Cat A, B, S and N explained

You may have heard about written-off cars, but what exactly does that mean?

There are now four insurance categories for damaged cars; Cat A, B, S, and N. Cat C and D have been replaced by S and N. Category N is now the most significant, replacing the widely-understood ‘Cat D’.

Cars that are ‘written off’ have been involved in an accident of some sort and deemed by an insurance company as uneconomical to repair.

The vehicle will then be given a label depending on the severity of the accident. This used to be either Cat C or Cat D – Cat being Category for short.

Broken and sad looking red car
‘Write-off’ vehicles are assigned an insurance category – which one depends on the severity of the damage

Not all write-offs will make your car worthless or unsellable. Small knocks and bumps can end up writing-off your car, especially if it’s older and worth only a few thousand pounds. Something as trivial as a replacement bumper could also ‘write your car off’.

But let’s take a look at what each category means and why buying a write-off could be a good idea after all.

Category A, B, S and N explained

  1. What is a Category A write-off?
  2. What is a Category B write-off?
  3. What is a Category S write-off?
  4. What is a Category N write-off?
  5. Should you buy a written-off car?

What is a Category A write-off?

Category A is bad. It’s the highest and most serious grade a damaged car can be given.

It means the car is totally unrepairable and deemed never to be driven again, it also can’t be sold as parts because the damage is so severe.

Category A cars are almost always crushed and destroyed.

What is a Category B write-off?

Category B cars are the second most serious category behind Cat A. While they’ve sustained irreparable damage and can never be driven again, their parts can be sold off. Including mechanical parts like the engine and gearbox.

The body shell is then destroyed and it mustn’t be reused as a car in any circumstances.

What is a Category S write-off?

Cat S means the car has sustained some structural damage, this could be as minor as a bumper being hit, or more serious, like a crumple zone being crushed, or the chassis being twisted due to a heavy impact.

These cars can be safely repaired and put back on the road. Bear in mind that the expense of doing this will often outweigh the total value of the car.

What is a Category N write-off?

Cat N replaced the original Category D or Cat D in 2017, it’s reserved for cars that haven’t sustained any structural damage.

This means they’ve suffered some sort of cosmetic damage. This could be someone keying a car all over, or scrapes from a wall down one side, to electrical or wiring problems that are deemed too expensive to repair.

While the damage can seem to be more minor on a Cat N car, it’s still a good idea to get an unrepaired one fully checked out before you buy it.

Should you buy a written-off car?

Written-off cars can be far cheaper to buy than non-write-offs, so there’s always potential that you could end up owning the car of your dreams for a lot less.

Nobody will know it’s a write-off, and as long as it’s been repaired to a high standard, even the keenest of eyes would probably miss the historic damage.

It could also be a good idea to purchase a written-off car for a project. If you’ve been aching to build a track-ready sports car but don’t have the money to cut apart and strip a full-price model, check places like eBay or Gumtree for written off cars.

Busted up sad yellow car
Category A is the most serious category and is for cars with irreversible damage

If you’re looking to buy a Cat S or N car for everyday use, it’s worth getting a third party like the RAC or the AA to check the car out before you buy. Even the best-repaired vehicles could well be hiding issues beneath a perfect exterior. Prices often start from just £99 for an inspection, so it’s money well spent.

Insuring written-off cars can be more expensive, most companies will cover you, but some can be picky. You’re also likely to pay higher premiums for coverage. You also may have to submit an engineer’s report, which is basically a health check to say the car is roadworthy and safe before you’ll be insured.

So while you’ll save a healthy amount by buying a write-off, you could end up paying more than you think in the long run when you take into account inspections and higher insurance premiums.

Need more advice beyond categories?

Written-off cars appeal to a small number of car buyers, most just want peace of mind and reliability.

Take a look at our other guides to find out how best to sell your car and get yourself into your next one quickly.