If you’ve spent any time looking at cars for sale through classified websites or auctions, you’re likely to have come across some noted as being ‘Category N’ vehicles.
A Cat N car is one that’s been written off by an insurance company but could still be repaired and put back on the road. Even if the car’s been repaired, the law requires that a Cat N write off status (or ‘salvage code’) stays with the vehicle for life, letting potential owners know about its history.
So, what happens when it comes to insuring a Cat N car? Is it more or less expensive? Will you need to find a specialist insurer?
We’ve put together a detailed guide that explains everything you need to know about Category N vehicles and Cat N insurance; so you can decide if that Cat N car you’ve seen is worth buying. If you are looking for a car insurance quote, don't forget you can do that right here on Car.co.uk.
What is Cat N exactly?
To fully understand the ‘Cat N’ meaning, it’s useful to know a bit of background knowledge about insurance write off categories in general.
Before October 2017, there was no such thing as a Cat N car. At that stage, a written-off car that could be returned to the road was called either a ‘Category C’ or ‘Category D’ vehicle.
A Cat C car was one that had serious damage which the insurer decided was not economical to repair. To put a Cat C vehicle back on the road, it needed to be repaired and re-registered with the DVLA.
A Cat D was one that had lighter and less-serious damage – but the insurer had still decided it was not economical to repair. To put a Cat D car back on the road, a garage would simply have to make sure it was fit for the road again.
So where did Cat N come from?
When October 2017 came around, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) decided to alter these insurance categories and their definitions.
Cat S and Cat N replaced Cat C and Cat D respectively – and their definitions changed a bit too.
Now, a Cat S car is one that has sustained ‘Structural Damage’ in an accident – whereas a Cat N vehicle has sustained ‘Non-structural Damage’. Like before, a Cat N car will simply need to be repaired correctly to return it to the road – and Cat S cars no longer need to be re-registered as long as the appropriate work is carried out.
Why are there still Cat C and Cat D cars for sale?
Although the terms Cat C and Cat D were dropped in favour of the new insurance category codes, you’ll still see Cat C and Cat D cars for sale.
This is because they were damaged and given their insurance write off category code before the changes in October 2017. Since an insurance write-off code stays with a car for life, previously written-off vehicles will carry this warning until they’re scrapped by an authorised dismantler.
What happens if your own car is an insurance write off?
Although some cars are for sale with a Cat N insurance status, it’s also perfectly possible that your car could become Cat N write due to an accident while you own it.
If your insurance provider decides that your car is not worth repairing after an accident, they take possession of the vehicle and give you a payout as compensation. Generally, the insurer will then sell the car at a reduced rate through a vehicle auction – this means they recoup some of their loss and a motor trader gets a cheaper car that they can repair. However, if you’re prepared to carry out the work needed to return it to the road, you can ask your insurer to sell it to you instead.
You should note that you can only buy Cat S and Cat N cars back from your insurer, more serious write-offs (Cat A or Cat B) cannot be returned to the road under any circumstances, so you won’t be able to buy these types of write off back.
Is a Category N write off cheaper to buy?
Both Cat N cars and Cat S cars are almost always cheaper to buy than similar vehicles that have not been written off by insurers.
Well, it’s usually down to the fact that a previously written off car is far less appealing to a buyer. This is because there’s no legal requirement for a Cat S or N vehicle to be inspected and judged as fit for the road. In effect, you have to trust that the seller has carried out the repairs to the highest possible standard.
If you’re familiar with how vehicle auctions work, they can be a great place to buy a Cat N car. If you’ve got some mechanical knowledge or you decide to have a detailed inspection carried out on the car, you’ll be able to judge for yourself how serious the damage was and whether the repairs are satisfactory – however, a lot of people don’t have this knowledge; so buying a Cat N vehicle can often be seen as risky.
Of course, these considerations also apply should you decide to sell the car further down the line – so a cheaper car now also means it will be worth less in the future.
Can you repair a Cat N car?
So, you’ve bought a Cat N car from an auction or your insurer – the question is, can you repair it?
