Whenever a car is damaged beyond repair, it is often described being a “write off” or as written-off.
This could either be because the car has been so badly damaged in an accident that it cannot be safely driven again, or just because it would cost too much to fix through the usual methods.
A car doesn’t have to be badly damaged for it to be declared as a write-off. If a car has a low value, then even the slightest accident damage can be enough to see the car written-off.
This is purely based on the cost of repairing the vehicle versus the on-the-road value of the vehicle. It’s not quite as simple think; most people believe that if it costs more for the vehicle to be repaired than it is actually worth, it will be written off. But this isn’t always true – more on this later.
When a car is written-off, insurance companies or underwriters will assign it with a category. This category is used to differentiate whether a car is unsafe to drive or financially viable to repair. There are four different categories used by insurance companies to write-off a car. These are Category A, Category B, Category S and Category N. They replaced the older categories – like the famous Cat D – a few years ago back in 2017.
However most people still use “Cat C” or “Cat D”, so this can lead to confusion. If the write-off occured after 2017, then it will be using the new categories.
Generally these are defined as follows:
- CAT A – Scrap only
- CAT B – Break for parts
- CAT S – Structurally damaged but repairable
- CAT N – Not structurally damaged, repairable
What is Category A?
Category A is the category given to the cars which have sustained the worst type of damage. A car that has been subject to a category A write-off is thought to be unrepairable. The damage is so severe that the car cannot even be sold or broken for parts. Category A covers cars that are only fit to be crushed or scrapped, such as those that have been completely burnt out by fire.
What is Category B?
A Category B write-off will also be so severely damaged that it won’t be seen legally driving on the roads again. There is one main difference between a Category A and a Category B write-off. A car that has been declared as a Category B write-off can still be broken or sold for parts.
Typically, a car that fits into this category will have any salvageable parts removed. The rest of it will be destroyed.
What is Category S?
A car that has been declared as a Category S will have sustained structural damage. This could either be in the form of twisting or bending of the chassis, damage to the crumple zone, or a major problem with one or more vital parts.
A car that falls under Category S will need to be professionally repaired for it to be deemed as safe to legally drive on UK roads. The Category S write-off classification replaced Category C in October 2017.
What is Category N?
A category N grade will apply to a car that hasn’t sustained structural damage. It usually refers to a cosmetic or electronic issue that isn’t necessarily economical to repair.
Although a category N write-off will mean that the car is structurally safe, there could be non-structural faults with safety-related parts that mean that the car is unsafe to drive. Examples include damage to brakes or steering components. Prior to October 2017, Category N cars were classified as Category D.
Tip: Investigate getting a warranty
Some used warranty suppliers will provide cover for Cat N cars (only). It could be a surprisingly cost-effective way of giving yourself some peace of mind about your new purchase and any repairs that could have been done in the past. Definitely worth researching these with your dealer or seller, or online at places like here.
Should I buy a car that’s been written off as Cat N?
On the surface, buying a Category N car can look tempting, given that these often have attention-grabbing prices, but it’s important to research the history of any car you’re thinking of buying. Here are our top tips if you’re interested in buying a car that’s been written off. We’ve written an article on this here.
If you are ordering a vehicle check from us, then our Premium vehicle check will verify if the vehicle has ever been declared as a Cat A, B, N or S… as well as all older variations like Cat D. If there is such a marker against the vehicle number plate, then we will show you it.
Note that write-off checks aren’t available for free at this time, as we have to purchase this data from the DVLA directly, who charge us for access. For the one-off price of £9.95, FreeCarCheck will verify the write-off status of any UK car, van or bike – going back the full age of the vehicle.