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

Motoring Research logo Motoring Research 20/03/2018 Andrew Brady
Crashed cars: what do these insurance write-off categories mean? © Shutterstock Crashed cars: what do these insurance write-off categories mean?

If you’re searching for a secondhand car, you may come across vehicles described as a ‘previous write-off’. 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 changed 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.

Related: Things that make your car insurance cost more (Money Talks News)

Replay Video

The new categories are as follows:

Category A: The most serious category. Category A write-offs must be crushed. Parts cannot be removed from the vehicle, even if they appear to be salvageable.

Category B: This signifies serious damage. The car 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.

Car crash aftermath © Provided by Motoring Research Car crash aftermath

Category B Ferrari 458 destroyed by police

The driver of this Ferrari 458 bought cheap at auction had a shock when it was confiscated by police. Previously a category B write-off, the Ferrari shouldn’t have been used again on the road.

Zahid Khan insisted that it had been repaired using genuine Ferrari parts, but police weren’t sympathetic towards the millionaire landlord. He was also driving without insurance and failed to provide paperwork to prove he owned the car.

Posting a video of the Ferrari being crushed on his Facebook page, Khan said: “This is my Ferrari the police crushed unlawfully!

“It has taken them almost 1 year to release the video…”

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.

© Lauren Hurley/PA Wire/PA Images

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.

Car crash © Provided by Motoring Research Car crash

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.

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Related: Top 25 cheapest cars to insure


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