Cat S insurance

Not every written-off car is destined for the scrap heap. Here are your options if your car's been designated a cat S write-off.

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Cat S refers to a car that’s been written off due to structural damage. But while this may sound alarming, not all structural damage is beyond repair. We explain how a car becomes a cat S write-off, whether it could be worth buying your car back from your previous car insurer and how to get cat S insurance once you’ve carried out repairs.

What is a car insurance write-off?

When you make a valid insurance claim for your car to be repaired following an accident, one of the first decisions your insurer will make is whether it’s worth repairing the car.

If, following assessment, your insurer decides your car’s not worth repairing, it will write it off. This means that, rather than paying for repairs, it will give you a cash payout covering the car’s market value, and the car will transfer into the insurer’s ownership.

An insurer will typically write off a car in the following situations:

  1. Damage to the car means it’s no longer safe to drive (roadworthy) and is beyond repair.
  2. The car can be repaired, but the cost of doing so is not economical. This applies when the cost of repairs paid for by the insurer would be higher than the car’s market value.

What is a category S write-off?

A category S, or cat S, write-off applies to cars that have been structurally damaged but can still be repaired back to a roadworthy state.

A cat S car can’t legally be driven again until it’s been repaired to full working order and is safe and roadworthy. It must also be re-registered with the DVLA.

There are 3 other write-off categories. Cat N applies to cars that have had non-structural damage but can be repaired and driven again. Cat A and cat B are used for cars with damage that’s so substantial the car can never be driven again. At best, with cat B, some parts may be salvageable.

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

What does the “S” stand for in cat S?

The S in cat S stands for “structural damage”. This will include damage to the frame or the chassis. If a car has non-structural damage – to the paintwork or the electrics, for example – it will be classed as cat N.

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

When you put in a claim for damage to your car, your insurer will get the nature and extent of the damage checked by a professional assessor. If the damage is structural (i.e. damage to the car’s frame or chassis) but can be repaired to roadworthy status, the insurer will either repair it or decide to write it off if the car is too expensive to repair.

Cat S damage is most likely to occur following a crash.

What’s the difference between cat S and cat N write-offs?

Both cat S and cat N write-offs are cars that have sustained damage, but they can be driven again after suitable repairs have taken place.

  • Cat N applies to non-structural damage. This is anything that doesn’t affect the frame or chassis of the car. This could include damage to the paintwork, the electrics or the brakes. In many cases, cat N damage is purely cosmetic.
  • Cat S applies to structural damage to a car’s frame or chassis. Imagine you took a car and removed the windscreens, doors and anything else that is bolted to the frame. What’s left is typically considered the structure of the car, according to the ABI. So if, for example, the door frame is dented and requires realignment, this would count as structural damage.

Can you keep a cat S car?

If you want to, under certain conditions, you may be able to keep your car.

First, you have to be willing to pay for the car to be professionally repaired at your own cost – more on this below.

Second, having paid out its market value, your insurer won’t just hand it back to you for free. That’s because they may be able to reclaim some of its value by selling it to a salvage company.

But if you get in there before your insurer sells it (and bear in mind, this can happen pretty quickly after the settlement of your claim), you may be able to buy back your car for a similar fee to what the insurer would have gotten from the salvage firm. This will likely be much less than its market value.

Whether it’s worth you doing this will depend on how much of an attachment you have to the car and how much it would cost for you to pay for repairs yourself.

Can you repair a cat S car?

Yes. The whole point of cat S (and cat N) write-offs is that the damage can be repaired. It’s just not economical for the insurer to do so.

You might assume that if it’s not economical for an insurer, it won’t be economical for you either. But, in practice, this may not be the case.

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 is all well and good, but may not be the cheapest way to get repairs done.

You may be able to get the work done by a competent local mechanic much more cheaply. If the cost of repairs is below the market value payout you received for your car (less the cost of buying your car back from the insurer), it could be a worthwhile option to consider. If you can, it’s worth getting a ballpark quote for repairs before you go down this route. Given the safety implications of some structural damage, and the importance of proper repairs, it’s also a good idea to get the repairs independently assessed by a professional. Some insurers may require this inspection before offering cover.

