Not all written off cars look like they’re fit for the scrapyard, so why do insurers write off cars that look relatively unscathed after an accident? Here, we clarify what it means if your insurer declares your car a write off and what your options are if you disagree.
What is a write off?
A write off is a car that is simply too expensive to fix. But not all write offs are the same and there are four categories:
Category A write offs
These cars are what many of us expect written off vehicles to look like. They’re badly damaged and only fit for scrap.
Category B write offs
Cat B cars are also severely damaged but while the body of the car should be scrapped, some parts will be salvageable and can be repurposed in other vehicles.
Category S write offs
Cars in this category have been damaged structurally but can be repaired by a professional. After the car’s been repaired, it will need to be re-registered with the DVLA. You can find out more at GOV.UK, vehicle registration.
Category N write offs
These cars have non-structural damage which could be either cosmetic, electrical or mechanical. However, although the damage isn’t structural, it doesn’t mean the car is safe to drive in its current state.
What are category C and D cars?
Category S and N replaced cats C and D in October 2017, but they previously included:
- Category C – cars where the cost of repairs was more than the value of the car.
- Category D – cars could be repaired for less than the car’s market value but additional costs (like the cost of transportation to a garage) would make it uneconomical to fix.
One of the reasons for the change was to make it clear to car owners and potential buyers what type of damage a car has sustained.
How do insurers decide when to write-off a car?
Insurers use their own guidelines to decide if a car is a write off. Generally speaking, a car is written off if the cost of repairs exceed a certain percentage; usually this is around 50% or 60% of the car’s value. For example, if your car’s current market value is £6,000 and it needs at least £3,000 worth of repairs after an accident, your insurer could declare it a write off.
If your car is written off, your insurer will arrange for it to be scrapped or for parts to be salvaged but you’ll need to tell the DVLA that it’s a write off. If you don’t, you could face a £1,000 fine.
How much compensation will I get if my car is a write off?
If your insurer decides your car is a write off, they’ll transfer ownership from you to them. The compensation you’ll get will depend on the policy you’ve taken out.
Most policies will pay you the current market value of your car (minus your excess). However, if you’ve got a new for old policy, your insurer will either replace your car with a new vehicle of the equivalent make and model or will compensate you with enough money to buy one.
New for old policies usually come with strict terms and conditions. So, for example, it may only apply to cars less than 12-months old.
Can I disagree with the decision to write off my car?
Yes, you can and if you do, you should speak to your insurer about it. In some cases, they may ask an expert to formally assess the damage and weigh up the cost of repairs. Alternatively, you can ask to buy back the car but remember, you’ll need to repair the car so that it’s roadworthy.
What happens if I still owe money on my car?
If you bought your car on finance and still owe money on it, let your lender know it’s been written off as soon as possible. In the best-case scenario, your payout will be enough to pay off the outstanding balance. If it isn’t, you can either pay the difference yourself or ask to transfer the finance deal to a new car.
Should I buy a previously written off car?
Cars that have been written off and repaired can be cheaper to buy. Needless to say, you should make sure that any repairs have been carried out by a professional. If the car was previously in category S, you’ll also need to check that it’s been re-registered as roadworthy by the DVLA.
It’s also important to know that it can also be considerably more expensive to insure a previously written off car. With that in mind, if you’re buying a cat S or N car, it’s a good idea to compare car insurance quotes first to see just how much cover might cost. You can start your search for great value car cover right now or for more advice, why not take a look at our handy car insurance guides, and explore ways to save money on your premium.