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When is a write-off not a write-off? The new insurance rules explained

When is a write-off not a write-off? The new insurance rules explained

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has announced changes to the way written-off cars are categorised, and these are due to come in on October 1st 2017.

A vehicle is written off if the insurer feels repairing it is uneconomical, especially if the cost of repairs is more than the vehicle is worth. At the moment, write-offs fall into four categories:

  • Category A: Scrap (no salvageable parts and the vehicle is only fit for the crusher)
  • Category B: Break (the vehicle can’t be repaired but it has parts which can be salvaged)
  • Category C: Where repairs do not exceed the vehicle’s pre-accident value
  • Category D: Where any repairs would exceed the vehicle’s pre-accident value.

However, in estimating repair costs insurers assume the use of new parts and official repair facilities. It may be possible to repair a vehicle to a roadworthy condition much more cheaply, especially if much of the damage is cosmetic, and there is a booming trade in bargain-priced ‘Cat C’ and ‘Cat D’ cars.

Insurance write-offs must be registered with the DVLA by the insurance company, so it is necessary to re-register a written-off vehicle with the DVLA and get it through an MOT before you can drive it again. However, the MOT is not an exhaustive safety test.

It checks that the vehicle meets certain minimum standards on the day of the test, but it’s not designed to examine a vehicle for the quality of any major structural repairs, assuming these are even visible and neither – for that matter – does it check the condition of the engine, clutch and gearbox.

The insurance industry, however, is concerned that modern cars are so complicated it’s become difficult for repair shops to work out which vehicles can be repaired safely, so two new write-off categories will replace the old Cat C and Cat D categories and concentrate not on the cost of repair but the type of damage sustained.

The intention is to make sure that dangerously damaged vehicles don’t end up back on the road.

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The two new categories will be

  • Category S: Structurally damaged but repairable
  • Category N: Non-structurally damaged but repairable

These shift the focus away from repair costs alone and towards vehicle safety. This means that it should be possible to identify repaired write-offs which have suffered structural damage as distinct from those with non-structural repairs.

This doesn’t mean Category N cars are intrinsically safe – the damage may appear to be cosmetic rather than structural, but there are plenty of other safety-related components like suspension and steering which are not ‘structural’ either, but which can be damaged, bent or weakened by crash damage.

It does mean, however, that anyone buying a repaired write-off should have a better idea of what’s happened to the vehicle and what to look for.