We’ve all heard the saying ‘the car was a write-off’, but what does it actually mean? In this guide we look at what a ‘write-off’ stands for in insurance terms, the different categories for ‘written-off’ vehicles, and help you understand what happens to a car when it’s been written-off – and whether you should buy one.

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What does it mean when a car is ‘written-off’?

When your car is damaged in an accident, the insurance provider will assess the damage to decide whether or not it can be repaired to a roadworthy condition. If the repairs are likely to cost more than the value of the car, the insurer will ‘write-off’ the car – meaning they’ll pay out up to the current value of the car, but won’t cover the cost of repairs.

A common misconception many motorists have is that when your car’s been written-off it’s no longer driveable, but this isn’t always the case. With the help of expert vehicle assessors, insurers put vehicles into one of six write off categories depending on level of damage.

What categories do insurers use when ‘writing off’ a car?

Man calling for help on the road

Depending on the category, your car may be repaired to a roadworthy condition, or you may be able to salvage some parts from it. You can find more information about the different write-off categories and what they mean here.

What do insurance companies do when they write-off a car?

No matter which write-off category the insurer places your car in, they’ll still pay you the total value of the car, even if the damage doesn’t look all that bad. That’s because most insurers work on a repair-to-value ratio – if the repairs are likely to cost 50% or more of the car’s actual value, they’d prefer to cut their losses and simply give you the money to buy a new one.

Cars in a skip

Write-off policies differ from insurer to insurer, with some more willing to pay out than others. It’s worth knowing that some insurers can be a little sneaky when it comes to write-offs, offering a quick pay-out which is less than the actual value of the car – so make sure you get a valuation before agreeing to the settlement figure. Remember, you’re entitled to refuse an offer, and they can’t legally take the car from you until all parties have agreed on the right course of action.

What insurance companies do with written-off cars once they’ve taken them away depends on the write-off category. Cat A and B vehicles need to be crushed under the ABI Salvage Code, while cars graded in the remaining four write-off categories can be sold on, either to the driver or a third-party buyer.

For instance, if your car has been written off as a Cat D write-off; the insurance provider will give you the total value of the car, with the option to buy it back and repair yourself. If you decide not to buy it back, they can sell it on to a new buyer.

What should I do after my car has been written-off?

As if being involved in an accident wasn’t stressful enough, the aftermath of dealing with the insurance claim can be incredibly demanding. If the insurance company deems your car a write-off, first you’ll need to agree a settlement figure that marries up with an accurate valuation of how much your car is worth. Then, you’ll need to do one of the following depending on whether your car needs to be scrapped or if you want to keep it.

If your car needs to be scrapped:

This applies if your car is written off as a Cat A or B.

  • If you want to keep the registration plate, you’ll need to fill out an application on the DVLA website.
  • You’ll need to send the V5C to your insurance company, retaining the yellow V5C/3 for your own records.
  • Use the DVLA portal to tell them your car has been written off – if you don’t you could end up with a £1,000 fine.

If you want to keep the car:

This applies if your car is written off as a Cat C, D, N or S.

  • Once you’ve received the payout, you can buy your car back from the insurer.
  • Send the complete V5C log book to your insurance provider so they can fill it out with the appropriate write-off grade.
  • Apply for a duplicate logbook known as a V62 – you can get one of those here.

Mechanic examining car

Should I buy a car that’s been written-off?

While buying a car that’s been written-off isn’t for everyone, it can be possible to get an absolute bargain if you’re good with cars and know what to look for in terms of evidence of previous damage and repairs.

When an insurer sells on a written-off car that’s repairable, they normally sell it for much less than the original value of the car. This means it’s often possible to get a real bargain on a car that’s sustained only minimal structural damage and can be repaired to a decent standard.

Be careful of cars that seem like too good of a deal. While there are many honest car dealers out there willing to divulge a car’s full history, others may hide a car’s write-off status to retain its market value and score a profit. It’s surprisingly easy to hide evidence of past repairs and damage, so make sure you get an independent valuation and history check before buying any second-hand car.

Click for more help and advice on buying a used car

No driver wants to see their beloved car written-off in an accident, but it’s important to know what to do when the worst happens. At Holts, our DIY car maintenance products are designed to get you from A to B and help you out in an emergency at the roadside. For more information, visit our homepage today.