Learn all you need to know about car insurance write-offs
If your car is a write-off, it's no longer roadworthy and ownership of it is transferred to your car insurance provider. In this guide we'll explain the ins and outs of having a car written off and how your insurance can help.
What does it mean if my car’s a write off?
If your car is a write-off, it means that the car is damaged or broken to the point of being a total loss. This can mean that it's no longer safe for the road or it might mean that the cost of repairing the vehicle is higher than its value. Either way, you can no longer use your car.
If your car is written off, ownership is transferred to your insurance provider, who will pay you compensation designed to allow you to buy a replacement vehicle.
However, a car does not necessarily need to be un-roadworthy to be an insurance write off. In some cases an insurer may also write off a car if their calculations show the repairs required are not financially viable – for example because they will cost more than 50% of the vehicle’s value.
In some circumstances, your car could therefore be written off after a minor accident. If this is the case, you may then have the option to buy it back and get it repaired.
How does an insurance provider decide if a car is written off?
When you make a car insurance claim, your insurance company assesses the damage caused and works out how much it would cost to get your car back on the road.
If the car is so badly damaged that it can’t be repaired, or the repairs will cost more than it would to replace the car, it will be written off.
Cars that could be repaired may also be written off if the repairs will cost say 50% or 60% of the vehicle’s current value. This means that if the car has an especially low value, it may be written off even if the damage is only slight.
What happens if my car is written off?
Once your insurer has declared your vehicle a write-off, they will offer you a settlement fee, which will typically match the pre-accident value of your car minus your excess. This can be used to purchase a new vehicle of similar value or pay off any leftover debt if you bought the car on finance.
There are four different write-off categories, and cars in certain categories can be bought back and repaired at your own expense if you wish.
Remember, though, that cars in these categories – S and N (see below for more details) – may be more difficult and more expensive to insure in the future.
Car write-off categories
Insurance write offs can be split into several different categories that indicate both the level of damage caused and the structural safety of the vehicle.
Pre-2017, the categories were A, B, C, and D. Now, however, they are A, B, S, and N.
The categories C and D were changed later to S and N. This is because C and D focused more on the cost of repairs rather than the condition of the car. Categories C and D have the following definitions:
The potential cost of repairing the car exceeds its current value
The cost of repairing the car is less expensive than replacing it
These categories were found to be no longer suitable because modern cars are more intricate than older ones and repairing them has become more expensive. This meant that while insurers still used these categories, modern cars would often be unnecessarily written off.
So, categories S and N were introduced instead, which consider the type of damage and how difficult it may be to repair your vehicle rather than simply how expensive it will be. The definitions of the new list of categories are:
The car is extensively damaged and should be scrapped completely
The vehicle has significant damage to the body, which should be crushed. Undamaged parts can however be used as spares
The car has suffered structural damage but can be driven again after being professionally repaired
The vehicle is structurally sound but has cosmetic, electrical or non-structural damage that requires repairing before the car can be driven again
While categories C and D are no longer in use, you may see some older cars being sold that are still classified as one of these categories. Cars that were classified as C or D before 2017 won't be reassessed, so they may still be classified as category C or D even though those categories are not longer used.
My car has been written off. What do I do?
Your insurance company will usually take the responsibility of collecting and scrapping the car. If you have a personalised registration number that you would like to keep, you will need to apply online with GOV.uk or by post, which will cost £80.
You will then need to remove the yellow section 'sell, transfer or part-exchange your vehicle to the motor trade' from your vehicle logbook (VC5) and then send the log book to your insurance company.
Finally, you need to tell DVLA that your car has been written off or sold to your insurance company. If you don't do this, you can be fined £1,000.
What do insurance companies do with written off cars?
Insurers can only sell on written-off cars that come under the categories S or N. Cars that are categorised A or B must be crushed as they are too badly damaged to be sold on.
If my car is a write-off, can I buy it back?
Whether or not you can buy back a written-off car will depend on the extent of the damage and, as a result, the write-off category it is in.
Before deciding on this course of action, it’s also worth finding out exactly how extensive the damage is, including to non-structural parts such as brakes, as well as the total cost of buying back and repairing the vehicle – either to use or sell.
Doing this can work out cheaper than purchasing a new car. However, it’s important to ensure the vehicle is safe to drive and will pass its MOT. You may have to pay more to insure the car once it’s back on the road.
Should I buy a category S or N (previously C and D) car?
Buying a written off car in one of the available categories can be cheaper than buying a new car. It should be safe, as long as the repairs are carried out by a fully qualified engineer.
However, while it can prove a cheap way to drive the car you want, having a car that has previously been classified as a write off can mean higher insurance premiums.
It’s therefore a good idea to research how much you would have to pay for cover before taking the plunge.
Our expert says...
“No one wants a cherished car to be written off but you should think carefully before buying back a category S or N car. You’ll have to find a reputable repairer (and not just the cheapest garage), and you might find it’s more expensive to insure your car. Even when it’s repaired and returned to the road the categorisation will show on its history, which can put future buyers off."
Can I dispute the decision to write-off my car?
There is some room for dispute if you disagree with your insurer’s decisions to write off your car, perhaps because it is of sentimental value.
The insurance company will appoint an assessor to evaluate whether repairs are economical but you may still be able to negotiate to keep the car and have the salvage value deducted from your compensation pay-out.
It’s then your responsibility to arrange and pay for the repairs needed to get it back on the road.
Am I still insured if my car is written off?
After your vehicle has been written off, you will no longer be insured to drive that car. This means that if you purchase a new car you will need to take out a new insurance policy for it, even if you are using the same personalised registration number.
If you own a multi-car insurance policy, then you will still be insured to drive the other vehicles covered by your policy.
How much will I get for my written off car?
The pay-out you receive from your insurer when your car is written off is generally based on the market value of your vehicle before it was written off. Motorway is one way of finding out the current value of your car.
However, whatever amount you are offered will be minus the excess you agreed to pay towards any claims. So, say your car had a market value of £8,000 and your excess was £300, you should receive about £7,700 with which to buy a new car.
In some cases, the pay-out from your insurance may not be enough to cover a new car. The value of your vehicle will typically go down over time, so the value of your vehicle when it's written off may be quite different from what you originally paid for it. The exception to this would be if you have taken out new for old car insurance that pays you the amount you would need to buy a new version of the same make and model.
You can complain to your insurer if you feel the pay-out you are being offered is not high enough. You can also take your case to the Financial Ombudsman if you remain unhappy with the insurer’s decision.
Otherwise, the solution to insufficient pay-outs is GAP insurance. GAP insurance is an extra insurance you can buy that will cover the shortfall if your insurance pay-out doesn't cover the cost of replacing your vehicle. However, most providers will only allow you to buy GAP insurance if the vehicle is less than three months old.
What happens if I still owe money on my vehicle when it’s written off?
If you bought your car using a finance deal, you may find the insurance settlement pay-out you receive when it is written off is not sufficient to clear the outstanding balance of your loan. The two main courses of action open to you in this situation are:
Try to negotiate a higher settlement fee with your insurer (for example by finding other similar cars being sold for a higher price)
Contact your finance provider and work out the best way to avoid charges or further interest payments (for example by switching the deal to a new car or by clearing the debt in full)
If you have a GAP insurance policy, the pay-out from that can also be used to pay off your remaining balance.
Your car insurance
Having your car declared a write off is not ideal, but at least you should get its value back if you have the right insurance in place. Find the cover you need in minutes with our handy car insurance comparison service.