What do the car insurance write-off categories mean?

We explain the car insurance write-off categories: A, B, S and N – and what they mean when it comes to buying a used car.

Crashed cars: what do these insurance write-off categories mean?

You may have seen used car adverts where the vehicle is described as ‘previously written-off’.

This means the car was too damaged for an insurance company to repair it cost-effectively. In other words, the cost of fixing the damage is more than the vehicle is worth.

However, a write-off can be repaired privately and returned to the road.

There are four write-off categories, which reflect the severity of the damage – including dangerous structural issues alongside the cost of repair.

The categories are as follows:

Category A: The most serious category. Category A write-offs 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. However, 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 by an insurance company.

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 cosmetic damage to be written off.

Insurance write-off categories: Q&A

Car bootlid damaged in an accident

How do I know if a car has been written off?

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 its 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 had 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 or 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.

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Andrew Brady
Web editor at MR. Drives a 2005 Toyota MR2. Has a penchant for the peculiar.

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