Cat S Used Cars Explained

When buying a used car from an online or in-person dealership, you’ll find that many cars are given a category if they’ve been written off in the past. These categories are in place to help give the buyer more information about the cars to help them decide which vehicle suits them best. 

There are many different categories that a used car can be, and they all mean different things which can inform you about the quality of the car that you may be buying. 

One major category you need to be aware of is Cat S. This is because cars that are given this classification can be of greater risk to you financially and in terms of your safety. 

To ensure you know what you’re getting into when buying a used Cat S car, here’s a quick guide to give you all the information you need.

In this guide

What are Cat S Cars?

When a car is given a Cat S, it means that it’s previously been involved in an accident or crash that has caused structural damage to the vehicle. This means things like the chassis and wings have been compromised. 

When a car is structurally damaged, it may become unsafe to drive, as it could literally fall apart when on the road. Thankfully, Cat S cars can be repaired by mechanics, making them safe to be on the road again. 

In addition, for them to be legally sold and driven in the UK after getting this category S, they must be re-registered by the DVLA, the governing body for motoring in the UK.

Category S replaced the old category C in 2017, meaning that the naming conventions you may be used to are different now. In addition, another category also got its name changed, with Cat D now becoming Cat N. 

Cat N is similar to Cat S, as they’re cars that have been written off but haven’t suffered structural damage. Instead, some critical safety components like the brakes or steering have been affected. You can learn more about Cat N used cars here on Car Advisor.

Category S cars are usually cheaper to buy as they’re less desirable than other used car options. As long as it’s been properly repaired, you could get a bargain when getting a car that’s previously sustained these damages.  

When getting a car from a dealership, it’s important to know that the information about a car cannot be concealed. All category S cars need to have this information detailed somewhere. To protect yourself when buying a used car, always check the paperwork so that you’re aware that a car may have been written off and given a Cat S. 

Unfortunately, although most repair shops that work on Cat S cars are reputable, the work done on a car to get it back on the road doesn’t need to be inspected by an independent body. This means that consumers cannot be entirely confident that the Cat S used car they’re thinking of buying is 100% safe. You buy Cat S vehicles at your own risk.

What are some typical Cat S damages?

There are many components of a car that, when damaged, will affect the structure of the vehicle. This means that there are many ways a car can be damaged which will give it a Cat S rating when it’s written off.

Some of the most common areas of a car that are considered structural are: 

  • The rails of the car, including the side, rear, and front header rail
  • The B-post and A-post, which are parts of the centre and front pillar of the car 
  • The rear and front inner wings, including the support for these too
  • The chassis legs, be it the ones on the front or rear of the car
  • The sill

The structure of a car is defined by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), which is one of the organisations behind the salvage code. 

Oddly enough, some major car components, such as the steering wheel and suspension, are not considered structural, so if these parts were damaged, the car might not get a Cat S rating.

What do I need to do when buying a Cat S used car?

To help protect you when buying a Cat S used car and to make sure that you’re aware of the history of the car that you may be buying, you must conduct a background check of the vehicle. This will let you know its full history, how the damage took place, and crucially if it’s been re-registered by the DVLA. 

A dealership should make all this history very obvious, as they’re required by law not to conceal anything. If you’re not given the full facts, it’s best to walk away from the vehicle, as this could indicate that the dealer is hiding something. 

Once you have the car’s history, you must check the standard of the repairs that have been carried out. This is vital if you’re getting a Cat S car, as you want to ensure that any repairs are good. This will give you peace of mind that the car is indeed safe to drive, but a good repair can also mean that you’re less likely to have to get the car repaired often once you’re the owner. A poor quality repair may mean you have to get your car fixed regularly. 

To further safeguard your purchase and make sure that the Cat S car you’re buying is quality and doesn’t have any hard-to-see issues, it’s best to get it professionally inspected before you sign any paperwork. 

An inspection will be able to review your car and illuminate any lingering issues or faults in the car that may cost you more to get sorted. Once a mechanic has given you the all-clear, then you can confidently buy a Cat S used car.

What are the pros and cons of buying a Cat S Used Car?

