If your car is a write-off it’ll fall into one of six categories, A, B, C, D, N or S. Some of those cars are still roadworthy, and others are too dangerous to drive again.
Cars are ‘written-off’ when the cost of the repairs are too high compared to the value of the vehicle, or there is too much damage for the car to be safely repaired and returned to the road.
In some cases, your car may be safe to drive again after repairs.
Malcolm Tarling of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) explains:
“A vehicle classed as an car insurance write-off is one where it would be cheaper to replace (based on the value of the vehicle on the open market) than it would be to repair.
“A write-off can range from a vehicle that can be repaired and put back on the road and is insurable, to one damaged beyond safe repair, that should be scrapped.”
A car must be damaged somehow to be assessed as a write-off.
A serious accident could mean it’s a complete wreck, but even a relatively small bump could lead to a write-off.
The insurer awards the write-off classification based on its assessment of the damage, but what makes a write-off varies between insurers.
There are six different write-off categories, although only four are currently used.
If your car’s written-off, it’ll be classed as either category A, B, N or S.
If you’re buying a second-hand car that’s a write-off, ask for proof of the damage and repair work – there should be documentation.
If you don’t, you could end up with an expensive repair bill to cover.
If you like, you can pay for a motor vehicle inspection to make sure the car is roadworthy. The AA, RAC and Dekra are a few specialists who offer them.
The car can’t be repaired and must be crushed. It’s not safe or lawful to sell a category A write-off second hand.
It can’t be repaired, and the car body must be crushed, but you can salvage parts from it. It’s against the law to sell a second hand category B write-off, if it’s roadworthy.
The car could be repaired, but it’s too costly for an insurer to do it. You can pay to have it made roadworthy, and you can buy a category C car second-hand if it’s fully repaired.
This category has been replaced with Category S.
It could be repaired, but other costs like transportation make it too expensive. You could pay to have it made roadworthy, and it’s lawful to sell a second-hand category D car.
This category has been replaced with Category N.
‘N’ stands for non-structural damage, like electronics or mechanics. You can use it again, and sell it on, once it’s been repaired.
‘S’ stands for structural damage. That means the bodywork or chassis needs sorting out. You can use it again once it’s been repaired and it can be sold on.
Once you've made a claim through your insurer, they will assess the damage and decide what to do - it’s usually up to the insurer to decide and contesting a decision isn’t easy.
If they've decided the car would be too expensive to repair, or is beyond repair, they’ll class the vehicle as an insurance write-off and offer you a settlement payment.
At this point, you can either accept the payment or contest it, if you think you're owed more.
It’s not uncommon for insurers to put a bit of pressure on for you to accept the first settlement figure you’re offered. For example, they might take away a courtesy car at the same time as a settlement figure is offered.
You’ll be paid the settlement amount less any excess you have to pay for making a claim – sometimes they’ll deduct the rest of the year’s insurance premiums too.
If your insurer doesn’t cover the full value of your car, and you’ve got guaranteed value car insurance, or a gap insurance policy, you can use this to recover the difference between the settlement figure you’re offered and either the initial agreed value or the outstanding finance on your car.
If you accept the payment, the insurer will retain the vehicle and scrap it.
Even though your insurer has kept your car, it’s your responsibility to let the DVLA know that your car has been written off – if you don’t, you could be fined.
If your vehicle is written off, and it’s a cat B, N or S, you have first refusal to buy it back from your insurer. How much you’ll pay varies but it’s usually between 10 and 30% of the market value of your car.
You won't be able to keep, buy back or insure category A cars. Your insurer will send these vehicles straight to the scrap yard.
You'll be able to salvage parts from category B parts via a certified breaker, then the rest of the vehicle will be scrapped.
If you decide to buy back your category B, N or S car, you'll still be able to insure and use it, so long as the proper repairs are made.
You can get car insurance through us for cars that are in write-off categories. We don't ask what category your car is in when you're getting quotes. You'll need to call the insurer before you buy a policy to make sure they are happy to insure your car.
When your car is written off, you'll get a payout to help you cover the cost of a new vehicle. How much you get will vary depending on the current market value of your vehicle, not the value of the car when you bought it. This means your write-off payout will probably be less than what you paid for the vehicle.
You can challenge a write-off settlement if you don’t agree. Alternatively, if you’ve got guaranteed value car insurance, or a gap insurance policy, that’ll help you recover your losses.