Insurance companies use the term ‘write-off’ to describe cars that have suffered too much damage to warrant the cost of repair, or a situation when repair is no longer an economical option. For decades, the system in which insurance companies used to classify vehicles that incurred damage was fixed into four categories on a depreciating scale that followed the first four letters of the alphabet. A Category A vehicle was the most severely damaged and suitable only for scrapping, while a Category D was a vehicle with no real structural damage, considered by insurers to be repairable and possible to get back on the road.
In October 2017, the system changed. Category A was still classified as scrap only and Category B maintained its definition as a car that should be broken for parts, but the last two categories were reclassified from C and D, to S and N. Both the names and the classification were changed. A Category S vehicle is considered structurally compromised but possible to fix, while a Category N refers to vehicles with no actual structural damage that are suitable for repair.
It’s worth noting that all four categories are considered write-offs by insurance companies. Used to measure the extent of damage to a vehicle, these categories indicate not just if a car is impossible to salvage, like a Cat A, but if a car can be more costly to repair than to replace, like a Cat N.
If the cost of necessary repair work is greater than half your vehicle’s total value, there’s a good chance it will be written off. If, for example, your vehicle isn’t worth much in terms of retail value, it won’t take much for it to be considered a write-off.
Your car can be considered effectively a write-off, even in Category S and N, up until the point its fully repaired, as until that point it’s unfit for driving.
If you’re seeking a guide to Category N cars, you’ll find all the answers you need in the following sections. From tips on buying a Cat N, to insurance considerations for cars that fit this classification, everything you need to know about this type of write-off is right here.
What is a Cat N car?
Once known as a Category D by insurance companies, a Cat N classification means that a vehicle doesn’t have any structural damage and can be repaired and returned to a roadworthy condition. In simple terms, ‘Cat’ stands for ‘category’ and the letter ‘N’ stands for ‘non-structural damage’. Although a Category N car is sound structurally, the damage it has sustained will still need to be fixed. Sometimes, these problems are obvious, such as damage to the outer shell, but in other instances it may relate to electrical issues or problems with other vital parts of the vehicle.
What might Category N damage entail?
A Cat N car won’t have any structural damage to either its frame or chassis, and the insurance company will have decided it can be repaired. However, the damage it’s suffered may be a cosmetic problem, like a dented fender or something unseen like an electrical issue. Even though the damage may seem small, this could include vital components of the car that affect parts such as brakes, the engine or steering.
While damaged vehicles can appear to be a bargain, there are risks involved if you’re considering purchasing one to keep or resell. It’s essential that you make certain a Cat N vehicle has been repaired both safely and correctly. At the least, it could cost you a fortune trying to fix it when parts fail, while in the worst case scenario, it could put both the safety of others and yourself in jeopardy.
However, if a car has been officially written off by an insurer, both its damage and any repair works should be fully outlined in the vehicle’s history. Be wary of vehicle vendors as they may be keen to sell damaged cars fast without allowing you to know the full extent of any damage or give you complete details of repairs. In some cases, they might not even inform you the vehicle was written off at all. It’s always a wise idea before buying any car to run an HPI vehicle history check on it, as well as checking its reg with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) for more information on what you’re purchasing.
Category N insurance
If you’re wondering whether you can insure a car that’s categorized as Cat N, you’ll find that many insurance companies will still cover vehicles that were written off in the past and then repaired, but you’ll also come across insurers that won’t.
Unsurprisingly, you may find that your monthly premiums will be higher for cars if they’re a Category S or N when compared to another vehicle that’s never been written off. It’s also not uncommon for your insurance provider to insist on an impartial engineer’s report before they allow you to take out an insurance policy.
Organisations like the AA and the RAC can both conduct these reports, but there will be a cost. It’s worth factoring in this fee along with the potentially higher monthly premiums when you’re deciding whether to purchase a repaired car or not.
Buying a Cat N car
A car with a history of being repaired following a write-off can be far less expensive to purchase than an equivalent car that’s not been damaged. This can enable you to secure a bargain, but only so long as the essential repair work has been fully completed to the correct standard. If you’re planning to pick up a used car rather than a brand new one, a Category S or N car could allow you to get more value for your money.
If you consider getting an unbiased report from the RAC or AA, you can get peace of mind regarding your vehicle’s condition – sometimes even more so than with a used car that hasn’t sustained damage. Many used cars that have never seen an accident are hiding a host of issues inside that can’t be identified without a full inspection.
If you purchase your used car via a ‘used and approved’ scheme from a dealership, however, you’re unlikely to face this scenario and you won’t need to check the full vehicle history, but they will be more expensive. If vehicle issues arise, they’ll be fully covered under your warranty, so long as you stick within the deal’s terms and conditions.
While insurance write-offs in Category A and B are not judged suitable for repairs by insurers and should never be put on sale, this isn’t the case with Cat S and Cat N cars. It’s considered completely legal to repair and sell on vehicles under these classifications under the proviso that any potential buyers are fully informed of the vehicle’s entire history.
While a car that’s been repaired after a write-off might not appear as the safest prospect compared to one that doesn’t have a history of accidents, it’s possible to make significant savings in such a purchase.
If you’re buying a written off vehicle, whether you were aware of its history from the offset or you discover it during an HPI check, this information can be used to haggle and achieve a far cheaper price. Once you’ve fully confirmed the car’s history, the next recommended step is to buy a vehicle inspection. This will confirm the vehicle’s mechanical status and reveal any issues that may be hidden. These car inspections can cost less than £100, which is a small price to pay compared to the possible savings you can earn on the purchase price with the right evidence in your corner.
It’s important to remember that while purchasing a Category N car can shave a significant amount of money off your costs upfront if done correctly, there are still a number of points you should consider. In the same way you’ve picked up the vehicle in a cut-price sale, when you sell it on, your buyers are likely to use the same approach with you to haggle the price down.
Insurance is also a factor to think about, as not all providers will consider a Cat N car, and if they do, your premiums will likely be higher. Do the maths first and the correct amount of research to estimate just how much of a bargain the written off car is before committing to buy.
On the other hand, if you’re not planning to resell the Category N car and intend instead to keep it as your own long-term vehicle, it could prove to be a wise investment. With resale value no longer an issue, a written off vehicle in good mechanical health could give you significant value for your money. As a rule, it’s wise advice to only purchase a Category N insurance write-off if you’re totally satisfied with the car’s integrity and history.