When an insurance provider writes off a car, that provider will typically put that car into one of four categories. These categories range from Cat A, Cat B, Cat S and Cat N, and all mean different things that detail the car’s status.
When a car has been given one of these categories, it stays with the car forever. This means that if you ever happen to come across a car that’s been given any one of these categories when searching for a used car, you’ll be able to find this information in its logbook.
If you’re in the market for a used car, it can be helpful to know the difference between these categories and fully understand what they mean. This is because these types of cars need to be treated a bit differently, and knowing what each category means can help you avoid any issues and bad decisions.
Here’s the ultimate guide to these types of written-off cars, explaining all the different types, such as Cat A, B, S, and N cars and what they mean. You can find many helpful guides on Car Adviser if you need more information and advice to help you buy a used car.
When an insured car is damaged, two things can happen. Either the insurance provider will pay for the car’s repairs, or they will write it off and replace it with a new vehicle. When a car is written off, it means that the damage sustained to the car is too expensive to repair.
Although most write-offs can be fixed, insurance providers may choose not to if they deem the cost of getting a car repaired too much to be economically viable. Typically, an insurance provider will write off a vehicle if it costs over half the car’s value to fix it.
Of course, a car can also be written off if it’s sustained so much damage that it’s deemed beyond repair and can’t be repaired safely. Usually, this happens when there’s been damage to the car’s structural frame.
Once a car has been written off, it will be given one of four categories. These categories let people know what kind of state the car is in and what type of damage that’s happened to it.
Once given a category, a write-off can either be scrapped, stripped for parts, or repaired and sold. What happens to the written-off car will depend on the category it receives.
Cat A is the highest, most severe grade a written-off car can get, which means it’s been damaged badly. This category implies that insurers thought it was impossible to repair the vehicle to a high enough safety standard. In almost every case, a Cat A car can never be driven again, even if it’s fixed.
Plus, the damage done to a Cat A car is considered so bad that even the parts within the car are not allowed to be stripped out and sold individually. This is because these parts may break easily and can’t be considered reliable to use.
Because the car can’t be salvaged for parts or repaired, a Cat A car will be crushed and destroyed in all cases. This means it should be pretty much impossible to find a Cat A car to buy from a dealership or a private seller. Instead, these cars are designed to be scrapped. Plus, to ensure no Cat A cars make it onto the market, each Cat A car must get a certificate of destruction to prove that it has been destroyed.
Cat A cars are also known as scrap cars within the motor industry because all you can do with them is destroy them.
If you were the current owner of a Cat A car when it was destroyed, you should be able to receive the value of the scrap metal within the car. However, you may not get that much with the car being in such a bad state of disrepair. As an owner, there’s not much else you can do but destroy the car. No matter how tempting, you can’t sell any parts.
Once destroyed, in addition to getting a certificate, you should also send your logbook to your insurance company and inform the DVLA that the car has been written off. Once you’ve done that, your insurance provider will manage the rest, leaving you free to search for a replacement car, which you can get help with on Car Adviser.
For a write-off to be considered Cat A, the damage will almost always be severe with no redeemable aspects of the vehicle. This means that the damage has to be pretty widespread.
This means that these types of cars have usually been in seriously bad accidents that included high impact between vehicles or a vehicle or obstacle and that has caused damage to the cosmetics, frame, engine, brakes, and even the chassis.
As the damage needs to be pretty widespread and consistent throughout a vehicle, Cat A cars are much more likely to have had fire damage or to have been completely flooded, perhaps after being driven into a body of water.
Cat A cars are also more likely to have been mistreated by their previous owners because of the nature of the damage that needs to happen to the vehicle for it to be Cat A.
Cat A cars need to be destroyed. As a result of this, it’s improbable that you’ll ever be in a position where you have the option to buy one. However, some still do slip through the cracks. If you ever come across a Cat A car or a car that has been repaired with parts from a Cat A car, you should report it to the police.
This is because Cat A cars are illegal to sell and own, as they’re not roadworthy. Even if you’re sold a Cat A car without knowing it at the time, you could get into serious trouble. That’s why inspecting and checking every potential used car you’re interested in buying is crucial.
In addition to the legal issues, a further reason to avoid a Cat A car is that if you have one, you’ll find it impossible to insure. This means that you won’t be able to drive it as no insurance provider will dare offer you a policy.
Plus, Cat A cars have been given this category for a reason: they’re unsafe. Mechanics and professionals deemed these cars too difficult and costly to repair.
Even if it looks like it’s in good condition, driving a Cat A car can be very dangerous as it’s likely more susceptible to breakdowns and other issues. Not only does this put you at risk of accidents, but you’ll also have to pay for more frequent repairs.
