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Cat D and Cat C cars: insurance write-offs explained

Cat D cars or Cat C cars for sale may look tempting, but don’t rush in without knowing the score

If you’ve spent much time perusing the classifieds for a second hand car, you’re sure to have spotted ads for Category C write-offs and Cat D write-offs.

If you’re good at DIY and have the confidence to tackle minor bodywork repairs, it’s definitely worth checking out Category D cars for sale - and even the more expensive to repair Category C cars – as they can be a way to get behind the wheel of a decent machine for not too much money.

Cat C and Cat D cars are vehicles that have been officially written off by insurance companies, on the basis that they can’t be fixed to an acceptable standard at an acceptable cost by a mainstream repairer.

Write-offs can look extremely tempting when advertised, but it’s definitely a case of ‘buyer beware’. Damage that looks superficially light can often cost a lot more to fix when you scratch beneath the surface.

On the other hand, if you know what you’re looking at, a Cat C or Cat D write-off can often be turned back into a sound and roadworthy car that might not otherwise be affordable.

If you’re a handy or enterprising type who can unbolt and replace a wing, headlamp or bumper, or maybe fill and paint a dent (or if you have a friend who can do it for you very cheaply), then Cat C and D write-offs can offer a sensible cut-price route to a quality car.

However, if you’re scared of a set of spanners and don’t know your way round the shelves of your local accessory shop, you’ll end up spending money on professional repairs. In that case you’ll be in the same boat as the insurance company that wrote the car off in the first place, because a professional job probably won’t make financial sense.

When insurers ‘write-off’ a car because it’s too expensive to repair – typically after some sort of road accident, but possibly also after a flood or fire, or due to damage occurring during a vehicle theft – it means the owner receives a cash payment, and the insurance company keeps the car.

These insurance write-offs are classified in categories from A to D before they’re disposed of to recyclers or the motor trade. Category A refers to cars which have been burned or so badly damaged that they will never be safe to go back on the road - these cars are normally crushed, and even salvageable parts are destroyed. Category B is similar, and refers to cars that may be stripped for parts, but the car itself will never be safe to drive again. The body shell will be crushed.

Cat C and Cat D are more interesting to buyers, though. These are cars that could be made safe, but are uneconomical for the insurance company to do so.

It's important to understand that these cars have still been damaged - any vehicle with the 'Cat' moniker will have been involved in an incident that resulted in damage to the car.

It's certainly worth considering - the nature of these write-offs is that while they could be made safe, it's uneconomical for an insurer to do so. However, a private buyer doesn't have the same hoops to jump through as an insurer does, so it's possible to bag a bargain.

As an example, a Cat D write off could be a ten-year-old car with a dent. Insurers are bound to go through official repair channels - on older cars this can be expensive and so the price of a new door to the insurer would be £800. As the list price of the car is only £1,000 the insurer decides it's uneconomical to carry out the repair and writes the car off. However, a private buyer could very easily salvage a door from a scrap vehicle for, say, £50, and fit it themselves. The car can then be sold on provided it's clearly noted as a Cat D write-off.

An example of a Cat C write-off would be a car worth £1,000 with a dent that costs £1,200 to fix. If the car is repaired and put back on the road, a Vehicle Identity Check is required from the DVSA for the car to be taxable, and thus roadworthy. However this test does not check if the car has been repaired properly - so if you are looking to buy one then get a mechanic to check the car over for you first.

So what are the pitfalls of driving a repaired Cat D or Cat C car?

The first is value. Because the write-off category is recorded in the log book, these cars will always be worth less than undamaged counterparts, regardless of outward condition. This should of course be reflected in the price if you're considering buying one of these write-offs.

It's also very important not to focus only on the obvious damage. As with any used car, there could be any manner of faults requiring expensive fixes, totally unrelated to the write-off incident.

Sometimes insurers won't want to cover a 'Cat D' or 'Cat C' car if you buy one used, but it could just be a case of finding another insurer or accepting a higher premium - these cars aren't impossible to insure.

Do make sure you are aware of the health of the vehicle before driving it - get a mechanic to check it over for you before you buy, ideally.

Potentially dangerous cars that have been written off need to be tracked, according to Frank Harvey. head of the National Association of Bodyshops.

“The problem we have with salvage is that it’s unregulated – as long as it looks okay, you can sell it.

“We need a process with enforcement behind it that ensures any vehicle that’s not going to be repaired in a commercial environment is logged and traceable.”

“Everybody is looking for a bargain, and this lulls people into purchasing cars because the price is right. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

  • • 'Cat D' means the car has been written off, probably because of a crash
  • • You can buy a 'Cat D' car - if you've seen one for sale it will likely have had the damage repaired
  • • A 'Cat C' car will have been more heavily damaged than the equivalent 'Cat D' car
  • • Get a mechanic to check a 'Cat D' or 'Cat C' car before you buy
  • • If your insurer refuses to cover you on one of these cars, try a different provider