Last updated November 23, 2022
If you’ve ever been in the market to buy a used car, you might have noticed that written-off vehicles carry labels such as ‘Cat B’ and ‘Cat N’. These terms are used to categorise written-off vehicles – and are assigned according to the extent of the damage sustained.
These car categories (A, B, S and N) are used to indicate the condition of a vehicle to potential buyers - and highlight any structural issues that may affect its safety.
In this guide, we will explain the criteria for each of the different categories assigned to written-off cars. We’ll also cover the benefits and challenges around buying a write-off, how to avoid the common pitfalls - and how to secure a good deal.
Category A cars have been written-off after suffering severe structural damage. These vehicles can’t be repaired; whatever is left of the vehicle legally must be scrapped - and a certificate of destruction issued. You can’t even use a Category A write-off for parts, so you should never see a Category A write-off listed for sale.
A Category S write-off is a vehicle that has suffered damage to structural areas, such as the chassis or crumple zones. Selling a Cat S car isn’t always easy but it is certainly possible. These vehicles can generally be repaired and used on the road again once they are restored to a safe, roadworthy condition.
Before driving a restored Category S car, you must have it inspected and cleared by an accredited engineer, in addition to re-registering the vehicle with the DVLA.
Category B write-offs are vehicles that have suffered irreparable damage and can’t be restored to roadworthy condition. However, the remains of Category B cars can be stripped for parts, which can then be used within other vehicles. The only parts of Category B cars which must be scrapped are the chassis and main body, as these will have suffered severe structural damage and can’t be re-used.
Category N write-offs can be repaired and put back into use, as they have not suffered any serious structural damage. These vehicles have generally suffered damage to an area such as the bumper or roof panel, which won’t affect the safety of the vehicle once fixed.
Selling a Cat N car is generally easier than selling other write-offs, as these cars don’t need to be re-registered before they can be driven, or even pass an inspection. However, it’s still recommended that you have a Category N write-off assessed by an accredited mechanic for your own safety before taking to the roads.
It goes without saying that you should not buy a Category A or B write-off, as these can’t legally be listed for general sale. As for Cat S and Cat N vehicles, these can be purchased, restored, and put back onto the road following the appropriate repairs. However, this is often quite a challenge and can be a risky move if you haven’t done your research before buying.
Although the low prices of vehicles that have been written-off can make them a very tempting option for those looking to buy an affordable car, you could find yourself spending thousands of pounds trying to restore your Cat S or Cat N write-off to a roadworthy condition. So, tread carefully when shopping for written-off vehicles and make sure that this is the most cost-effective option for you.
Buying a Cat S or Cat N car may be a worthwhile endeavour if you find a model that is rare, luxurious, or desirable - providing you have the means or knowledge to repair it. After restoring a once-prestigious write-off to roadworthy condition, you could sell the car privately or to a dealership.
Alternatively, you could sell your car to a car buying service such as webuyanycar. Whilst you’re likely to get a higher price for a vehicle that has been restored to a roadworthy condition, we also buy Cat S or Cat N cars. What’s more, if you do have a Cat A or Cat B write-off, we can also scrap your car.
Here are a few of the steps you can take to avoid the common pitfalls when buying a Cat S or Cat N write-off:
You should only purchase write-offs from established, reputable dealerships. Not only are you less likely to get inadvertently stuck with a vehicle that costs thousands to repair, the greater consumer rights associated with buying from a registered business will also make any follow-ups easier if anything regarding the sale goes wrong.
If you fully intend to purchase a Cat S or Cat N vehicle, it’s worth paying for a full history check on the car. This will reveal plenty of useful information about its write-off status, whether it has ever been reported stolen, if it has any outstanding finance agreements - and will confirm the vehicle’s identity.
If you have a pre-existing insurance agreement and are looking to switch this to a Cat S or Cat N vehicle you’ve purchased, you should contact your insurance provider first and check that this is possible. Insuring a car that was previously written off is generally more expensive and some companies will not insure written-off vehicles at all.
Look into securing a warranty for your written-off vehicle for added peace of mind once you’ve finalised your purchase.