Cat B cars are very similar to the ones given the Cat A classification. Like that type of vehicle, Cat B cars have also sustained too much damage to be economically repaired. They’re considered too banged up to be fixed properly and are not allowed to be driven at all.
However, there is a crucial difference with Cat B cars, and it’s that some of the parts within a Cat B car are allowed to be removed and either reused to repair another vehicle or sold to someone else. This means that Cat B cars do not need to be scrapped, and it’s possible to buy them to remove parts (called ‘breaking’ in the industry).
As long as the parts are considered undamaged and in good condition, you can sell anything from a gearbox, engine, brake system, headlights, radio, and more. When looking to see which parts from a Cat B car to buy or sell, inspect them properly to ensure they’re still in good condition.
Plus, it’s also important to note that you cannot sell any part that makes up the body’s shell. This means that this part needs to be destroyed. Because of this, the owner of a Cat B car will usually strip all the sellable parts of a vehicle, make a profit on that, and then scrap the rest of the car to earn money back that way.
Almost every part of a Cat B car can be taken off and sold on, providing that it’s in good working condition and hasn’t been part of the damaged area that caused the car to be written off. For example, if a vehicle has had a rear-end collision, it means that most parts from the back of the car can’t be salvaged. However, things that may remain intact, like the headlights, gearbox, steering wheel, front seats, and more, can be removed and sold on.
The only things that can’t be sold, even if they look in good condition, are parts that make up the structural frame of the car.
Some of the common parts that you can remove and sell from a Cat B car include:
You can’t buy a Cat B car with the intention of driving it. This is because they’re not deemed road safe, meaning it’s illegal to be on the road in one. As a result of this, you’ll likely never come across Cat B cars that are in a potentially drivable condition. Instead, you’ll probably find them in auctions where you can buy them for parts.
If you find a Cat B car that looks like it’s been repaired, you should avoid it. Plus, it would be best if you also were wary of dealers or individual sellers who are not telling you what category type a car is, as it implies that they’re hiding information from you.
It’s the law for a dealership to provide the details of a used car, including information about if it’s been written off and what category it’s been given. Do not buy a car without being given this type of information.
Although you’re not allowed to buy a Cat B car directly, you can buy a used car that has been repaired with parts from a Cat B car. This information needs to be clearly written in the car’s history log.
If you’re planning on buying a Cat B car to strip it for parts to sell, that could be a potentially lucrative option. As long as the components are not structural and in good condition, you can sell parts of a Cat B car. Doing this can be a great idea because you could get more money for each element individually than you would for the whole vehicle.
When breaking the car and removing parts, you should have a good understanding of the mechanics of cars. This is because it’s easy to damage and harm parts while removing them. It could be wise to employ the help of a mechanic to help you remove all the parts you want safely, as that will ensure that you’ll be able to see them on at the best price.
A Cat S car is a written-off vehicle that has been damaged in some way, typically an accident, where structural damage has occurred. This means that parts such as the chassis or wings of the car have been compromised in some way.
A car that has sustained structural damage is unsafe to drive if not repaired immediately. Thankfully, these cars are free to be repaired by a mechanic, meaning they can be driven and returned to the road as long as they’ve been fixed appropriately.
For these cars to be legal on the road, which will allow you to buy or sell them, they must also be re-registered by the DVLA, the governing body for cars and motoring in Britain.
Category S used to be known as Cat C but was changed in 2017 to a name that better implies the type of damage it received.
Although it’s best to avoid a Cat A or B car because of how illegal they are, depending on your preferences and situation, Car Adviser believes it may be beneficial to look for a Cat S car when searching for a used car. This is because Cat S cars are usually much cheaper to buy as they’re seen as less desirable than other used car options. This means there’s potential to get a bargain when you buy a Cat S car, as long as it’s been repaired well and isn’t likely to break down.
It’s the law that all Cat S cars have this information disclosed somewhere, typically the car’s logbook, so potential buyers know about the car’s situation. Always check the paperwork when buying a used car to see if it is Cat S.
Although it’s legal to buy a Cat S and is typically safe to do so, do not that no checks or inspections need to be made on the work done to a Cat S car. This means there is a chance that the repairs done to a Cat S car are bad, putting it at greater risk of breaking down once you buy it.
To ensure that you’re getting a good quality Cat S car, get it checked out by a mechanic before you buy it. This removes some risks, but remember that there will always be an element of chance when buying a Cat S car.
A Cat S car is where the damage is structural. This means that the damages that cause a Cat S car to be written off will happen to parts that make up the structural frame.
Some of the most common areas of damage which will give a car a Cat S classification are:
Parts deemed structural have been determined and defined by the Association of British Insurers, one of the organisations responsible for the salvage code.
