What to do with a written-off car
Find out the procedure for a written off car, whether or not you can keep the vehicle and how to calculate the insurance payout value.
What is a car insurance write-off?
An insurance write-off is when your vehicle is either so badly damaged that it’s unsafe to drive, or when the cost of repair far outweighs the current value of your vehicle. This could be from damage caused in an accident, water or fire damage, or even accidental damage.
When you make a claim for an at-fault accident with your insurer, they send out an assessor or engineer to inspect the damage. The criteria for what makes a car a write-off vary between companies, and the decision may sometimes surprise the car owner. However, writing the car off is the go-to option for most insurers if they consider the cost of repair to be uneconomical, regardless of how minor the damage might seem.
If your insurer deems your car to be an insurance write-off, you should receive a cash payout equal to the market value of the vehicle, provided you have the right level of insurance.
Car insurance write off categories
Since October 2017, there are four write off categories:
Category A: A car so significantly damaged that it should be crushed and used for scrap only. A Category A car should never be driven again.
Category B: A car with extensive damage where the body should be crushed but some parts may be salvageable. A Category B car should never be driven again, however, parts may be used in other roadworthy vehicles.
Category S: A car with structural damage that will need to be professionally repaired. A Category S car can be driven again on the road but not until the repair work has been completed.
Category N: A car with non structural damage. It may, however, have either cosmetic damage or electrical fault that isn’t economical to repair. A Category N car can be driven again on the road once all repairs relating to the vehicle’s safety have been completed.
Who decides whether my car will be repaired or written off?
If your car is damaged in an accident, it’s usually in the hands of the insurance company’s assessor to decide whether the car should be repaired or written off.
Take a closer look at the small print on your car insurance policy and you might be surprised to learn that most policies stipulate that it’s up to the insurer whether to:
- Repair your car
- Pay you to get it repaired
- Declare your car a total loss and write it off
What to do if your car is written off
If your car is declared a write-off by your insurer, the ownership of it transfers to the insurance company. Depending on the terms of your policy, you should receive a cash payout equivalent to the value of the vehicle (known as the settlement figure) if it were sold in its pre-accident condition.
However, if you disagree with the insurance company’s decision, or if you would like to keep the car for whatever reason (such as sentimental value), you have the option to accept or decline the decision. It is unlikely you will be able to drive a written-off car without repairing the damage, but you might be able to use its parts or, if you’re creative, find a different use for it, like turning it into furniture.
If you’re unhappy about your car being written off, and believe it can be repaired economically, you can challenge the insurer’s decision, but make sure you tell them asap, as the car is likely to be scrapped.
Can I challenge a write-off?
If the insurer decides that your vehicle is uneconomical to repair and declares it a write-off, you may disagree with the cost quoted to repair your vehicle or your car’s salvage value. If this happens, you can dispute the assessment, but you only have a very short window in which to do so.
Insurers must notify the MIAFTR register within seven days of declaring a car a write-off. Once the register has been notified, it’s usually extremely difficult to get a write off decision changed.
If you do decide to challenge a repairable write-off assessment and push for your insurer to repair the car, you’ll need to gather evidence that shows the cost of repairs or salvage value are cheaper than the market value of your car. You should gather together the following:
- Quotes from smash repairers to outline how much it will cost to repair the vehicle.
- Quotes from salvage yards that reflect the salvage value of your vehicle.
- Evidence of the market value of your vehicle.
If you provide this information to your insurer straight away and ask them not to report your vehicle to the MIAFTR register, it may be possible to get the assessment changed. Of course, if you’re unhappy with the way you’re treated by your insurer, you can also complain through its internal dispute resolution service, and then to the Financial Ombudsman Service if necessary.
If my car is written off, can I keep it?
If your car is a repairable write-off but was uneconomical to salvage and repair (Category N or S), you can keep it. For category S, you’ll need to re-register the car and, in both cases, you’ll need to report the write-off to the DVLA.
You can technically keep a category B vehicle (classed as a car with parts that can be salvaged). Keep in mind that a car in this state cannot ever return to the road, but it might be worthwhile to keep if you have use for its parts, especially if it’s fitted with parts that are very rare and valuable, like a vintage or modified car, for example.
Can a car that has been written off be re-registered?
Yes, if it was written off because it wasn’t economical to repair. The insurance company can give you an insurance payout and sell it back to you or an interested third party.
