Find out what an automobile write-off is, why it happens and how to check if a car has been scrapped in this handy guide.

Sometimes the unexpected happens and a car is ‘written-off’ by your insurer. But what exactly does ‘write-off’ mean, and what happens next?

Write-off meaning

The meaning of ‘write-off’ can be a little confusing.

‘Write-off’ is a term used by insurers to describe a vehicle that has been damaged to the point in which it would be unsafe for it to go back on the road. However, a car can also be written-off even if it could be repaired and made safe again. In this case, it is written-off because the insurer judges that the cost of this will be too high, making it uneconomical.

The point at which a vehicle’s repair will be deemed uneconomical will differ from insurer to insurer.

If your vehicle is written-off, your insurer will become its owner and you will receive a compensatory payout.

What are car write-off categories?

If your car is a write-off, it will be given a specific write-off category (cat). This is because both cosmetic damage and severe structural damage can be termed a write-off. The DVLA therefore developed a category system to describe the different types. The insurance write-off categories are A, B, N and S.

Category A write-off

Here is the Cat A car meaning: if your vehicle is written-off within Category A, it is only suitable for scrap. A Cat A car must never be allowed back on the road, so they will be sent for crushing by your insurer. Because of the extent of the damage, no parts must be salvaged.

Category B write-off

Damage to vehicles in Category B is still extensive, but some salvage is possible. In these cases, the body shell of your car will be crushed but undamaged parts can be removed and reused in another vehicle.

Category N write-off

‘N’ stands for non-structural. In this category, vehicles have sustained cosmetic damage or some kind of damage to an electrical system. Because of the latter reason, automobile write-offs that fall into this category are still not safe to drive because there could be a problem with an essential system, such as the brakes.

Category S write-off

Let’s take a closer look at the Category S meaning. The ‘S’ stands for structural damage, and can be used to indicate that a vehicle has a twisted chassis, for example.

Because of this damage, a Cat S car shouldn’t be driven on the road before repairs are made by a professional.

What about the Cat C meaning?

The Cat C meaning is out of date as this is now actually Cat S. The name was altered to make things clearer for customers. So, if you see a Cat C write-off, it is actually referring to the Car Insurance Category S.  

What is Cat D?

Cat D is another obsolete car written-off category. In this case, it has been replaced with Cat N. This change has been made for clarity, just as Cat C has been changed to Cat S. 

What do you do if you have an automobile write-off?

If your car is written-off or scrapped by your insurer, you need to let the DVLA know. If you don’t tell the DVLA about your write-off, you could be fined £1,000.

You can now report this online on the DVLA’s website. You will need to tell the DVLA:

  • Your insurer’s name and postcode
  • Your vehicle’s registration number
  • The 11-digit reference number (you can find this in your V5C logbook, in the ‘sell, transfer, part-exchange your vehicle to the motor trade’ section)

If your car is being scrapped and you have a personalised number plate, don’t forget to make an application to keep it, otherwise the number will be cancelled. You can make an application here.

If your vehicle is in Category A or B, you will need to send your log book (V5C) to your insurer. Before you do, make sure you tear out and destroy the yellow ‘sell, transfer or part-exchange your vehicle to the motor trade’ section. The rest of the log book can then be sent to your insurer.

For Category S and N cars, the process will differ depending on whether you want to keep your vehicle. If you do not want to keep your vehicle, simply return your complete log book to your insurer.

If you do want to keep a Category S car write-off, send your logbook to your insurance company and then apply to the DVLA for a duplicate (you will need to use form V62).

For Category N write-offs, you can simply hold on to your log book if you intend to keep your car.

If my car is written-off, do I still pay Car Insurance?

The short answer is yes.

If you have been paying your Car Insurance in monthly instalments, then you will have to continue paying for your automobile write-off until the whole policy has been funded. If you paid for a year in advance, you will not get back any money for the rest of the year.

If you are keeping your car and want to insure it, you will need to take out a new policy. This is because the risks linked with an automobile write-off are higher.

What happens if finance is still owed on the car write-off?

If you still owe money for your written-off car, you have a few options.

You can:

  • Pay off the balance using the insurance money
  • Buy the written-off car from your insurer and repair it (only possible for Category S and N vehicles)
  • Buy a new car with the insurance money and continue to make payments to clear the debt

The option you choose will depend on how damaged your car write-off is, how much you have already paid off and whether your lender will allow you to pay off the debt early. Make sure you carefully read your agreement and speak to your lender before making a decision.

What does the insurer do with written-off vehicles?

What your insurer does with your automobile write-off will depend on which write-off category it falls into.

