Many potential second-hand car buyers would be horrified at the thought of driving off the forecourt in a car that had been written off.
Horror stories of “cut-and-shut” cars – where two write-offs have been welded together – linger long in the memories of wary motorists.But there are a host of reasons for an insurance company to write off a car, and many of the least seriously damaged can provide bargain-hunters with big discounts.
Some write-offs may have scarcely been damaged at all, having been recovered from stolen after the insurer has already paid out, while others may have been written off because of the cost of hi-tech repairs like airbags or seat belt tensioners, before you consider a new bonnet, front wings, garage labour charges and the costs of a hire car.
So while some write-offs are probably best avoided, there are potentially hundreds of bargains on the used market. There are four categories that written off cars fall into: Cat A and B, which can never be returned to the road, and C and D, which can.
Cat Ds are those where the cost of repair would not exceed the value of the car, but other costs such as a hire car, towing and assessment, combined with the cash insurers can get by selling the car for salvage, make a total loss the economic option. At the cheaper end of the market, therefore, a car can become a Cat D write off following a fairly minor car park bump.
Cat Cs are cars where the cost of repair is greater than the value of the car, but it can still safely be repaired – maybe by a garage with cheaper overheads, or even the owner themselves. In the past, a Cat C car would, by law, have a Vehicle Identity Check (VIC) marker placed against its DVLA record, which could only be removed by passing a VIC test at a Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency test centre. This test was abolished in October 2015, but there are still services you can use to check if the car you’re buying has previously been written off.
Specialist insurance broker Adrian Flux can offer competitive rates for previously written off cars, provided they have passed all the tests required to get them back on the road.
General manager Gerry Bucke said: “Cat D and C cars can carry discounts of up to 50 per cent from normal secondhand values.
“But buyers really need to be aware of what they’re buying and get a full history of why the car was written off, as well as making sure their insurer is prepared to cover the car. Failing to declare the car as a previous write-off could invalidate the policy.
“Buyers should always obtain an independent inspection before parting with their cash – a couple of hundred pounds spent here may well be nothing compared to the potential saving if the car is fine, or if it’s not, later down the line.
“The car will also be worth less than the normal secondhand value when you come to sell the car on – after all, it will always be a written-off car and you will almost certainly find it harder to sell than a car with an unblemished record.”
When selling the car, you are legally obliged to tell the buyer its status, or they can take civil action against you. So if you’re set on getting your hands on a bargain, follow these tips to make sure you get a good car for a great price:
- Unless you’re a qualified mechanic, always get a full engineer’s report on a Cat C or D car
- If you’re buying from a salvage company, check to see if they’re a member of the British Vehicle Salvage Federation set up in 1998
- Get an insurance quote – not all insurers provide cover for Cat Cs and Ds