Essentially, this means the car’s been damaged severely enough for the insurers to consider it not worth repairing, but someone has repaired it to return it to the road.
A car can be one of four write-off categories, depending on the severity of the damage.
These were revised in 2017 when the Association of British Insurance (ABI) changed its salvage code, to reflect the structural damage to a car rather than focusing solely on the cost of repair.
The categories are as follows:
Category A: The most serious category. Category A write-off must be crushed: it can never legally be used on the road again. Parts cannot be removed from the vehicle, even if they appear to be salvageable.
Category B: This signifies serious damage. The car again should never be used again on the roads and its body shell must be crushed. Parts may be removed from the vehicle for use on other cars.
Category S (formerly category C): The car has suffered structural damage and would be uneconomical to repair. If repaired by a professional, it may be returned to the road.
Category N (formerly category D): The least severe category. Damage is non-structural, but could affect safety-critical features such as brakes or steering. Category D write-offs may be returned to the roads, but not until they’ve been professionally repaired.
It’s worth bearing in mind that a car’s value can affect its likelihood to be written-off. As insurance companies are responsible for writing a vehicle off following a crash, these tend to work on the car’s value.
To put it simply, a nearly-new, expensive car will need a lot of damage to make it a write-off. An old banger with little value only needs small cosmetic damage to be written off.
Insurance write-off categories: Q&A
How do I know if a car’s been written off in the past?
Although sellers should legally declare an insurance write-off, some unscrupulous owners try to hide it. You can get around this buy searching for a car on Auto Trader, as all insurance write-offs are automatically declared, or by buying a vehicle history check.
Should I buy an insurance write-off?
The only reason to buy a car that’s previously been written off is if it’s considerably cheaper than an undamaged example. If it is, be aware that you’ll also have to declare it when you sell the car on, and that will affect it’s value.
Only category S and N vehicles (D and C under the old system) can legally be sold for use on the road. We’d want to fully understand what caused the damage and see evidence that it’d been repaired by a reputable body shop. You’ll also need to declare that it’s a write-off to your insurance company.
What happens to my car once it’s written-off?
If your car has been damaged and the insurance deems it not worthy of repair, they will offer you what they consider to be the market value of the car and essentially buy it off you. It will then be sold at auction of scrapped, depending on the severity of the damage.
If you wish to keep the car, you may be able to buy it from the insurance company. It’s worth noting that it’ll then be your responsibility to repair the car, and there may be extra damage that isn’t obvious by looking at it. You’ll also have to declare that it’s a write-off when you insure the car or sell it.