If your car write-off is Category A or B, your insurer is legally required to ensure the vehicle is not driven on the roads again. A Category A write-off will be crushed in its entirety.

For Category B cars, the insurer may make an arrangement with a scrapyard or other third party to buy undamaged, salvageable parts. The body shell of the vehicle will then be crushed.

Category S and N write-offs may have a second life. Because their damage is repairable, they will probably be sold to a third party, such as a garage, to repair and sell on. This will be economical for the third party as they will be able to repair the write-off at a cheaper cost.

Of course, if you want to buy back your Category S or N write-off, you do have that option…

Buying back your written-off car

If your insurer has written-off your vehicle under Category S or N, you have the option of buying back your car and getting it repaired yourself. This may be because the car has sentimental value, or because you believe it can be fixed economically, giving you the option to continue driving it or selling it.

However, it is important to remember that a car that has been written off will always carry its category write-off marker, even if you fully restore it. This can severely impact its resale value going forward, which is something you should definitely bear in mind.

To help you decide whether you would like to buy back your write-off, get an independent expert to evaluate your vehicle and give you an idea of the cost.

If it is something you would like to do, it’s important to let your insurer know as soon as possible, before they make other arrangements.

If your insurer agrees to let you purchase the written-off car, you will then need to negotiate its value and your settlement, minus the salvage value.

Once the written-off car is returned to you, you will be responsible for finding a professional to fix it. You will also need to purchase new Car Insurance, as your former policy will have ended at the point your vehicle was written-off.

Once your car is repaired, it will need to pass an MOT test. Category S write-offs will also need to have the repairs independently assessed to ensure that the vehicle is now roadworthy.

Category B write-off and salvaging

You may be wondering if you can buy back your vehicle and salvage useful parts to either use yourself or sell.

For the vast majority of people, the answer to this question is no. This is because you need a licence in order to do this. Salvage of Category B write-off vehicles must also be carried out at an Authorised Treatment Facility (AFT). Some AFTs will allow you to salvage on their sites, but only if you have the licence that shows you are permitted to buy, store and salvage Category B write-off cars.

This helps to prevent unsafe vehicles from going back on the road.

Can I insure a written-off car?

If you have bought a car that was previously written-off or you have repaired your Category S or N vehicle, insuring your written-off car may be more difficult.

Some insurers will not accept a vehicle that was previously written off. If they do, you should expect to pay a higher premium because the vehicle will be judged as being higher risk. It is therefore worth checking what your Car Insurance will cost before you buy a written-off car. Many insurers offer car write-off calculators to do this, but you can get a more accurate quote by talking to the experienced team here at Chris Knott.

How do I know if my car is a write-off?

If your car is a write-off, your Car Insurance company will tell you after they have considered your claim. You will then be told what write-off category your vehicle falls into.

If you are looking to buy second-hand but want to check if a car has been scrapped, you can do a little digging.

To get your vehicle’s details from an insurance write-off database, you can put in your details into a vehicle history check. These checks are offered by many insurers, some of which are free.

A Category S or N write-off should also be recorded in the vehicle’s log book (VC5). You can check that the details in the log book are correct by seeing if they match the records of the DVLA.

When buying a previously written-off car, it is also worth getting an independent engineer to check it, and to find out who carried out the repairs so that you can check that they are reputable.

If you later find out that a car you have purchased was actually a total loss or previously written-off and you were unaware, you can claim your money back from the seller. This is because the sale is protected under the Sales of Good Act 1979. This means that what you buy should be ‘fit for purpose’, ‘as described’ and ‘of satisfactory quality’. If you want to return the vehicle on these grounds, you must do so within 6 months.

You can also report the seller to Trading Standards if you believe that the car you purchased wasn’t roadworthy or was sold illegally (as would be the case if it was a Category A or B write-off).

Should I buy a Cat S or Cat N car?

It is perfectly legal for a Cat S or Cat N car to be sold. However, if you are considering one, you need to make sure you have all the facts about the written-off car’s condition. 

For this reason, you should consider asking an independent professional to check the condition of the car. This should reveal whether it has been properly fixed to a safe and roadworthy standard. It’s worth bearing in mind that there is no law to ensure that a repaired written-off car is inspected after the work is finished. By asking your own professional, you can give yourself some much-needed reassurance.

A DVLA write-off check will also allow you to check the exact write-off category.

Finally, it is a good idea to get a Car Insurance quote for your intended purchase. A car write-off will probably have a higher premium as they will be considered a higher risk to the insurer. This quote could help you to decide whether the purchase is cost-effective.

Get in touch with us

If you would like to discuss Car Insurance for a written-off vehicle, simply get in touch with our team on 0800 917 2274.