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The risks of buying a write-off motor

A mechanic under a carThe term "write-off" may conjure images of scrapheaps and a hefty car insurance bill but for savvy drivers buying a damaged car is perfectly legal and could save a lot of money.

When an insurance company labels a car a write-off it can fall into four categories: A, B, C or D.

In the case of A and B, the vehicle should be scrapped and never returned to the road for safety reasons.

But, vehicles in category C and D are known as economic write-offs.

This means the damage is expensive in relation to the value of the car but not necessarily dangerous, so the car insurance provider decides it is cheaper to declare it a total loss.

In these situations, a repair job and a new MOT can see the vehicle fit for the road once more.

However, there are some potential pitfalls to be aware off if you’re considering buying a category C or D write-off.

Check the history

According to vehicle information service, AutoCheck, eight out of nine used cars for sale in the UK have a hidden history.

Nearly a third - 32 per cent - had critical issues such as being registered stolen or having outstanding finance.

And more than one in eight - 13 per cent - of used cars checked by AutoCheck have been previously written off.

A simple history check can tell you whether a car has been stolen, has outstanding finance, whether there is a mileage discrepancy, as well as whether the car has previously been written-off.

A history check, with companies such as HPI or the AA, can be carried out over the phone or online and usually costs around £20.

Beware unscrupulous sellers

Now, there is nothing wrong with selling category C and D cars write-offs, as long as the seller is completely upfront about the car's history and it has been properly repaired.

However, before you part with your cash it is vital to remember that apart from an MOT, there are no mandatory checks required on the quality of repairs carried out to previous write-offs.

Vehicle history check experts, HPI, say buyers should not rely on sellers declaring whether a car is a total loss.

HPI spokesman, Kristian Welch, says: "When buying a used car, it’s always advisable to arm yourself with all the facts by conducting a vehicle history check on that car.

"Without a history check, even if the buyer purchases a car knowing it has been declared a total loss and repaired, they should ask their insurer to confirm that the vehicle will be covered."

An insurance nightmare

As well as posing serious safety issues, unwittingly buying a write-off can have serious financial implications, as in addition to paying over the odds for a less than perfect motor, there are insurance risks.

Gareth Kloet, head of car insurance at Confused.com, says: "It is the buyer’s responsibility to inform the insurance provider the vehicle has been declared a write-off.

"If you don’t do so and the insurer then finds out the car is a write-off, you run the risk of the policy being declared null and void and not paying out at all in the event of you needing to make a claim.

Buyer beware & declare

"What’s more, because many insurers won’t cover a category C or D write-off, if you if you do find one willing to do so your policy it’s likely to be more expensive, simply because there’s fewer insurers after your custom.

"So before you buy a write-off it’s important to weigh up all the costs – not just the cost of buying the car, but also the cost of insuring it. That way, you can be sure of whether you’re getting a good deal or not.”

"Given that the car you drive is such a large purchase for many people, and something you entrust with your life and that of your loved ones, you should really know its history."

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Lois Avery

Lois Avery

Lois joined Confused.com in 2010 after working for Dyson and as a local newspaper reporter in Wiltshire. After a year writing financial journalism at Confused.com, Lois won the 2011 'most promising newcomer' at the BIBA journalist of the year awards.

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