But did you know that your written-off car could still be sold on in some circumstances?
Which of course means that a used car you buy could itself have previously been written-off.
This guide explains the rules regarding write-offs and examines the pros and cons of buying a car that has been repaired after being written-off.
What is a write-off?
Following an accident, a car insurance company might decide to write-off a vehicle and give its owner a cash sum, rather than pay for it to be repaired.
This could be because the car is so badly damaged that it is unsafe for it to go back on the road.
Or it could be because the insurer feels the vehicle is beyond economical repair – in other words, it would cost more to repair than it is actually worth.
Each insurer has its own “repair-to-value” ratio. This ratio takes into account the total cost of repairing the vehicle – in some cases including the provision of a hire car while the work is being done.
For example, if your car is worth £5,000 and your insurer uses a repair-to-value ratio of 60%, the vehicle will be deemed a write-off if the cost of repair is more than £3,000.
What are the different categories of write-off?
There are four different categories of write-off: A, B, C and D.
Category A and B write-offs are so badly damaged that the vehicle must be destroyed and never used again.
However, those classified as C or D can legally be repaired and returned to use on the public highway.
Cars that are classified as Category A writes-offs should be crushed completely. They are so badly damaged that even salvageable parts must be destroyed.
Cars in Category B have suffered extensive damage and should never be used again on the road, although some parts can be salvaged.
Category C cars, which often include those written-off due to floods or fire damage, can reappear on the road.
They are deemed to have been written-off because the cost of the parts, labour and extra services would significantly exceed the value of the vehicle.
Category D vehicles are repairable, and can legally be driven again.
As with Category C cars, however, the cost of conducting repairs has been judged too high to make it worth the insurer’s while. This may be due to the time it will take to source the parts, as well as the work required.
What happens to category C write-offs?
Category C write offs are often sold on to motor traders and garages that can fix the vehicles at trade prices.
That means the work can be done for less than the insurance company would have to pay. The traders can then repair them and sell them on.
What happens to category D write-offs?
Category D cars can be repaired and put back on the road by a non-professional without the involvement of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) or the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).
They can also be sold through a licensed salvage yard, or broken up for spare parts.
Is it a good idea to buy a Category C write-off?
Category C write-offs often represent excellent value for money in comparison to similar vehicles.
And the good news is that they should not be in any worse condition.
You should be aware that private sellers, unlike professional motor traders, are not required to divulge if a car has previously been written-off.
When considering buying a former write-off, you should search for the best insurance deal before committing: some companies offer cheaper cover for Category C and D cars, but other refuse to insure vehicles of this kind.
Running a vehicle check is also a sensible step to protect against nasty surprises.
The AA, RAC and various other organisations offer vehicle checking services.
They cost from around £3.00 for a basic check on whether a car has been written-off to around £15 - £20 for a more thorough analysis of its history (for example, if it’s recorded stolen, or if it has any outstanding finance).
Is it a good idea to buy a Category D write off?
Category D cars are often cheaper to buy than similar cars without such a chequered history.
That’s great if you find a good one to buy, as long as you remember that it will affect the resale value too.
Unlike Category C cars, no test is required to validate the repairs carried out to those classified as Category D.
So if you know the vehicle is Category D, or if you are buying privately and are unsure, it is worth running a vehicle check (see above) and then getting a mechanic to ensure the work has been done to a high standard.
As with Category C cars, it is also a good idea to search for an insurance deal before buying.