the car. If so, this will start with the letter ‘Q’.

When a car is put in category S, the insurer might offer you the chance to buy the car back (because once the insurer pays out on a write-off they now own the car). You might think this is worthwhile because Cat S cars can be driven on the road again once repaired.

Because the vehicle has been written off, you will have to re-register it with the DVLA to make it road legal. You will receive a new log book that notes the fact that the car is Cat S.

Cat N cars, or non-structurally damaged cars

Category N write-offs are vehicles that have suffered non-structural damage and can be repaired to a roadworthy condition and put back into use. The term ‘non-structural’ covers a lot of ground and could include the bumpers and roof panel, not to mention the electrics, the engine and the seats. A Cat N car doesn’t need to pass an inspection or be re-registered before it is returned to the road.

Once a car has been given a Cat N status, it can be bought back just like a Cat S car. However, the difference is that you do not need to re-register it, instead you keep the same log book but must inform the DVLA of its Cat N status.

What happens if my car is written off?

If the insurance firm decides it is not worthwhile repairing your car, it will dispose of the car and offer you a settlement figure, paying you for the loss of the vehicle. This settlement figure will be based on the car’s market value prior to the incident, although if you have GAP insurance, this policy will make up any shortfall between the market value of the car, and what you may owe any finance company you used to originally fund the purchase of the vehicle.

If the car is a Cat A you won’t have any choice in what happens to it: it cannot, by law, be returned to the road, so you’ll get your payout and the car will be disposed of.

Cat S and N cars can be bought from insurance companies, though, should you be particularly attached to the car, or knowledgable and confident enough about getting it repaired and selling it on – though clearly written-off cars are worth significantly less than non-write-offs, and their history must legally be declared when selling them. You’ll need to liaise directly with your insurer if you want to do this, agreeing a price for the car with them.

Cat B cars can technically be bought back, but their bodies must be crushed, and only their parts can be re-used/sold.

Can I dispute an insurance write-off?

You may feel that a car that your insurance firm is incorrectly assessing your car as a write-off, perhaps because you feel they have undervalued it.

If you find yourself in this situation and the company is standing firm you can try challenging the decision but you’ll need to gather evidence, such as quotes from reputable repairers, and evidence of the true market value of your car. Also bear in mind that insurers must put written-off cars on MIAFTR (Motor Insurance Anti-Theft Register ) within seven days of deeming them such. It is very difficult to get a car removed from MIAFTR, which is one of the key records vehicle history check companies use to determine if a car has been written off.

What if I’m not happy with the repairs to my Cat S or Cat N car?

If you are not satisfied with the repairs to your car, you should inform your insurer immediately, regardless of the extent of the work. Poor repairs could affect your car’s used value (putting your wallet at risk) or its safety (potentially putting your life on the line).

Inspect the repairs carefully as soon as the car is returned and itemise any problems. If you’re not confident doing this yourself, the AA and RAC offer inspection services. Inform them of the work that’s been carried out when booking so the engineer knows what to look for. You’ll receive a report detailing any problems which should be submitted to your insurer who will arrange for any rectification work to be carried out. Repeat the process until you’re happy.

In extreme cases of poor repairs or multiple rounds of rectification work, you’re within your rights to reject the car outright. Different insurers have different policies to deal with the situation but you’re likely to be offered a cash sum equivalent to the market value of the car, or a direct replacement.

Should I buy a Cat S or Cat N car?

Having been written off reduces a car’s used value. They can look temptingly cheap, but you need to do your homework and keep your eyes open. Here are a few tips to minimise your risk.

1. Get a history check

If you’re serious about buying a car, it’s worth paying for a history check. In short, it will tell you useful information on top of a car’s write-off status, such as whether it has been reported stolen or has outstanding finance, as well as confirming the vehicle’s identity.

2. Buy from a dealer rather than private seller

If you want complete peace of mind, buy from an established dealership with a good reputation. You have more consumer rights buying from a business, and they’ll be easier to follow up with if something goes wrong.

3. Get as much information as possible

Asking questions is important when you’re buying any used car, but even more so when buying a write-off. Although the insurer doesn’t have to say how a car was damaged, asking for details and photos of the damage can help give a good idea. If they can’t give a clear answer, consider walking away.

4. Take extra caution

Cars that have been structurally damaged could cause a headache further down the road, even if the work has been carried out properly. If you do want to take the risk, be sure the work has been completed properly to a high standard.

5. Check you can get insured

If you already have insurance and want to switch it to your Cat S or Cat N car, check that your insurer will cover you first. Some companies will not cover these cars, and those that do will likely charge more than normal.

6. Look into getting a warranty

One way to give yourself peace of mind when buying a Cat N car is to get a warranty. Not all companies will cover these vehicles, but it could help cover the cost if anything does go wrong.

Insurance write-off cars FAQs

Is car insurance cancelled after a write-off?

You might be surprised to learn that when your car is written off, you still have to meet the monthly payments until the end of the policy. If you paid up front, you will not be able to claim a refund for the remainder of the year.

Can I insure a repairable write-off?

Yes, you can. You must inform your insurance provider if your car has previously been written off. Not all providers will cover a write-off, essentially because they don’t know how good the repairs were and, if future repairs are needed, they may reveal a mess of bodges that need rectifying. It’s understandable that some insurers don’t want to take on this risk.

Insurers that will cover a write-off may request an engineer’s report and will almost certainly charge more than they would for an equivalent car that hasn’t been written-off. Don’t forget that, if you’re the one who caused the damage that wrote the car off, you must inform your insurer.

How do insurance companies value write-offs?

Insurance companies will pay a settlement fee equivalent to the vehicle’s market value at the time it was written off. The idea is to give you enough money to replace your damaged car with a similar one.

You will not receive the car’s value when it was new. If you financed your car, you might find the payout does not cover the repayments, with your only options to negotiate a higher payout or contact your finance provider to find a solution.

How can I check if my car is a write-off?

When buying any used car, it’s important to check the history of the vehicle. A detailed vehicle HPI check will provide information on whether or not a car has been previously registered or categorised as an insurance write-off. It’s important to check this because it will affect the overall value of the car. After all, you don’t want to pay over the market value for a car that was previously involved in a road traffic accident.

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