Can you insure a cat S car?

You should be able to find insurance for a cat S car without too much bother. This is provided it’s been repaired to complete working order and, with some insurers, has been independently assessed as roadworthy by a professional.

Not every car insurer will be willing to cover a cat S car, but between mainstream providers and specialist brokers, you shouldn’t have to search for too long to find one that is.

Does a cat S write-off increase the cost of insurance?

It’s pretty likely. Car insurers take thousands of factors into account when deciding how much to quote a driver for insurance. If a car’s previously been written off then, rightly or wrongly, many insurers may deem it more likely to be involved in an accident in the future.

However, some insurers may take the approach that as long as a car has been repaired to its pre-written-off standard, it’s no higher risk than a car that hasn’t been written off. So they may quote the same as for a non-written-off car.

As always, the best way to keep the cost of insurance down is to shop around.

Do I need to tell anyone other than my insurer that my car’s a cat S write-off?

Yes, if you plan to repair it and keep driving it. You’ll need to inform the DVLA and send it your V5C logbook. It will issue you with a new V5C logbook with an annotation stating the vehicle has been written off. This is so that, if you later choose to sell the car, future owners are fully aware of the status of the car. Your insurer should be able to help you with this process.

If you decide to sell the car, you must declare the car’s cat S status upfront to any prospective buyers. That applies even if the car’s been repaired to pre-accident status. Prospective buyers may ask to see evidence that the car has been properly repaired. Failure to disclose a car’s written-off status is an offence and could result in the buyer suing you for damages.

If your car’s been written off and you choose not to buy it back to repair and keep, your insurer should let the DVLA know about the disposal or sale of your car for salvage. In this situation, you should get confirmation from the DVLA that you are no longer the registered keeper.

Cat S car vs non-cat S car insurance cost

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

Cat S Non-cat S
Quote 1:£414£343
Quote 2:£429£351
Quote 3:£432£360
Quote 4:£455£363
Quote 5:£456£379
Quote 6:£477£389
Quote 7:£491£414
Quote 8:£460£376
Quote 9:£396£389
Quote 10:£454£391
Average cost:£440£375

How does being cat S affect a car’s value?

A cat S car will almost always be worth less than an equivalent car that has not been written off. Sadly, this applies even if repairs have brought it up to at least the same standard as it was before. It’s all about how desirable a car is. Many buyers will be put off by a car’s write-off status, so a seller won’t be able to get away with charging as much.

Is it worth buying a cat S car?

Danny Butler

Finder insurance expert Danny Butler answers

The low cost of cat S cars can make them a tempting proposition for some. And, as long as you go in with your eyes wide open, you may be able to snag a bargain. That’s because written-off cars (cat N and cat S) are often cheaper than non-written-off models.

There are a few things you need to be aware of before you take the leap to buy a cat S car:

  • You’ll need to make sure it has been fully and professionally repaired and re-registered with the DVLA. Ask to see itemised evidence of the write-off damage and the repairs that have been done, plus the updated V5C logbook. This should state the fact that the car is a cat S write-off.
  • Cat S status stays with a car for its life. So, with depreciation, the value of the car will probably be even lower if you later choose to resell it.
  • Insurance often costs more for Cat S cars, so you’ll probably have to search harder to find a decent deal.

If you’re in any doubt about whether a second-hand car is roadworthy, either pay for a professional inspection yourself or simply walk away. Structural damage can affect a car’s safety, so it’s not worth taking the risk that it hasn’t been properly repaired.

Bottom line

Just because an insurer doesn’t think your car is worth repairing doesn’t mean you have to start the time-consuming search for a new vehicle. You may be able to get even cat S structural damage repaired by an independent mechanic for a reasonable price. So, unless you relish the opportunity to get a new set of wheels, it could be worth investigating the cat S buy-back option. Just be aware that the value of your car will be much lower, even after it’s repaired, and the cost of cat S car insurance may be higher.

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