What are the insurance categories for car 'write-offs'?

By: Stewart Creaser

What is an insurance write off?

The term ‘write off’ is an insurance industry term for a vehicle that has either sustained so much damage it is unsafe to go back on the road, or a vehicle that would be safe to drive but the cost of repairing it would outweigh the insurers valuation of the vehicle. Insurance write offs are not just the result of accidents, many cars are written off due to damage from floods, fire, theft or even vandalism.

Each insurance company has their own ‘repair to value’ ratio, this is the amount they are prepared to pay towards repairing the car. For many insurers this figure is around 60% of the overall cost of the car, which would mean a car worth £10,000 would be written off if the cost of repair was greater than £6,000.

In addition car insurance companies are required to work to strict guidelines and have a duty to return vehicles to the condition they were in prior to the damage. This means insurance repair costs are usually based on the cost of repair at an official workshop with new original manufacturer parts used to replace any damaged parts. This can result in a significantly higher repair cost and can mean even minor damage to the car can lead to it being written off.

As a result write off vehicles can vary from being complete wrecks to working vehicles with cosmetic damage. As a result there are a variety of write off categories; Cat A, B, S (formerly Cat C) and N (formerly Cat D).

What is Cat C

Vehicles categorised as Cat C may have suffered from some structural damage, like a bent or twisted chassis, however they can be repaired. As the damage is more than just cosmetic the repair must be carried out professionally and the car will not be deemed safe until this is carried out.

What is Cat D

Vehicles classed as Cat D have sustained the least amount of damage and have sustained no structural damage. The issue is usually either cosmetic or could for example be an issue with the electrics that isn’t cost-effective to repair.

What is Cat A

Cars that are classified as a Cat A write off have sustained the most amount of damage. They are so badly damaged they can only be scrapped and even salvageable parts must be destroyed.

What is Cat B

Category B write off vehicles will have sustained significant damage and as a result the body shell must be crushed. The car should never re-appear on the road, however salvageable parts can be saved and sold as reclaimed parts.

The new classifications

In October 2017 changes were made to the classification categories to make it easier for people to understand what damage may have been sustained to a write off vehicle. Categories A and B remained unchanged, however Category C has changed to Category S cars and Category D has changed to Category N.

What is Cat S

Category S vehicles were previously known as Cat C. The ‘S’ in Category S literally stands for structural, thus indicating that the vehicle has suffered from structural damage. Cat S cars be repaired and resold, however the work must be carried out professionally to ensure the vehicle is safe. Furthermore Category S vehicles must be re-registered with the DVLA before being put back on the road. The V5C of a category S vehicle will be marked with a ‘S’ to clearly indicate that it is a Cat S write off.

What is Cat N

Category N vehicles were previously known as Cat D vehicles. The ‘N’ in Category N stands for non-structural and indicates that the cars have not undergone structural damage. The damage on Category N vehicles is usually relatively minor so can be carried out by anyone. For this reason they can present an opportunity for people to buy a car cheaply and repair it themselves. Unlike Cat S vehicles there is no need to re-register a Cat N car with the DVLA, however you do still need to let the DVLA know that it has been written off.

How are repair costs estimated?

As previously mentioned, insurance companies are required to return the vehicle to the same condition it was in prior to damage. As a result repair costs are usually based on an approved workshop carrying out the work using genuine manufacturer parts. This can result in significantly higher estimated repair costs than if you were to use third party parts.

As a result for some people Cat S and N cars can present a bargain. The cars can be bought cheaply and if repaired cost-effectively, can offer good value for money, especially if the car is to be kept until the end of its life.

What are the risks when buying a Cat C (S) or Cat D (N) car?

Both Cat S and N cars can be sold on by the insurance company to the original owner or to a third party via a salvage company and therefore make it to the used car market. While for some people a Cat S or Cat N could be a bargain there are some risks to be aware of if buying a previously written off vehicle:

• Private sellers are not actually required to divulge if a car has been previously written off. For this reason we would always recommend that you carry out a vehicle history check before buying a pre-owned vehicle.

• Some sellers may try to pass Cat S and N cars as non-damaged motors or may try to downplay the damage that occurred.  Even if sellers are up front about the fact that the car has been written off, it is important to make sure that the repairs have been carried our properly and that the car is safe.

• Bear in mind that Cat S and N vehicles can be more difficult to insure. Some insurance companies will not offer insurance at all, while others may bump up premiums or request an engineer’s report before they will offer cover on the vehicle.

• It is also worth bearing in mind that many people will avoid buying Cat S or N cars due to the increased risks listed below, this means you may have more difficulty selling on a Cat S or N vehicle.

• Dealers often will not even consider Cat S or N vehicles so you are unlikely to be able to use a Cat S or N vehicle as part-exchange in the future.

Safe options

To reduce the risks associated with buying written off vehicles why not consider a new or used vehicles?

Buying Used

At Stoneacre before we accept any pre-owned vehicle for part-exchange we carry out a full check to ensure that there is no hidden history or outstanding finance. This means our customers can rest assured that they aren’t going to get any nasty surprises down the line.

In addition we carry out a comprehensive 125-point check of the vehicle to ensure it is working as intended. While for further peace of mind we also offer a Lifeline Guarantee on all of our used vehicles for sale.

Our used vehicles are available with a host of finance offers and deposit options including 0% finance and nil deposit deals, to help spread the cost of buying a used vehicle.

Buying New

At Stoneacre we aim to make motoring more affordable. We have a great range of cash price offers as well as impressive selection of manufacturer offers, finance packages and deposit deals on all of our new cars . This ensures you can get your perfect car at an affordable price.

Please note we record all our calls to ensure that we give you the service you deserve.