Again, as far as insurers and the law is concerned, there’s no problem with repairing a Cat N write off and putting it back on the road.
The thing is, an insurance company decides whether or not the car is economical to repair based on having the work carried out by an authorised repair centre. In many cases, this will be a local dealer – which is often the costliest way to do things.
Car insurance in the UK is based around the principle of ‘restitution in full’ – which means your policy provider will aim to return your car to the same standard it was in before your accident. This will mean official replacement parts and potentially repairs to paintwork and body-panels carried out by the manufacturer.
While this will almost certainly be a high standard of repair, there are plenty of aftermarket parts and local garages that could carry the same standard of work out for a lower price. In short, just because a car is written off and deemed not economical to repair by an insurer – this doesn’t mean the work can’t be done to an excellent standard by a less-costly repairer.
Does a Cat N car need a new MOT?
There’s an assumption that a written-off car is automatically no longer roadworthy – and therefore will need an MOT before it returns to the road.
In actual fact, this isn’t the case.
Since a Cat N car hasn’t incurred any structural damage, the issues could be entirely cosmetic. For instance, if you’re unlucky enough to have had your paintwork vandalised, the cost of a respray might be enough to write your car off.
You should always check the MOT status of a car you’re considering buying – but don’t panic, just because a vehicle is considered a Cat N write-off by an insurer, it doesn’t mean you’ve got to book it in for an MOT to check it’s fit for the road.
Insuring a Car N car
If you’ve decided that a bargain Cat N car is ideal for you, you’ll now need to insure it.
Firstly, it’s absolutely crucial that you declare your car as a Cat N write off when you’re looking for quotes. Here at Car.co.uk, our car insurance comparison will make it quick and simple to find a suitable insurer for a Cat N car – but not all providers offer insurance for previous write-offs, so if you choose to search yourself; you’ll want to mention your vehicle’s a write-off early to avoid wasting your time.
Is a Cat N car more expensive to insure?
It’s not uncommon to find that it’s more expensive to insure a previously written off car compared to a non-damaged vehicle.
With some insurers, your premiums are likely to be higher – and there are companies that will just refuse to provide cover. It might not seem fair – but, as with all insurance policies, it’s nothing personal; it’s all about risk.
A complex algorithm is used to consider thousands of factors about you, your car, your address, the type of driving you do, and a host of other points. When the numbers are crunched, your premium is based on how likely it is that your insurer will ever need to payout. For reasons that are all tied up in these complex calculations, insurers sometimes consider that a previously written off car is more likely to be involved in an accident in the future – so premiums reflect this increased risk.
However, this isn’t always the case.
We work with a number of specialist policy providers who, as long as you can prove repairs have been carried out, will insure a Cat N car as if it were a non-written off vehicle.
What do you need to prove that repairs have been carried out to a suitable standard?
When a car is written off by an insurance provider, an assessor will provide a report that details the extent of the damage that the car’s incurred. You’ll get a copy of this report – and you should hold on to it – because if you’re going to return the car to the road, it’s a useful list of repairs you might need or want to have done.
Of course, roadworthiness and safety are at the absolute top of the list of necessary repairs – and giving your insurance assessment to a garage will help them understand what needs to be done to get your car to make sure it’s legal and safe.
When the work has been carried out, you should keep the paperwork your garage provided to confirm it’s been done – as this effectively ticks each issue off for anyone who needs proof. There’s a strong possibility your insurer will want to see proof that the works been carried out – and should you decide to sell your car in the future, it’s useful to show prospective buyers too.
Are Cat N cars ever cheaper to insure than non-written off cars?
In some cases, a Cat N car will actually be cheaper to insure compared to a non-written off vehicle.
You might be surprised to hear that – but it’s all about the overall value of the car.
A Cat N car is almost always worth less than a non-written off example of the same vehicle. As such, you’ll enter a much lower ‘estimated market value’ when you compare quotes. Since an insurer will use this market value to compensate you in the event of an accident, a lower value means a lower payout – and a lower potential payout can often mean a lower premium.
Look for cheap Cat N insurance with Car.co.uk
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