In October 2017, new insurance write-off categories were introduced. These Cat N and Cat S classifications were introduced to replace the existing Cat C and Cat D designations.
However, a scan of the classified adverts reveals that while newly written-off cars are no longer classified as Cat C or Cat D, there are still plenty of cars for sale that still carry the old Category C and Category D labels. In this article, we explain what these two insurance write-off categories mean, and whether it's worth buying a car that has been classified in either write-off category.
Exactly what is a Cat C or Cat D write-off?
A write-off is how insurers classify a car that is too expensive to repair. This will happen after a road accident, or when damage is caused by flood, fire or during a vehicle theft. The final outcome will be that the insurer will pay an agreed amount to the vehicle's owner, then the insurance company keeps the car to dispose of as they see fit. Up until October 2017, cars were classified as Category A, B, C or D write offs, depending on the severity of the damage to the vehicle. The four categories are listed below, with an explanation of the rules for each
Category A cars are classified as such because they are so badly damaged that they can never be put back on the road safely. These cars are typically crushed, while parts of the car that might be salvageable must also legally be destroyed.
Category B cars also have to be destroyed due to the level of damage they have sustained, but while the bodyshell must never be used again, some parts from a Cat B car can be removed and sold on. That includes wheels, seats and some mechanical parts, including the engine.
Cat C and Cat D cars can legally be put back on the road, although the insurance company has judged that it's too expensive for it to do so. However, insurance companies typically use manufacturer price lists for spare parts, which tend to be on the expensive side, and if you have the resources, you may be able to put a Cat C or Cat D car back on the road for a fraction of the insurance company's estimated cost.
Of the two older categories that can be put back on the road, Cat C cars will have sustained more serious damage than Cat D cars – typically the repair bill will be more than the car is worth. Cat C cars have to be re-registered with the DVLA before they can be put back on the road. The new Cat S (short for structurally damaged) classification replaces Cat D.
Cat D cars have been less seriously damaged than Cat C cars, and can be put back on the road without being re-registered with the DVLA. A Cat D car’s repair bill may be less than its value, making it theoretically economical to repair; but insurers’ administration, transport and other costs may mean the repair work isn't worth their while. The new Cat N (short for non-structural damage) classification replaces the old Cat D.
Should you buy a Cat C or Cat D car?
We would advise you to be cautious about buying a Cat C or Cat D car. While the nature of these write-offs means that Cat C and D cars can be made safe, you need to have faith that any repairs have been made to a good standard.
There are bargains to be had, though. As an example, a Cat D write-off could involve a dent on a ten-year-old car worth £1,000. The car’s insurers would be duty-bound to go through official repair channels, sourcing a new door, respraying it and so on, and the total bill could be around £800. After admin and other costs are taken into account, the insurer is likely to decide it is uneconomical to carry out the repair, and write the car off.
A private buyer, on the other hand, could salvage a door from a scrap yard for, say, £50, and fit it themselves. The car can then be kept or sold on, although a Cat D write-off will need to have its insurance status declared on the V5C logbook for anybody to see.
The journey a Cat C car would take is similar, although the costs involved would be different. As an example, if a car is worth £1,000 and the repair would cost the insurer £1,200, it would be classified as Cat C. A private buyer may well be able to organise repairs for less, though have to apply for a new logbook (V5C form) from DVLA after putting a Cat C car back on the road.
Do note that re-registering a Cat C car does not check if it has been repaired properly. If you are looking to buy a Cat C car, commission a mechanic or automotive engineer to thoroughly check it over first and try to find out as much history about the vehicle, especially the circumstances of it being written off.
What are the pitfalls of buying a repaired Cat C or Cat D car?
One issue concerns value. Because the write-off category is recorded in a car’s log book, Cat C and Cat D cars will always be worth less than their undamaged counterparts, regardless of their outward condition. This should, of course, be reflected in their price if you're considering buying a write-off.
It's also important not to focus only on obvious or visible damage when looking at Cat C and Cat D cars. As with any used car, there could be any number of faults requiring expensive fixes, totally unrelated to the write-off incident.
Do make sure you are aware of the general health of the vehicle before driving it, and get a mechanic to check it over for you before you buy. Just because you're buying a written off car doesn't mean you have to settle for poor quality - you should make the same engine, chassis, bodywork and interior checks that you would when buying any used car.
Insuring a repaired Cat C or Cat D car
Of course, one major concern when buying a write-off is how much will it cost to insure? Some insurers won't want to cover a written-off car. While this can typically be solved by hunting around for a company that will, insurance costs for Cat C and D cars tend to be higher than they are for an equivalent car that has not been written off.
Have you ever bought a written-off car? Tell us how it worked out in the comments...