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What is a car write-off?

If you’ve been involved in an accident and your car’s a write-off, you’re probably wondering what to do. We’ll help you understand car write-off categories and the write-off procedure.

If you’ve been involved in an accident and your car’s a write-off, you’re probably wondering what to do. We’ll help you understand car write-off categories and the write-off procedure.

Written by
Rebecca Goodman
Insurance expert
Last Updated
5 JANUARY 2024
9 min read
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What does it mean when your car’s a write-off?

If your car’s a write off, it means it’s either been damaged to the point that it’s no longer roadworthy, or beyond the point that repairs make financial sense.

It sounds dramatic, but you might be surprised how often and how easily it happens, even if the accident didn’t seem serious or the damage doesn’t appear too bad.

Each car insurance provider has their own assessment criteria to calculate repair costs, which are then used to decide whether your car is ‘written off’.

Write-offs are broken down into a number of categories to separate the types of damage that can lead to a car being declared written off.

Car insurance write-off categories explained

If your insurance provider decides your car is a write-off, it will fall into one of the following categories:

Category A (scrap)

Your car is too damaged or old for repair. The entire vehicle should be crushed and can’t be used for parts.

Category B (break)

Your car is too damaged or old for repair but some parts may be re-used or sold second-hand, as long as they’re removed by an expert. A Category B write-off can’t be sold second-hand as a complete vehicle.

Category C (too expensive to repair)

Cars in this category can be repaired, but the repairs would cost more than the vehicle’s worth. You can continue to use the car if it’s repaired to a roadworthy condition.

Category D (total costs make it too expensive to repair)

The cost of repairs may be less than the vehicle’s worth but other costs, like transporting the vehicle, take it over the limit of its value. You can use the vehicle if it’s repaired to a roadworthy condition.

There’s no need to re-register a Category D car with the DVLA before taking it to the road again, but you’ll need to notify them that your car was written off.

Category N (non-structurally damaged repairable)

Category N vehicles can be repaired. These vehicles have only been damaged superficially and the structural integrity of the vehicle remains intact.

There’s no need to re-register Category N cars with the DVLA but you’ll need to notify them that your car was written off.

Category S (structurally damaged repairable)

These cars have structural damage but can be repaired. All Category S cars will need to be re-registered with the DVLA before being put back on the road.

What is the car insurance write-off procedure?

After being in an accident and putting in a claim, your car insurance provider will assess the damage to your car and decide whether it’s a write-off.

They’ll calculate how much it would cost to repair the damage and weigh up the costs of repairs against the car’s value.

What happens if a car is declared a write-off?

The car is retained by your insurance provider and ownership of it transfers to them.

Your insurance provider will usually make all the scrappage arrangements. If the damages are categorised as an A or B, the car will be crushed. If your car falls under Categories N or S, your insurance provider can sell your vehicle on, either to a third party for salvage or back to you.

What you need to do when your car is written off

You should follow these steps:

  • Apply to take the registration number off the vehicle if you want to keep it, via GOV.UK.
  • Send the log book (V5C) to your insurance company but keep the yellow ‘sell, transfer or part-exchange your vehicle to the motor trade’ section.
  • Tell the DVLA your vehicle has been written off. If you don’t do this, you could be fined £1,000.

If your car falls into Category N or Category S, you have the option of buying it back from your insurance provider and fixing it yourself. You’ll need to:

  • Send the complete log book to your insurance provider.
  • Apply for a free duplicate log book using form V62 – the DVLA will record the vehicle’s category in the log book.

You can also buy and sell second-hand S and N write-offs. But these cars may be more difficult and expensive to insure in the future. Some providers won’t insure them at all.

If you’re considering buying an S or N write-off, first check out how much you’re likely to pay to insure it.

When do insurance providers write off a car?

Insurance providers will write off a car if the costs of repairing it are higher than the car’s value.

Contrary to popular belief, the damage to your car doesn’t necessarily have to prevent it from running. Even minor or cosmetic damages can lead to a car being declared written off.

If my car is written off, what happens to my insurance policy?

If your car is written off, you’ll no longer be insured to drive it. 

Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to get a refund on any insurance premiums you’ve already paid. And you’ll typically have to keep paying your insurance premium until the end of your contract.

It’s also likely that you’ll pay more for car insurance when you next take out a policy.

If my car is written off, how much will I get?

If you have comprehensive car insurance, or you’re making a no-fault claim on third-party or third-party, fire and theft insurance, your provider should pay out a settlement fee. This will be based on the current value of your car, unless you have new-for-old insurance.

The settlement fee will be paid minus the excess amount on your policy. For example, if your car is valued at £5,000 and your excess amount is £250, you’ll receive a £4,750 pay-out.

The pay-out is almost always going to be less than you paid for your car, especially if it was brand new. That’s because cars lose their value very quickly.

If my car is written off, how long before I get paid out in the UK?

It depends on several factors. You could receive a pay-out in within 30 days or it might be as long as a few months.

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

You need to contact your finance provider as soon as possible to discuss the matter.

You might be able to use your settlement fee to buy another car and keep paying off your finance, or it may be enough to pay off the outstanding finance on your car.

If it isn’t, you’ll be responsible for finding the rest of the money. You can either continue to make your monthly repayments, or contact your car finance provider and agree to settle the amount owed.

If your car falls into Category C, D, N or S, you have the option to buy back the car and repair it using your own money (but it will almost certainly cost more to repair than it’s worth).

Whatever you decide, it’s key to continue speaking to your finance provider so they know where you stand.

What can I do if I don’t agree with the write-off decision?

You can dispute both the decision to write off the car and the settlement amount. But be aware that your insurance provider will have made their decision based on the car’s current value, not what you paid when you bought it.

To challenge either decision, you can research the price of similar models with similar mileage and use this as evidence. You can also get an independent valuation from the Institute of Automotive Engineer Assessors, but you’ll need to pay for this.

If you want to keep the car despite it being written off, you could ask to hang on to it, receive your settlement fee, but have the car’s salvage value deducted from your pay-out.

If you’re not happy with your insurance provider’s response to your complaint, you could appeal to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

The FOS is free. It’s independent and can rule in your favour – but it may also agree with your insurance provider.

Should I buy a written-off car?

Buying a written-off car can be a good deal, but there are things to bear in mind when deciding whether it’s the right option for you. You might also want to get the car professionally checked out before you buy it.

If a car is classified as a Category A or B write-off, it should be scrapped, which means you should avoid it completely. Category B write-offs could be worth buying for parts, but parts only.

Category S and N cars should be safe to drive once the necessary repairs have been made. Once repaired, the car will need to pass an MOT to ensure it’s safe to drive on public roads.

When buying a previously written-off car, you should keep the potential resale value in mind. While it may be a bargain for you now, you’ll probably have to sell it as a bargain too.

Can I get insurance for a written off car?

You should be able to find car insurance for written-off cars, but the category will be crucial.

When comparing car insurance with Compare the Market, we won’t ask you for a write-off category for a car you’re looking to insure.

However, once you’ve found cover you like, you’ll need to contact the insurance provider and share any write-off information about your car. You need to do this before taking out the policy to make sure they’ll approve the vehicle to be insured.

Don’t be tempted to skip this step – without it, you may end up with the wrong kind of policy.

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