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Should I buy a write-off car?

Person assessing damage on a vehicle

Buying a write-off car could save you some money, but only if it’s been repaired properly. Here’s what you need to know.

What is a write-off car?

If a car has been damaged and it’s not worth repairing, the insurance company will declare it as a write-off.

This may conjure up images of a car wreck, but often vehicles can be written off with minimal damage. For a car to be a write-off, the cost of repair would usually be more than 50% of the car’s value.

To work out what cars can return to the road and what cars can’t, insurers put them into categories.

Sometimes cars that are written off can then be repaired and sold again. Often, they can be cheaper than a new car.

Our guide on car write-offs can give you more details.


What are the write-off categories?

Insurers divide write-off cars into two categories:

  • An actual loss: the vehicle can’t be used again
  • A constructive loss: the cost of repairing the vehicle would be more than the vehicle’s worth.

Insurers then assign a code to the car. This used to be A, B, C and D, but this changed in 2017 to A, B, N and S.

Category Can the vehicle be repaired? Can I use the vehicle again?
A – ‘scrap’
The car must be crushed and can’t be used again.
B – ‘break’
The car’s body must be crushed. You can salvage other parts from it though.
N – ‘non-structural’
After non-structural damage, you can repair the car.
You can use the car if it’s been repaired to a roadworthy condition
The car’s structure can be repaired.
You can use the car if it’s been repaired to a roadworthy condition.

If a vehicle is in category A, it should never appear on the road again.

Category B write-offs can be broken down for parts. But the car itself can’t go back on the road.

With write-offs in categories N and S, the vehicle can be repaired and sold on.

N stands for non-structural damage, like electronics and or mechanics. You can repair the car, drive it again and sell it on.

S stands for structural damage. Once the car has been repaired you can drive it or sell it on.

Once a car is declared a write-off, a Vehicle Identity Check (VIC) marker is put against its DVLA record. This will come up when you check the vehicle’s history.


Should I buy a write-off?

If you have an N or S vehicle that’s been professionally repaired it should be fine to buy, and you might even make a saving.

But this could be a different story after a shoddy repair job. Neil Hodson, former Managing Director of HPI, says:

"If a write-off hasn’t been properly repaired, any price is too high.

"However, there are write-off categories that, if repaired professionally, offer good value for buyers."

If you’re buying a category N or S write-off, you should check the following:

  • Check that the vehicle has been properly repaired and it’s roadworthy
  • Ask who handled or repaired the vehicle between it being declared a total loss and its repair
  • Get a report on the vehicle from an independent expert or an engineer. They’ll be able to identify any structural damage to the vehicle.

Our guide on buying a used car can give you more information. 

Any category A or B vehicle shouldn’t be resold, unless it’s a category B and you’re buying parts.

If you’re shopping for a write-off, look out for ‘cut and shut’ vehicles.

This is when two similar cars have been involved in separate accidents, and the front or rear of each car has been unscathed.

The undamaged front and rear sections of each car are usually welded together – a bit like the car version of Frankenstein.

You can usually spot a car like this:

  • Look out for a price that’s too good to be true
  • Check the VIN number, you usually find this at the bottom of the windscreen, in the chassis near the engine, or by the plastic trim on the car door. If this doesn’t match the vehicle log book, something’s up.
  • Look out for mismatched colours or any paint splatter in the interior.

Hodson says:

"The real risk with buying a write-off is paying good money for a car that’s been badly repaired and is a danger to drive.

"Unscrupulous sellers patch up total-loss cars and sell them on to unsuspecting buyers for a quick profit."

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Insuring a write-off

You can insure write-off cars that are in categories N and S, if they’re properly repaired.

When you compare car insurance through us, we won’t ask you the history of your vehicle. But when you get a quote, you should speak to your insurer and let them know that your vehicle was previously a write-off.