Cat N insurance

We explain why insurers sometimes write off cars with only minor damage, and whether you can keep your car after a category N write-off.

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Accidents happen. If we’re lucky, the damage caused by involvement in a car accident can be pretty negligible. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that an insurer will regard your car as economical to repair. Surprisingly, even minor cosmetic damage, scraped paintwork for example, can see a car assessed as a total write-off following a claim. Read on to find out why, what to expect following a cat N write-off, and what you can expect to pay for cat N insurance.

What is a car insurance write-off?

A car will typically be considered “written off” by an insurer in 1 of 2 circumstances:

  1. Damage following an incident means it’s no longer roadworthy (or safe to drive).
  2. The cost of repair far outweighs the current value of your vehicle.

The damage could have been caused by any of several risks usually covered by insurance. These can include collisions, fire, vandalism, theft of important car parts (such as the catalytic converter), or even water damage.

If, following assessment, a car insurer decides to categorise a car as a write-off, this means that they won’t pay for the car to be repaired. Instead, assuming your insurance covers the reason for the damage, they’ll typically give you a cash payout equal to the market value of the vehicle.

Sometimes, even what seems like relatively minor damage can render a car a write-off if the cost of parts plus repairs is more than the car is worth on the second-hand market.

What is a category N write-off?

There are 4 car insurance write-off categories, of which cat N is one of the least severe. It’s used for cars with non-structural damage. They might have, for example, cosmetic damage or minor electrical faults. The damage often doesn’t affect a car’s safety, and there’s no legal requirement for a cat N write-off to be inspected and judged as fit for the road. It’s down to the owner to ensure repairs are carried out to a suitable standard.

Bear in mind that, regardless of any write-off status, it’s an offence to drive a car that isn’t roadworthy. So if the damage to the car has posed any safety risks (problems with the brakes, for example), it’s the owner’s responsibility to get them repaired before driving the car.

In contrast, the most serious write-off category is cat A. Cat A write-offs are used for cars so damaged that they should never be driven again. They should be crushed and used for scrap only.

You can read more about the different categories of write-off in our full guide to written off cars.

How does a car become a cat N write-off?

Many types of incident can cause a car to become a cat N write-off. A careless driver scraping your car’s paintwork while it’s innocently parked, or an encounter with a pothole playing havoc with your suspension, for example.

When you put in an insurance claim, your insurer will arrange for the damage to be assessed. If the damage is non-structural but the cost of fixing the repair is higher than the market value of your car, it will deem it a cat N write-off. This might happen if, for example, a full respray to repair that scraped paintwork would cost more than the car is worth. Instead of repairing it, the insurer will take possession of it and offer you a cash payment equivalent to the car’s market value (minus any insurance excess).

Can you keep a cat N car?

Danny Butler

Finder insurance expert Danny Butler answers

Yes, potentially. Especially if the damage is very minor, you might decide that you want to hang on to your car and either sell it on, or fix any repairs yourself. Neither insurers nor the law will have any problem with you doing so.

In order to keep the car though, you’ll need to buy it back from your insurer, which will have taken ownership of the car when it wrote the car off and offered you a cash payment.

If you want to do this, you’ll need to let your insurance company know as soon as possible. That’s because it will have an arrangement with salvage companies, who will take your car and either sell it on themselves at an auction or use it for parts. So if you don’t get on the case quickly, your car could have already vanished.

The insurer is only likely to charge you the salvage value of the car, which will be much less than the market value. So you could end up in a position where you have both a payout of the market value, and (for a relatively small sum) get to keep your car too.

Can I repair a cat N car?

Yes. Whether you’ve bought your own cat N car back from your insurer, or bought a cat N car at an auction, it’s absolutely fine to arrange for repairs yourself.

In some cases, the cost of doing so might be much lower than you’d have imagined, given that the insurer deemed the cost of repairs uneconomical.

That’s because, when insurers arrange for repairs, they’ll typically do so using an authorised repair centre (often an official dealer) and using official manufacturers’ parts. This can an expensive way of getting repairs done.

Depending on the nature of the damage, you might be able to get the work done at a trusted local garage for a much lower price. So just because the insurer felt that repairs would cost too much to be worth it, doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be stung by costs that outweigh what you received in your cash payout.

Do I need to tell anyone that my car is a cat N write-off?

Indeed you do. Just because the repairs are non-structural doesn’t mean that you can keep quiet about them.

At a minimum, you’ll need to notify the DVLA. Unlike cat S write-offs (where cars require repair following structural damage), there’s no legal requirement to re-register a cat N car or have a new MOT. But the DVLA will mark it down as a “repaired write-off” on its official records.

You’ll also need to declare the car’s cat N status if you decide to sell it later on. The declaration must be clear even if the car has been fully repaired to pre-accident condition. It could be helpful to keep a record of the insurer’s list of damage, and evidence of repairs having been completed, to reassure any potential buyers that your car is safe.

Does the cat N status stay with the car forever?

Yes. The law requires that a car’s cat N write-off status stays with the vehicle for life, so that any potential owners know about its history.

Is it possible to insure a cat N car?

Absolutely. You must declare your car as a cat N write-off when you get quotes, and some insurers may choose not to insure such write-offs, but there are plenty that will.

You must, of course, ensure that your car is safe and roadworthy. Failure to fix safety-related repairs could land you with a fine for driving an unroadworthy car, and render any insurance invalid if you need to make a claim.

Does a cat N write-off increase a car’s insurance cost?

Possibly. Some insurers may charge more to insure a cat N car. That’s because their underwriting calculations may deem a previously written off car an increased accident risk. But others may treat it as any other vehicle, provided that repairs have been carried out.

Surprisingly, you may even sometimes find that a cat N car is cheaper to insure than a non-written-off equivalent. That’s because cat N cars typically have lower market values, and insurers will take this into account in relation to how much they’d have to pay out following a subsequent write-off.

Cat N car vs non-cat N car insurance cost

To provide an insurance cost, we calculated an average based on 10 quotes for a cat N and non-cat N car insurance. The results came out as shown below:

Cat N Non-cat N
Quote 1£450£457
Quote 2£455£455
Quote 3£467£474
Quote 4£468£400
Quote 5£395£475
Quote 6£493£499
Quote 7£500£508
Quote 8£535£504
Quote 9£525£543
Quote 10£503£531
Average cost£481£485

Are cat N cars cheaper to buy?

Yes, cat N cars are almost always cheaper to buy than equivalent cars that have not been written off. That’s largely down to the fact that many buyers can be put off by the fact they’ve been written off, so demand will be lower. Especially because they have to trust that the seller has carried out necessary repairs to a good standard; there’s no legal obligation for cat N cars to be formally assessed as fit for the road.

Should I buy a cat N write-off car?

If you’re thinking of buying a cat N write-off car from its previous owner, or at an auction if it’s being sold by a salvage firm, then do your due diligence. If possible, ask to see the report from the insurer detailing the extent of the damage, plus any evidence that the damage has been repaired. An itemised bill from a reputable garage, for example.

If this isn’t available, or you’re still cautious, consider getting the car professionally checked out before you buy it.

If these steps reassure you that the car is in a good, roadworthy state, then buying a cat N write-off could prove to be a bargain. Though bear in mind it’s value will likely be even lower if you later want to sell it on.

Bottom line

It can come as a shock if a car that’s served you well for years is judged a write-off by an insurer following a minor scrape that’s resulted in very little damage. But the good news is that there are ways to keep hold of a class N write-off car, and often to get it repaired cost-effectively. Just be aware that some insurers may charge you more to cover a class N car, and it may put future buyers off, though keeping hold of damage and repair records may help set minds at rest.

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