Car write-offs –the ultimate guide

    car write off

    Accidents can happen, no matter how well you care for your car. If your car sustains substantial damage and is no longer safe to drive, your insurance company will write it off. 

    It’s not just road collisions that lead to write-offs: floods, falling tree branches, or debris that damage your vehicle can also result in a write-off.

    By labelling your vehicle as damaged, write-offs decrease your car’s market value and make it extremely challenging, but not impossible, to sell your vehicle

    In the UK, there are different write-off categories, each with its own implications. Knowing the differences is essential for any car owner.

    Is my car a write-off?

    After an accident, it’s standard to file an insurance claim for damage to your vehicle. Your insurance company will then determine if your car is a ‘write-off,’ or judged unfit to drive. Your insurance can also write-off your car if it believes that the cost of repair wouldn’t be economical given the vehicle’s age or condition.

    In either case, your insurance will pay you the current value of your vehicle if it’s written off, instead of footing the cost of repair. 

    Even if your car hasn’t suffered a lot of damage, your insurance may want to write it off because it thinks that the time and cost to repair it isn’t proportional to the car’s diminished value. For example, if your car is worth £6,000 and your insurance company calculated that repairs would cost £4,000, they may not view repairs as a worthwhile investment.

    How do I know if my car is a write-off?

    After an accident, your insurance company will let you know if your car is a write off or not. If the car is badly damaged and not deemed worthy of repair, your insurance will usually take care of having it scrapped

    If your vehicle has been classified as a write-off, you need to follow these three steps: 

    1. Send your V5C logbook to your insurance company. Remember to take out the yellow ‘sell, transfer or part-exchange your vehicle to the motor trade’ section for your own records. 

    2. Tell the DVLA that your car has been written off. Failure to do so could lead to a £1,000 fine. 

    3. Apply to keep your vehicle’s registration number, if you’d like to keep it (especially if it’s a personalised plate).

    Remember, write-offs don’t necessarily mean that your vehicle is headed to the scrapheap. Depending on which write-off category your insurance company places your car in, you may be able to use your vehicle again with repairs or sell it for parts. 

    car write off categories
    Your car will be categorised based on how much damage it has sustained.

    A quick guide to car write-offs categories

    CategoryRepair possible?Future use
    ANoEntire vehicle must be scrapped
    BNoBody shell must be scrapped, other parts can be be salvaged
    CYes, but at more cost than the vehicle’s valueCan be driven again if it’s repaired to be roadworthy
    DYes, and repairs would cost less than the car’s value; however, costs such as transportation make it uneconomical to do soCan be driven again if it’s repaired to be roadworthy
    NYes if damage is non-structuralCan be driven again if it’s repaired to be roadworthy
    SYes, even if damage is structuralCan be driven again if it’s repaired to be roadworthy

    Sometimes insurance companies label cars as write-offs when it doesn’t make fiscal sense for them to foot the repair bills. However, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your car. 

    If your car falls in categories C, D, N, or S, you can still have it repaired and feasibly get it back on the road. The DVLA may need to inspect this maintenance to make sure your vehicle is roadworthy. It will then record your vehicle’s write-off category in the V5C logbook for future reference.

    What car damage counts as a write-off?

    Any car that falls into category A or B is a total and complete write-off. This means it is beyond repair and no longer safe to drive. Damage that can lead to a Cat A or B label includes:

    • Complete burnout
    • Extensive vandalisation
    • Major collisions
    • Extensively damaged body shells

    For categories C, D, S, and N, what counts as a write-off can all depend on your car’s value. Minor issues can lead to a write-off if your car isn’t worth much to begin with. These can include:

    • Scratches
    • Minor dents
    • Bumper dents
    • Windscreen scratches

    Scrapping my car

    If your car is written-off, your insurance company usually handles scrapping for you. Scrapping is the quickest way to dispose of a car at the end of its life.

    However, there are also many car scrappage schemes in the UK offered by both the government and car manufacturers. If you’re willing to get your hands dirty, you can also take your car apart and scrap individual car parts. Whichever way you choose to go, check with your insurance company first.

    Can I refuse to write-off my car?

    Yes, if your car falls within specific write-off categories. After damage is reported, your insurance company will judge the level of seriousness and suggest repairs based on your vehicle’s value (unless it’s deemed totally unsafe to drive). If your car just has a scratch along the bonnet but has a low market value, chances are insurance will be quick to write it off, even if it’s still driveable.

    You can refuse the write-off and keep your vehicle if your car is classified as category C, D, N, or S. Simply take the insurance payout and your insurance company will sell the vehicle back to you. To keep a Cat C or S vehicle, you’ll also need to send your V5C logbook to your insurance company and apply for a duplicate logbook. However, you may need to make repairs to ensure roadworthiness. 

    car write off categories
    A car that has suffered extreme damage will be unsalvageable sent for scrap.


    If my car is written off, am I still insured?

    No. If your car is written off by your insurance company, you will no longer be insured on the car. There isn’t usually any allowance for insurance refunds, so you shouldn’t expect to get part of your insurance premium back. However, ask your insurance company if you’re unsure.

    I purchased my car on finance — now what?

    If you bought your car on finance and it experiences enough damage to be written-off, you may end up in the tricky situation where your insurance pay-out for being a write-off is less than what you owe your finance company. This could leave you paying out-of-pocket for a car that’s no longer around. If this happens, you can attempt to negotiate with your insurance company for a larger payout; however, you will need to provide evidence to support why you believe their pay-out was too low.

    Alternatively, you can talk to your finance company and come to an agreement about the remaining money you owe.

    If my car is written off, how much will I get?

    Your car insurance payout should be the equivalent to your car’s market value before the accident. 

    Your payout is based on your insurance company’s calculations. If you feel that the offered payout is low and you can prove it’s not proportionate to your car’s pre-accident value, there may be some leeway to challenge the insurance decision.   

    car write off salvage parts
    Some cars may no longer be roadworthy, but can still have some parts salvaged to be reused or sold.

    Can I buy a written-off car?

    Yes, depending on the category of write-off, you can purchase a written-off car to either (1)  repair it and get back on the road or (2) use the vehicle’s individual parts.  

    A word of warning: some sellers may play off the damage that their car has sustained. This is especially true if you’re going through private car sellers, where there are less pre-sale condition checks. Some sellers may not disclose that their car was ever written off if the damage was especially minor, leading you to pay more than market value. Requesting a service history and running a vehicle history check can help protect you from this.

    Can I insure a written off car?

    Yes, written-off cars that have been repaired and deemed roadworthy can be insured and driven again. 

    Buying and repairing a write-off vehicle can be a cost effective way of purchasing a car. However, all that money you saved on the initial purchase may need to go into your insurance, which is mandatory for all drivers in the UK. Insurers are, understandably, wary of cars that have been written off. As you have an MOT certificate proving your car’s roadworthiness, you shouldn’t be denied coverage, but you may be charged a little more than usual.

    Ready to sell?

    Need to sell your car, or want to understand more about documentation or maintenance? Check out more of our guides here, covering everything from the paperwork you need when buying and selling, to various notices you may need to file with the UK’s driver and vehicle licensing agency.