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What happens if my car is written off?

Learn all you need to know about car insurance write-offs

Learn all about why your car might be written off and what you can do if it is

By Emily Sullivan

Published: 29 June 2020

Car accident

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What happens if my car is written off?

If your car is written off, ownership is transferred to your insurance provider and you will receive a pay-out in compensation. If your car falls into a particular write-off category, you will have the option of buying it back and fixing it yourself.

What is a car insurance write-off?

When you think of a car being written off, you’d probably think it resulted from a bad accident but that’s not always the case.

An insurance write-off is when your vehicle is either so badly damaged that it’s unsafe to drive, or when the cost of repair would be a lot more than the current value of your vehicle. This could be from damage caused in an accident, or by water or fire.

Insurance companies are within their rights therefore, to write off a car even if it has suffered only relatively minor damage, perhaps a few scratches to the paintwork or a small dent.

Car write-off categories

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the Lloyd’s Market Association (LMA) produced a Salvage Code that was updated in 2017. This was to take account of the fact that modern cars are often harder, and more expensive, to repair.

The revised code scrapped the A, B, C, D categories and made them clearer, naming them A, B, S and N:

  • Category A: This vehicle is deemed not suitable to be repaired. Must be crushed without any parts being removed. This vehicle will be classed as waste
  • Category B: The vehicle is deemed not suitable to be repaired. Usable parts can be recycled. This vehicle will be classed as waste
  • Category S: Repairable vehicle that has sustained damage to any part of the structural frame or chassis and the insurer/ self-insured owner has decided not to repair the vehicle
  • Category N: Repairable vehicle which has not sustained damage to the structural frame or chassis and the insurer/ self-insured owner has decided not to repair the vehicle. While the damage to the vehicle has been noted as non-structural, there may still be some safety-critical items that require replacement such as steering and suspension parts

Write off calculation

As an example, if your car is worth £10,000 and is written-off in an accident, the insurance company might offer a settlement of £10,000, minus the excess of £300, to give you £9,700.

Can I dispute the decision to write-off my car?

You may disagree with the decision to write-off your car and there is some room for dispute. While the insurance company’s assessor is appointed to evaluate whether repairs are economical, you can negotiate with the insurer and request that you keep the car and settlement figure, minus the salvage value.

In this situation, you’d need to arrange for repairs to be carried out independently as your insurer is unlikely to arrange them for you.

If my car is a write-off, can I buy it back?

In some circumstances you may be able to buy back your car from the insurer after it has been written off. You need to let your insurer know you want to do this at the earliest possible opportunity.

Once a settlement figure has been agreed, the insurer takes ownership of the vehicle. Most insurers already have contracts with salvage firms to hand over all their written-off vehicles. That means they may be reluctant to break those contracts and sell your car back to you.

Before you agree to buy the car back it's best to get an independent mechanic to give it the once over, so you have a good idea of what you're considering paying for.

And stay in contact with your insurer throughout the entire claim process; keep them informed of your interest to buy, then it's down to you to negotiate the best deal you can.

What happens if I still owe money on my vehicle when it’s written off?

If you bought a car on finance and it's written-off, you might find the settlement figure doesn't cover the outstanding repayments on your finance deal. You may be paying out for a car you no longer have, or the finance company may ask to be repaid in full, at once.

You’ll need to contact your finance provider as soon as possible to discuss the matter. If your car falls into category S or N (C and D), it is possible to buy the car back and fix it using your own money (just remember that it’ll almost certainly cost more to repair than it’s worth).

There is also potential to use the money you get from your insurance provider to buy another car and keep paying off your finance, but this would need to be negotiated with your finance provider.

Should I buy a category S or N (previously C and D) car?

You can find repaired second-hand Category S and Category N insurance write-offs for sale, often at a bargain price. However, you may want to get the car professionally checked out before you buy it. Some providers won’t offer insurance for these categories of car, so bear that in mind if this is something you’re considering.

Your car insurance

Having your car declared a write-off is not ideal but having insurance means you should at least get your car’s value if it is. Use our car insurance comparison service to find the right car insurance policy for you.