Buying a Cat S used car that’s been written off comes with its own positives and negatives. You’ll have to weigh these pros and cons to determine if a Cat S used car is the right option for you. 


One of the biggest positives that can persuade people to get a Cat S car is that it should be one of the cheapest options to buy. This is because many people are put off by a car that has been damaged in the past, meaning that dealers have to lower their prices to sell it. 

If you’re aware that the car you want is a Cat S car, it gives you more bargaining power and leverage, which can help you get an even cheaper deal. 


Although you’re able to get a great deal when getting a Cat S car when compared to a newer model, there are plenty of drawbacks that you need to consider to ensure that the risk is worth it. 

The first is that, although it’s cheap to buy, when you try to resell it, it will have even less value, meaning that you may struggle to get it off your hands once you’re done with it. 

Plus, although it’s cheap to buy, getting insurance on a category S car can be super expensive. This is because this classification stays with the car for its entire lifetime, and insurance providers will view these once written-off cars as a great risk of breaking down and damaging. Some providers may not even insure Cat S cars, so it’s important to look around. You can find plenty of reviews on UK car insurance companies and breakdown cover on Car Advisor.

Plus, you could also end up paying more for repairs and services. Although Cat S cars need to be re-registered with the DVLA, no governing body reviews the quality of repairs to ensure that it’s road safe. This means that it’s entirely possible that you can buy a repaired Cat S car that wasn’t fixed well. The result is that you’re left picking up the pieces and will have to pay for regular services when things start to break and go wrong. 

It may seem like there are a lot of negatives about Cat S used cars. Although there are a lot of risks involved and potential extra expenses, as long as the total costs are less than buying a different type of car, it can still be a good option. Just make sure that it’s been repaired well to ensure its quality to drive.

Cat S Used Cars FAQs

A Cat S used car's safety depends on how well it's been repaired. If it's been worked on at a specialist, well-respected garage or mechanic and has been independently inspected, then getting this type of Cat S will be super safe. On the other hand, if your car has been repaired poorly and corners have been cut, then there's a chance that it may not be the safest option. 

The issue with Cat S cars is that it's hard to determine how well they've been repaired. It's currently not required for repairs to be reviewed or certified. This means that the only way to know the car's state is to get it checked out by a mechanic before you buy it. 

When getting a Cat S car from a used car dealership, you should be able to get all the information you need about the car so that you can see its history and decide if it suits your needs. 

Getting a Cat S car from an independent seller may be riskier, as they could withhold more information or may not even be aware of the car's history themselves. If you're not getting a full picture of the car's past, it's best to leave it and pursue a different option.

When a vehicle is damaged, an insurance provider usually pays to fix the car. However, sometimes the damages that a car sustains are so bad that it will cost more to fix the car than what the vehicle is actually worth. 

When this happens, many insurance providers simply write off the vehicle, meaning that instead of fixing it, it's replaced by another model. 

Once a car is written off, it's given one of the many categories that determine the type of damage and severity it receives. 

Written-off cars can then be sold or auctioned off to repair shops, car dealerships, or individual collectors, who can then fix the car to sell them for profit.

The cost of insuring a car that's registered as a Cat S will be a lot more than getting cover for a new or previously undamaged car. This is because these are considered to have a greater risk of breaking down and getting into further accidents. 

Repaired cars are also much harder to value, meaning that many insurers cannot determine the market value of a repaired car. As a result of this, many simply charge more than similar vehicles that may e classified in a different category.

Getting insurance for these cars can also be tough, as many insurance providers will insist that you get an engineer's report or an inspection before covering the vehicle. This is to ensure that everything is in order. 

Getting these reports is not standard throughout the industry, meaning that you may be able to find insurance without these. However, be aware that you may pay a premium to insure this kind of second-hand vehicle.

The severity of damage that a car has received to be classed as Cat S can differ drastically. This means that it's possible to get a lightly damaged Cat S car which could mean that it didn't need many repairs to get it back on the road. 

Defined by the ABI, damage that requires a structural part to be realigned to its original dimensions or replaced means it's enough to be considered a Cat S car.

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