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What happens if my car is written off?

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

published: 24 June 2022
Read time: 5 minutes

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

What does it mean if my car’s a write off?

If your car is written off, ownership is transferred to your insurance provider, which pays 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. Insurers also write off cars 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.

What happens if my car is written off?

When your car’s written off by your insurance company, ownership of the vehicle passes to the insurer, while you receive a cash payout that should be enough to replace the car with a similar make and model. 

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. 

Why do cars get written off?

Cars get written off after being damaged, whether in an accident or due to other circumstances such as flood or fire.

Different insurers use different rules to decide whether a damaged vehicle is a write off, but the decision will usually be based on the cost of the repairs and the value of the vehicle in question. 

If the car has a low value, it may therefore be written off even if the damage is only slight. 

Car accident

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

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 payout. 

It’s then your responsibility to arrange and pay for the repairs needed to get it back on the road.

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.

  • Category A means the car is extensively damaged and should be scrapped completely

  • Category B means the vehicle has significant damage to the body, which should be crushed. Undamaged parts can however be used as spares

  • Category S means the car has suffered structural damage but can be driven again after being professionally repaired

  • Category N means the vehicle is structurally sound but has cosmetic, electrical or non-structural damage that requires repairing before the car can be driven again

Write off calculations

When a car is judged a write off – either because it is un-roadworthy or because the repairs are too expensive compared to the overall value – you will generally receive a cash payout known as a settlement fee.

The aim of this payout is to allow you to buy a new car of the same value as yours was prior to the incident in which it was written off. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

How much will I get for my written off car?

The payout you receive from your insurer when your car is written off is generally based on the market value of your vehicle prior to the claim. The main exception to this rule is 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 payout 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. 

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 payout 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)

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.

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.

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