If your car is a repairable write-off in Category S – that is, it has been written off because of structural damage that wasn’t economical to repair – you can repair it and apply to have it re-registered. To keep a category S vehicle, you need to send the complete log book to your insurance company and apply for a free duplicate log book using form V62.
There’s no need to re-register a repaired Category N car, but you still need to tell the DVLA that it was written off. You can keep hold of the log book.
For bot S and N categories, the car’s DVLA status will be changed to “repaired write-off”. Cars that cannot be repaired after being written off will have their vehicle identification number (VIN) recorded as a statutory write-off, which will mean the car can never be re-registered.
How does a write-off affect your insurance?
If your car is declared a write off, you could find yourself in one of the following situations:
- If you paid for your policy upfront, you are unlikely to get a refund for the remainder of the policy term.
- If you pay your premium in monthly instalments, you will likely need to carry on paying for the insurance until the policy end date. If you purchase a new car, the insurance company may allow you to transfer your policy from the old car to the new, but this will be at the insurer’s discretion and fees may be payable to make the change.
Unfortunately, having a write-off claim on your insurance record is also likely to make future insurance premiums higher. Most companies ask whether you have ever had a car written off as part of their policy application process, and you must always give full and accurate details when obtaining insurance cover, to avoid invalidating your policy.
What happens if my car is written off and its not my fault?
Under tort law, when you have an accident on the road that isn’t your fault, you have the right to claim your losses back from the driver at fault.
When you have a tort made against you, it means that you’re the injured party. This doesn’t necessarily refer to physical injuries – it can also suggest you’ve suffered a financial loss as a result of the at fault party’s actions.
Your insurer will still need to know about the accident though, even if you don’t claim, but make it very clear you are only informing them of what happened, and are not interested in claiming. This is to avoid your insurance company settling with the other driver’s insurer without your say-so.
If you’re car is written off as a result of an accident what wasn’t your fault, you have a few options:
- Use a credit hire company: Instead of claiming on your insurance, you can use a credit hire company. A credit hire company pays for the cost of you hiring a replacement vehicle while yours is being fixed, and pays for the cost of repairs. It then claims back these costs from the insurance company of the driver who was at fault in the accident. Taking this route will mean you don’t have to pay your policy excess, as your insurance company will not be involved.
- Claim back the excess through their insurer: If you don’t want to go through a credit hire company, you can pay the excess, then pursue the insurer of the other driver to reimburse it once the claim is settled. It’s worth asking your insurer if for help to claim your excess cost back from the other insurer.
- Go through small claims court: If all else fails and you cannot get the other driver to pay for your loses, you can take the case to a small claims court. Be aware though that this will cost you money, and you may not be reimbursed it, depending on the court’s decision.
What happens if a financed car is written off?
If there’s still finance owing on your car when it is deemed a total loss, the insurer is obligated to pay the financier any outstanding amount. However, in some cases, there may be a shortfall or gap between the amount paid out by your insurer and the finance amount owing, which is where gap insurance can help. This is designed to pay the financier the outstanding loan amount when your comprehensive car insurer’s total loss payout is insufficient to pay out your loan contract.
What happens if my car is written off and its not my fault?
If you’re involved in a motor vehicle accident through no fault of your own and your car is damaged or written off, you are entitled to claim under the at-fault’s driver third party cover. Not going through your own insurance company means your premiums are less liekly to be negatively affected in future.
Selling a car that has been written off
There is one very big drawback to repairing and re-registering a vehicle that has been written off: its status as a “repaired write-off” will severely hamper its resale value.
The MIAFTR is designed to protect consumers and prevent them buying a written off car that required substantial repairs to get it back on the road. If you decide to sell the car in the future, the fact that it is listed on the register as a repaired write-off can have a big impact on how much prospective buyers are willing to pay.
Can you write off a new vehicle?
For a new car, a simple scrape of the paintwork can see it declared a write-off by the assessor, as the expense of repairing and painting the panels might exceed the vehicle’s actual value, even without serious structural damage.
In this case, the car will likely be classed as a category N. This means it can be made road-worthy again and you can keep it without having to re-register it with the DVLA, though you will have to report the write-off to them. A Category N car can be driven again on the road once all repairs relating to the vehicle’s safety have been completed.
A written off car can fall into one of four categories, so, depending on the category, you may be able to keep a written off car and get it back on the road again, as long as appropriate repairs are carried out.
You’ll also need to inform the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) if your car is a write off. Failing to do so could land you with a £1,000 fine.
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