Last updated April 28th, 2023
Before buying a used car, you should always check whether it has ever been marked ‘Category A’, ‘Category B’, ‘Category S’ or ‘Category N’.
These are the car categories that can be assigned to a vehicle by the owner’s insurance company following a road accident. Each category covers a different level of accidental damage, ranging from repairable non-structural damage, through to sufficient damage for a vehicle to be written off as ‘scrap only’.
Although the various free car check tools on the web cannot tell you a car’s category, there are several methods at your disposal that can help you find this information:
A quick online search should reveal a selection of paid car check tools that can provide detailed information about a vehicle’s history, including whether it has previously been category marked.
Most reputable car marketplace websites state the applicable categories on their vehicle listings. Some sites even allow you to filter by category, which can be useful if you intend to buy a damaged car with a view to restoring it - or salvaging specific parts.
If you are unsure whether a vehicle has a category history but are not prepared to pay for an advanced check, you can ask the seller directly.
Buying from a private seller always carries risk, so you should proceed with caution. However, if you believe the seller is trustworthy, their answer could give you the reassurance you need to proceed with the purchase.
Unfortunately, there are no free online tools that can provide you with a vehicle’s category information. So, if you want a definitive answer on your car’s category, it is likely that you’ll have to pay a fee to a premium car check service.
However, using these paid online tools is relatively straightforward. After submitting the vehicle’s reg number, you should receive a detailed report with information regarding its write-off history, write-off date, scrap status – and most importantly, its write-off category.
Category A write-offs have suffered severe damage and are beyond repair. If a car has been assigned this category, it is likely that the chassis and/or bodyshell are severely damaged and therefore, it cannot be restored to a roadworthy condition. The remaining bodywork can be used as scrap if the insurance company issues a Certificate of Destruction.
Category B write-offs are cars that have sustained severe damage in an accident. These vehicles may have suffered irreparable damage to the chassis or body shell, though some smaller parts may be salvageable. However
Category S write-offs (previously known as Category C write-offs) may have suffered damage to structural areas, such as the body and chassis. However, unlike Category A and B vehicles, those in Category C can be restored to a roadworthy condition.
However, before a Category S car can be returned to the road, the repairs must be inspected by a registered engineer, so that the vehicle can be re-registered with the DVLA.
Category N write-offs (previously known as Category D write-offs), are vehicles that have been involved in an accident without suffering any structural damage. Category N vehicles are generally much easier to repair and restore to a roadworthy condition than those in Category S.
If you find out that a vehicle you want to buy has been assigned Category S or Category N, you should consider this history carefully before making any payments.
It’s important to assess how the damage may have affected the vehicle’s resale value - and its overall quality. Most of the time, Category S and Category N vehicles that have been properly repaired can still be great cars.
However, if your car category check reveals that the vehicle has been assigned Category A or Category B, you should walk away from the sale. You will be unable to insure the vehicle and cannot legally drive it.
A car with a category will always be worth less than another vehicle of the same make, model and specification that has not sustained accidental damage. For instance, you can expect a Category S car to lose 20-40% of the value it would have had as a non-category car.
You must declare the write-off category when selling a Category S or N car.
If your car is Category A or B, it cannot be sold privately at all, although some parts may be salvageable from Category B cars. Category A and B cars can be scrapped at an Authorised Treatment Facility (ATF) (or scrapyard) - and some car buying services (including webuyanycar) will also buy ‘scrap’ vehicles.
No, you cannot get a warranty for a car with a category. Once a vehicle has been assigned a ‘salvage title’ (i.e. Category ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘S’ or ‘N’), any manufacturer warranty will be voided.
When shopping for a second-hand car, there are several other factors that you should consider before committing to a purchase, including:
You can also enter the vehicle’s reg number into our free car valuation tool to help you gauge its market value.
Researching this information should allow you to build a clearer picture of the vehicle and make an informed decision on whether to buy it.