You’re a bit of a dab hand on the spanners, are you? Fancy buying a car that’s been in a bit of a bump and fixing it up? Good on you. Not only will be a deeply rewarding experience, but you should also save a few quid compared to buying the same car in non-crash condition.
Before you go off and buy a bent BMW though, have a read of this handy guide about what you should know when it comes to buying a damaged car.
Always buy from somewhere reputable
Salvage cars are big business. Whether it’s people like yourself looking for a project, or companies wanting to do the same, or even companies that just want to buy them and break them for spares, there is a long line of people keen to give up their cash.
As such, there is no excuse for buying a battered car from a backstreet garage. You can go to somewhere like CoPart and buy a salvage car safe in the knowledge it has been processed with the authorities accordingly and that it is ready for its next life, whatever that may be.
Know your categories
When a car is written off by the insurance company, it will be done so to a set of guidelines that categorise the severity of the write off. Not so long ago, the main categories were A, B, C and D. Things have changed though. The categories are now A, B, S and N. Here’s what each one means.
Total loss and the car has to be crushed. Usually these are cars that have been suffered heavy fire damage, or potentially flood damage. It can also be the case if someone was killed in the car, though not always.
Total loss, but the car can be broken for spares. This means the chassis and/or body of the car have to be crushed and disposed of. It’s the end of the road for that car. Not its parts though, as some can be sold on for spares. A prime example of this would be a car the fire brigade has had to cut the roof off. Though can also be the case for a car that is so badly damaged repair is simply impossible.
This used to be Category C, and in terms of what the car has gone through, it largely means the same. The S now stands for structural, meaning that’s exactly the damage the car has. So the chassis may be bent, or there could be other significant damage. The most notable change to this category is that S no longer needs a VIC (vehicle identity check). The check was in place to prevent ‘ringing’ of car identity, but given its massive decline, it’s not needed anymore.
This used to be Category D and means that the car has suffered from damage that is not structural, but also so significant that the insurance company has deemed it to be beyond economical repair. This might be car that has suffered a minor bump, or an older car that has low market value, or maybe a car that has been written off for an electrical fault.
Even though the system is designed to ensure written-off cars are subject to this categorisation, it’s still worth checking the history yourself. It’s no unheard of for unscrupulous traders to sell a Cat S car as a Cat N, or maybe worse.
And on that note, never buy a salvage car blind. No two accidents are the same, and while it may fall under one category, there are ‘levels’ of damage within. For example, an older car might be an easy fix due to it being written off largely because its market value is so low. Whereas a new car could be a world of trouble having been written off because the damage is so costly and expensive it negates the high value of the car.
Finally, do your research. Fixing a damaged car is a big job. You have to deal with parts bent into shapes or broken in ways the designers never imagined. It’s going to test your skills from start to finish, so be sure to look up repair times or try and find examples online of similar repairs. And have a look at the cost of parts, too. Many a started salvage project has been abandoned because someone didn’t realise how much a pair of headlamps cost.