If you’ve been browsing used car adverts, you may have come across cars that have been labelled under four categories: Cat A, Cat B, Cat S and Cat N. Whilst you may be tempted by the price point of these cars, it is important that you fully understand what these categories mean before selling or making a purchase.

In this comprehensive guide, we will give you an overview of each category, what they mean and if you can buy or sell vehicles that fit within these criteria.

What is an insurance write-off?

An insurance write-off, also known as a total loss, means that your car has sustained damage through either a collision or accident and it has been deemed unsafe to return to the road or the repair costs will be beyond the value of the car.

Following an accident or collision, the insurer will decide which category the car belongs to by using a vehicle assessor to evaluate the severity of the damage and to determine the cost of the repairs.

Why do cars get written off?

Car insurance companies have a duty to ensure that cars are returned to the road in the same condition as before an accident. However, the cost of repairs can be expensive and in some cases can exceed the value of the car, making it economically unviable to have the repairs done. If this is the case, an insurance company may conclude it is cheaper to write off the vehicle to settle the claim.

What are the write-off categories of cars?

When a car gets damaged, it gets assigned to one of four categories depending on the level of damage it receives. The damage can range from severe structural damage which is irreparable to non-structural damage which in most cases is repairable.

Previously the write-off categories were Cat A, Cat B, Cat C and Cat D, however, this category system has since been revised and it was updated in October 2017. The purpose of this update was to place more emphasis on the structural issues that affect safety, shifting focus away from just the cost of repairs.

Insurance write-offs or total losses can be divided into 2 broad categories:

  • An actual loss – this is where the vehicle cannot or should not be repaired. These will not be re-registered by DVLA.
  • A constructive loss – the vehicle could be repaired but the cost of doing so would exceed the replacement value of the vehicle.

Within these two broad categories, there are four specific write-off categories including:

  • Category A (Cat A)
  • Category B (Cat B)
  • Category S (Cat S) previously known as Category C
  • Category N (Cat N) previously known as Category D

Cat A car meaning

Cat A cars are those that have suffered severe structural damage and cannot be repaired. This is the highest grade a damaged car can receive and in most cases, a car with this level of damage will be crushed and disposed of. You are not allowed to sell this car, even for parts as the damage is considered so severe.

Cat B car meaning

Cat B cars are those that have suffered damage severe enough that they cannot be repaired. However, the remains of the car (apart from the chassis and body) can be stripped for parts to be used on other vehicles.

Cat S car meaning

Cat S, formally known as Category C, means that the car has sustained structural damage. The severity of the damage can range from a bent chassis to something as minor as a damaged bumper.

Unlike Cat A and Cat B cars, Cat S cars can be repaired but in some cases, the expense of doing this outweighs the value of the car.

Cat N car meaning

Cat N, previously known as Category D, means the car has sustained non-structural damage that can be repaired. This could include cosmetic issues or there may be electric faults within the vehicle. Whilst repairs are possible, like Cat S cars, these issues may not be economical to repair.

Car insurance write-off summary

Category Meaning Outcome Can it be repaired?

Can you buy? Can you sell?
Cat A The vehicle is damaged beyond repair The vehicle must be crushed and scrapped at an Authorised Treatment Facility (ATF) No No No
Cat B The vehicle is beyond repair The parts can be retained but the vehicle shell is crushed and scrapped at an ATF No Only parts Only parts
Cat S The vehicle sustained serious structural damage Destruction is not enforced but the cost of repair may outweigh the value of the vehicle Yes Yes Yes
Cat N The vehicle sustained cosmetic or very minor damage The vehicle should be repaired by a licensed mechanic, and proof of service history should be kept by the owner Yes Yes Yes

Should I buy a written-off car?

If you are looking to buy a used car, you may have come across listings that indicate the car has been written off. Generally, cars within these categories will be cheaper to purchase, making it a tempting offer.

For some, purchasing a written-off car can be an economically viable option but this depends on the severity and complexity of the damage. If you are willing to spend the time sourcing affordable second-hand parts and a reasonably priced mechanic mechanic, you could save thousands over the retail value of an undamaged car.

However, without doing the correct research it could end up costing you more and you might find that the costs of repairs and insuring the vehicle could outweigh the amount you initially saved when purchasing a written-off car.

How to check the category of a car

You will be able to find out the category of a car by checking the Vehicle Registration Certificate (V5C). Alternatively, if you have the vehicle’s registration number, you can also use the DVLA’s online vehicle enquiry service which will allow you to see information about its category and history.

Can I insure a repairable write-off?

Yes, Cat S and Cat N cars can be insured once they have been repaired and deemed roadworthy. However, you may find that the cost to insure a written-off car is more expensive than a non-written-off car. This may be because they deem the car more risky and the likelihood of it needing further repairs in the future may be higher.

When signing up for car insurance, you will need to share any write-off information with the insurer. If you fail to do this and need to make a claim, your insurer may refuse to settle it. You may also be penalised for ‘non-disclosure’ making it harder or more expensive to get insured in the future.

Tips for buying a written-off car

Shop with a reputable dealer

If you are looking to purchase a written-off car, it is always advisable to shop with a reputable dealer rather than a private seller. Some private sellers may not disclose that the car was ever written off, which could end up costing you a lot more in the long run. Also, you will have more consumer rights if you purchase a written-off car from a business, meaning you will be able to dispute issues that may arise.

Shopping for a used cars with MOTORS

At MOTORS we work with reputable dealers and only advertise Cat S and Cat N vehicles. This information will be clearly listed within the vehicle’s description.

Get a full history check

It can be worthwhile paying for a private history check of the vehicle which can help you to avoid common car-buying scams. Carrying out a history check will explain any details about the write-off, whilst also highlighting if the vehicle has been stolen and confirming if things such as the mileage are correct. You should also check the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) and ensure it matches the VIN recorded in the logbook.

Check you can get the car insured

You may find that insuring a repaired write-off might be more expensive. Additionally, some insurers may decide not to pay out if you claim on a repaired write-off. For that reason, it is worth shopping around and comparing insurance quotes before purchasing a written-off car.

Consider getting a warranty

For extra peace of mind, it can be worth purchasing a car warranty for a written-off car which can help to cover the costs if anything goes wrong. However, not all companies will offer this so it is worth researching before agreeing to purchase a written-off vehicle.

Get a second opinion

If the car is a Cat S or Cat N and requires repairs, it can be worthwhile getting a second opinion from a licenced mechanic before deciding to purchase it. They may be able to offer some guidance and quotes for the repair costs. This will give you a good understanding if the vehicle is a viable purchase or if it will leave you out of pocket.

For more tips on the things you should consider before buying a used car, check out our used car buying checklist.