Written by Ann Wilkinson
27 June, 2019
If you’re considering buying a damaged car, you may have some questions about the different crash damage categories and the potential risks of purchasing a written-off vehicle. Car insurance companies follow strict guidelines when assessing a car’s damage, as outlined by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) Code of Practice, and it’s important to understand what each mean before buying a damaged car. Read this guide to find out what accident damaged cars are, what categories are available to buy, and the pros/cons of purchasing an impaired vehicle.
When a vehicle is written off by an insurer, it will be assigned a category based on the type and severity of the damage. Up to October 2017, these four categories were A, B, C and D, with the level of damage being most severe under category A. The ABI updated the code to shift focus away from the cost of repair and place it on structural issues that impact the roadworthiness and safety of a car. Category C previously referred to repairable cars where the cost of restoration exceeds the pre-accident value, while Category D signified damaged cars where the repair cost doesn’t exceed pre-accident value.
The new categories are now A, B, S and N. You may also see Categories A and B referred to as ‘actual loss’, and S and N as ‘constructive loss’.
A: Category A refers to cars that are so badly damaged that they can never reappear on the road and even salvageable parts must be destroyed.
B: Category B signifies extensive damage, meaning that the car shouldn’t reappear on the road, although some parts are salvageable.
S (formerly C): Category S means that the car has sustained structural damage, for example a twisted or bent chassis. As the damage is more than cosmetic, the car must be professionally repaired before being deemed safe to drive.
N (formerly D): Category N cars haven’t sustained structural damage, so the issue must be cosmetic or electrical. The car will likely need to be professionally repaired before being deemed safe to drive, as non-structural problems can include brakes, steering or safety features.
Both Category S and N cars can return to the road after being repaired, with some insurers choosing to sell the car on for salvage while others may sell it to the original owner or a third party. Vehicles categorised as C or D before 1st October 2017 may still be labelled in the old categories, so you should check with the seller as to whether the damage refers to previous or updated classifications.
You may also find U/X Category cars, which are used, unrecorded or stolen recovered. These vehicles often fall outside of the ABI Code of Practice and are not classified as a write-off under the updated guidelines. While these cars may not be classed as salvage, they could still be crash damaged.
The main appeal of buying a repaired Category S or N car is that it can cost considerably less to buy than purchasing the equivalent brand-new model, although drivers can experience issues when it comes to the roadworthiness and insurance of previously accident damaged cars. If you have the skills, knowledge and drive to repair a damaged vehicle yourself, you could save a significant amount of money over buying the car new, including the cost to repair. If you’re looking to restore another vehicle that you already own, buying a Category B and S car can provide you with great-value salvageable parts. For some car enthusiasts, the challenge of restoring an accident-damaged car justifies the cost.
However, N and S Category cars are not always straightforward to insure, as some companies won’t consider covering a repaired or restored car, and those that do may charge a significantly higher premium. If a company does offer insurance for a Category S or N car, they will almost always stipulate that it undergoes a new MOT test prior to approval. Written-off cars are also worth less than their undamaged counterparts and while this will be reflected in their purchase price, it’s important to bear this depreciation in mind if you’re considering selling it on.
When properly repaired, Category S and N cars should be equally as safe and legal to drive as a new car. Ultimately, you should only consider buying a damaged car if you’re confident about the vehicle’s safety, economy and integrity.
It’s important to remember that written-off cars can vary in damage from light cosmetic issues to deeper mechanical problems that affect its safety. Consider your skill level before committing to repairing a damaged car; those who specialise in used vehicle restoration may be better suited towards fixing vehicles with lighter damage, whereas heavier vehicle damage will likely be better handled by an experienced mechanic.
Whether you’re wanting to buy a damaged car to sell, repair or strip for parts, it’s essential that you only purchase from a regulated and reliable seller. It’s recommended that you always ask for documentary evidence of what happened to the car, complete an independent online vehicle history check and visit the vehicle in person for a thorough inspection before buying. If you’re looking to buy a category B vehicle, you’ll need to hold the correct licenses and meet the seller’s requirements. You don’t require licenses for buying S and N, which can be purchased from authorised garages, online retailers and car auctions.
Ultimately, whether you should buy a damaged car is down to your personal preference, economics and intention. If you have limited or no experience with damaged vehicles but are still considering salvaging one, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t purchase a crash damaged car if you feel it’s right for you. However, it’s important to make sure that you check the history, condition and level of damage of any vehicle before making a decision.