Find out what happens when your insurer considers your car too damaged to repair economically.
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If your car has been in an accident or damaged, for example in a storm or a flood, your insurer will have the vehicle inspected to determine if it is safe to drive again.
If the car is not salvageable or would cost more than its value to be made roadworthy again, the insurer will deem it to be a write-off or ‘total loss’.
Your insurer will decide whether the car is a write off, it will normally be taken away for assessment first. You may be able to dispute the write-off if you disagree or have personal reasons for wanting to keep your car on the road.
What is considered uneconomical depends on the insurance company and how it assesses the value of the damaged car.
Insurers will have a repair-to-value ratio
If a car was worth £10,000 and a repair-to-value ratio of 60% was applied then uneconomical repair would be repair costs exceeding £6,000
Car insurance companies employ vehicle assessors to calculate this
They will inspect condition of your vehicle and work out the cost of repair
When it comes to repairing a damaged car, insurers need to make sure the car can be returned to a similar condition before it was damaged
This may be expensive – assessors will factor in specialist garages and materials
It also means some write-offs may not seem that serious
This is why minor damage such as a scrape could be classed as a 'write-off'
An insurance write off does not always mean a vehicle is not roadworthy.
The Association of British Insurers has worked with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and insurance companies to grade different categories of write offs so people know whether they can still buy and sell a type of written-off car.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the Lloyd’s Market Association (LMA) have produced a Salvage Code that was updated in 2017.
This was to reflect the complexity involved in repairing modern cars that may involve composite materials and complex designs.
The revised code scrapped the A, B, C, D categories and made them clearer:
S: Structurally damaged repairable
N: Non-structurally damaged repairable
The new categories make clear that certain vehicles cannot be repaired at all. This was to stop dodgy dealers putting unsafe vehicles back on the road.
This is scrap only and applies to cars so badly damaged they should be crushed and never re-appear on the road. Even salvageable parts must be destroyed. This vehicle will be classed as waste.
The body shell of the car should be crushed. There will be extensive damage but some parts are salvageable. The car is not roadworthy, although reclaimed parts can be used in other roadworthy vehicles. This vehicle will be classed as waste.
Category S means the vehicle has suffered structural damage, such as a bent or twisted chassis, or a crumple zone that has collapsed in a crash. The insurer has decided not to repair the vehicle. Your car will need to be professionally repaired to be roadworthy.
A vehicle in this category will not have sustained structural damage, so it may be a cosmetic issue. For it to have been a write-off there have been a problem that wasn’t economical to repair.
Please note non-structural faults can include brakes, steering or other safety-related parts and these may need to be replaced.
Be warned: some category C and D cars written off before the changes were introduced may still be up for sale.
If you can demonstrate you have fully repaired the car and, it may be possible to insure the vehicle again. Not all insurers will quote so you may end up paying more.
Be warned some category D cars written off before the changes were introduced may still be up for sale.
If you can demonstrate you have professionally repaired the structural damage to the car and it has passed an MOT, it may be possible to insure the vehicle again. Not all insurers will quote so you may end up paying more.
Be warned some category C cars written off before the changes were introduced may still be up for sale. It will be up to your insurance company, so you will need to check first.
Your insurance policy will end once the claim is settled and your insurer pays out. You can agree to keep your car and have it repaired so long as it is in category N or S. When you complete repairs you will then need to get a new insurance policy before driving on the road.
To keep a category S vehicle, you also need to:
Send the complete logbook to your insurance company
Apply for a free duplicate log book using form V62
DVLA will record the vehicle’s category in the logbook
You can keep the logbook if you want to keep a category N vehicle.
Your insurance company will offer you a settlement figure. If you agree with it your insurance company will have the vehicle scrapped for you.
The ABI/Lloyd’s Salvage Code says: “In the event of a dispute between the insurer and other interested parties regarding categorisation, the matter should be escalated to an appropriately qualified person who assumes responsibility for the final decision.”
That means it may be worth challenging a write-off verdict and even following that up with a formal complaint. Insurers sometimes offer low valuations as an opening offer. You may be able to negotiate a higher value or to convince them not to write off your car..
If your car is written off, you may also want to:
Apply to take the registration number off the vehicle if you want to keep it
Send the vehicle log book (V5C) to your insurance company,
Tell the DVLA your vehicle has been written off – you can be fined £1,000
What you will get will depend on what the assessor agrees the car is worth before it was damaged. You will probably not get the same value as you paid for it.
Your insurer’s pay out should be enough to replace your car with a similar vehicle in a similar condition in your area, normally with the excess deducted.
If you have had your car for a few years before it was written off it is very unlikely you will get the same money you paid for it.
You may need to research cars of a similar age and mileage to demonstrate it was worth more than the insurer’s offers. Every insurer will have room for a second, slightly higher offer, if you negotiate.
Fully comprehensive insurance will cover you regardless of whether or not you’re at fault.
If the accident was the other driver’s fault, you would be claiming for damages under their third party insurance policy.
If the other driver isn’t insured, there’s still a way to make a claim through the Motor Insurers’ Bureau.
You may need to research the prices of similar vehicles – online or in motor trade magazines
Make sure anything you have done which may have increased its value – such as new tyres or stereo is taken into account.
You can also pay for an engineer’s report to independently value your car
If your insurer and you don’t agree then you can complain and then take your case to the Financial Ombudsman Service. The value of write-offs is a major source of complaints and the ombudsman upholds about half of all complaints
While many insurance write-offs are sent to the scrapyard, a write-off doesn’t automatically mean the end.
A car can be assigned to a write-off category depending on the severity of the damage, and many written-off cars find their way back onto the road or the used car market.
Cut and shut motors are vehicles when two parts of a car are fused together. They may have been the rear end of a car involved in a frontal smash and the front of a car involved in rear-end smash.
These vehicles are not roadworthy, the DVLA estimates there were around 30,000 cut and shuts on UK roads in 2018.
The best way to ensure you don’t end up owning one is to have an independent vehicle check from the RAC or AA.
You could find a bargain on the used car market if you're willing to buy a previously written-off car, but it’s important to fully understand what each category means and how much damage the car has sustained.
Category A and B cars should be scrapped, so if you see one for sale it’s best avoided (unless you are buying a category B car to salvage parts only)
Category N and S cars should be safe to drive again once they have been professionally repaired
Once a car has been repaired it will need to be re-registered and pass an MOT to ensure it is safe to drive. You should check with the seller whether this has already been done or if they are selling it as a fixer-upper.
It’s also worth considering the resale value as previously written-off vehicles tend to be worth much less, even after they’ve been repaired.
Your insurance will end when you receive the payout from the insurer. Previously written-off cars cost more to insure and some insurers won’t cover them at all.
It’s not impossible to find cover and should just be a case of shopping around by comparing quotes (and making sure you always declare the car’s status to your insurer).
Compare car insurance quotes to find out how much it may cost
If you’re fully aware of all the drawbacks of a written-off car, you may decide that the potential savings are worth it.
Reduce your insurance costs with a multi-car insurance policy.
If you own more than one car
If you’re a family with more than one driver
If you’re a couple with more than one vehicle
Compare quotes for short-term or temporary car insurance
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