Parts like the suspension of a car and its wheel aren’t considered structural. Although they’re critical parts of a car, if these are what is damaged, a car may avoid a Cat S rating and will get something less harsh.
One of the best ways to stay safe when buying a Cat S car is to do a background check on the vehicle. This will confirm its write-off status and the category it’s gotten and will also let you know the nature of the damage, the events that caused it, and if the car has been re-registered by the DVLA. This information will help you ensure that your purchase is legit and above board.
If a seller isn’t making this information obvious or easy to find, or if they’re resisting, it’s likely a bad sign that something isn’t right, so it’s best to simply walk away from the deal.
In addition to checking the car’s history, another great thing you can do when buying a Cat S car is check the quality of the repairs. This is because you want the repairs to be good quality. After all, if they aren’t, it can put the structure of your car at risk.
A check can give you peace of mind that the car is safe, and if it passes, it will also mean that you won’t be as likely to have to get it serviced regularly. A poor quality repair may mean the car is more susceptible to issues.
You can check these issues yourself if you know your way around a car. However, it might be best to hire a professional to check it before you sign any paperwork. Once a mechanic has given you the all-clear, you can confidently buy a Cat S used car.
A Cat N rating on a written-off car is the less severe classification it can get. Although it still means that it’s been seriously damaged to the point where insurers consider it too expensive to repair, having a Cat N means that no structural damage has occurred to the vehicle. As a result, Cat N cars are best suited to being restored and sold on and also pose the least risk to buyers out of all these classifications.
Before October 2017, Cat N cars were instead called Cat D cars. This was changed alongside Cat S (Cat C cars at the time) so that the name better reflected the damage the car received. The details of the classification haven’t changed, as it means the same as it did before.
Compared to Cat S cars, Cat N used cars are likely a bit more expensive to buy. This is because, in most cases, the car didn’t have to go through as many repairs, meaning that it’s in much better condition. In fact, Cat N cars can be written off after a simple, low-impact collision that may have only caused cosmetic damage. This is why Cat N cars are considered the least risky to buy.
Like all other cars being re-sold, the car must be re-registered with the DVLA before it’s legally allowed to be on the road again. When buying a Cat N car, you should look for this to ensure everything is legitimate.
It should be evident that a used car is Cat N, as the dealership or seller is required by law to disclose this information. You’re unlikely to find people withhold this information because of how trustworthy Cat N cars are. Dealers will be less inclined to keep the truth from you. Regardless, it would help if you always tried to see any paperwork and documentation so that you’re fully in the know of the car’s history.
It would be best if you also got Cat N cars checked by an independent body before you buy one. Although they’re at less risk of being in a bad state, you do purchase these cars at your own risk, and you can never guarantee that it’s been properly repaired until you get them checked.
The damage that you can expect to see on a Cat N car can be varied. Most of the time, the damage will be light and be easily repaired. However, it will never be something that is considered structural. It will just be deemed costly and not worth it from the insurer’s point of view.
Things such as the chassis and frame of the car will be damage-free; instead, other areas of the car will need repairing.
Most of the time, the damage on a Cat N car will be cosmetic only, and none of the car’s inner parts will be harmed in any way. If you’re buying a Cat N car that’s been repaired, then getting a car in this situation is the best case scenario, as it will likely be one of the safer options to drive.
Cosmetic damage that can occur to a Cat N car includes:
With all that said, there is still potential for more severe and complicated damage to have occurred to a Cat N car. One common Cat N issue is damage to the electrical system, which can be tough to fix and can potentially impact how the vehicle performs for a long time. Issues like this can be tough to fix because they’re harder to identify.
Some other types of Cat N damage you need to look out for and ensure is fixed when buying a Cat N car include:
You have to make sure that these issues are fixed before you buy a Cat N car; otherwise, you could see yourself visiting the mechanics more often, which can be costly and even unsafe.
Before buying a Cat N car, one of the most important things you can do is inspect the vehicle intently, just as you would when purchasing a Cat S car. It would help if you asked the seller for all the information about the car’s history and ideally be given its logbook so that you can see a record of its history and what has been repaired.
If you’re not given a complete account, you should avoid buying the car, as the seller could be lying and withholding information. Dealerships are required by law to show you this history, so you shouldn’t feel bad for asking for it.
Another great thing you can do is to get the car reviewed by an independent person. You can get your vehicle checked by both the AA and RAC, who use a robust and detailed checklist to identify even the most minor issue. This can let you know what you should expect and gives you better information to make an informed decision when buying the car.
If possible, it’s also possible to buy from dealers with the ‘used and approved’ rating. This means that their cars have been inspected before they’ve been put on the market, meaning that you can buy from them with greater confidence.
Buying a written-off car is a big decision and isn’t one that you should take lightly, as plenty of risks are involved. That said, there is potential to get a great deal on a used car, as written-off cars are typically much cheaper.
Deciding to buy a written-off car will also have to factor in the type of written-off car it is. If you want a more secure investment, it might be best to buy a Cat N car over a Cat S, as although it may be a bit more expensive to buy, you’re less likely to need to have it serviced and repaired.
With that said, if the car you’re buying is Cat A or Cat B, you shouldn’t buy it if you’re looking to drive them on the road. You should only buy a Cat B car if you want to try and repair it so that you can drive it on a racetrack or on private land. You could also choose to buy a Cat B car if you want to ‘break’ it and sell the parts to try and make a profit.
If you’re considering this option, it’s best only to do it if you have a good understanding of cars and know what you’re doing. Trying to break a car without any knowledge can cause damage, and it can also be pretty tough to sell parts second-hand.
When buying a written-off car, you should consider what it takes to insure these cars. Because they’ve been damaged in the past and are thus seen as being more likely to have faults or issues, you’ll likely have to pay more to insure these cars than you would a duplicate model that wasn’t a write-off.
In some cases, the insurance is so high that any savings made buying the car are lost, making it a less economical option. You should only really buy a written-off car if the cost of buying it and the insurance is less than buying one that hasn’t been written off.
You should also remember that because these cars have such a low value, you’ll likely not be able to make much money back from them when you try to sell them on.
This can make it tougher to get the funds for a replacement car and could be why you shouldn’t buy a written-off car. However, if this isn’t something that concerns you, then buying a written-off car can be a good option providing that the circumstances are alright for you.
There are a lot of factors at play that makes a car worthy of being written off by an insurance provider. The insurance company will use these factors to figure out if the car is worth being repaired or if it makes more sense to write it off and provide a replacement vehicle to the owner.
The main factor is the severity of the damage to the car. Once a claim has been made on a vehicle, if the insurance provider feels that the car is damaged beyond repair, meaning that no amount of work will get it roadworthy, then it will be written off.
However, sometimes the damage done to a car doesn't have to be massive for it to be written off. If a car can be repaired properly, but the cost of those repairs is too much, then an insurance provider will likely write it off too. Usually, if the repair cost exceeds half the current value of a new model of your car, it will be deemed uneconomical, and they will instead write it off and give you a replacement.
Of course, if your car is old and has a low value, it will be more likely to be written off instead of repaired because it won't be worth spending the money to fix it to a working condition. That's why you'll find more used cars that are over five years old being written off than newer options.
If a car has been written off and given a Cat A, B, S, or N classification, that detail will be a part of the car for as long as it's allowed to be on the road.
This means that you can't ever remove this part of a car's history, which will indicate that the car has been written off forever. Even if the car has been fully repaired to an excellent standard, it will always have its classification.
This can be a good thing for those looking to buy a Cat S or N car, as it will mean that the used car will always be a little bit cheaper than newer models that haven't been written off. On the other hand, if you're trying to sell a Cat S or N car, you'll find that you'll struggle to get a good price for it when compared to cars that haven't been written off.
It's the law that a car's history is accurately and clearly accessible, so if a car is a write-off and has received one of the four categories, this should always be disclosed. If it's not, it's best to avoid buying the car.
If you're the owner of a car that's been damaged and has received a write-off verdict, it is actually possible to challenge this if you feel that the car hasn't sustained enough damage for it to be the case.
You're entitled to challenge two things: the first being if the car is actually a write-off and the second being the category of the write-off.
For example, if your car has been deemed as a Cat A write-off, you can challenge this for it to be reduced to a Cat S or Cat N - which will allow you to sell it on. Of course, an independent party will have to review the damage to ensure that changing category is appropriate.
For most people, the trouble of challenging a write-off verdict may not be worth the time, as you'll still get a replacement vehicle if a car is written off. However, if you're attached to your current vehicle and want to save it from being scrapped or stripped for parts, then challenging a write-off may be something that you'd want to do.
Before October 2017, the different categories to grade write-offs were Cat A and B - which haven't changed - and Cat C and D.
Back then, these categories were used to grade the severity of the damages done to a write-off car, with Cat A car's being the most badly damaged and Cat D being less damaged and thus cheaper to repair.
The issue with these categories is that the threshold for what makes a car a write-off changes from case to case. Because of that, perfectly good cars that could have been repaired were crushed and destroyed because they didn't meet the previous threshold.
Nowadays, the changed Cat S and N not only demonstrate the severity of the damage but also details some more specifics of the damages. Cat S indicate that damage has been done to the car's structural frame, while Cat N means there's no damage on the frame. This has given buyers and sellers more clarity about the vehicles, shifting the focus away from merely the cost of repairs and instead highlighting the vehicle's safety, or lack thereof.