Buying A “Cat S” or “Cat N” Car

You just bought a used car and “viola” unknown to you, it’s a Cat S. To some this could strike fear and worry. Your thoughts – is it safe to drive accident cars? This is a topic I have been itching to talk about. Why?

I have had good experiences on the subject matter. I have also met a few people in the automobile industry who have years of experience in the trade. A lot of people do not know much about accident recorded Cat S, or they have a misconception about it.

I have been asked many questions about Cat S, Cat N, Cat D, and Cat C.

  • What are category C, D, S, and N written-off cars?
  • Should I Buy a Cat S or Car N?
  • Can I get car insurance for a Cat S car?
  • Does a Category S or N affect my Insurance Premium?
  • Is it safe to drive a Cat S?
  • Are Hpi clear cars better than accident repaired cars?

Category C and S, Category D, and N cars?

Whenever an insurance company decides against repairing a vehicle, the insurance claims adjuster after reviewing the claim and conducted its investigation into the accident, he/she must decide the cost-effective way to settle the claim.

In an instance where the insurance adjuster considers that the cost of repairs is uneconomical the car will then be classed an insurance write-off. What this simply means is that the value of the repair is considered too high relative to the value of the car. Before October 1st, 2017 insurance companies classify vehicle write-offs into these categories – A, B, C, and D.

Insurance write-off cat A and cat B can not be repaired and so poses no risk to the public. However, Category C, D write off – According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), these write-offs for Cat C – “repairable total-loss vehicles where repair costs including VAT exceed the vehicle’s pre-accident value” while Cat D is “repairable total-loss vehicles where repair costs including VAT do not exceed the vehicle’s pre-accident value”

deployed disco 4 airbag

The classification changed in Oct 2017 and category C and D became cat S and N. I have read in so many forums and even on popular websites that Cat S replaces Cat C while Cat N replaces Cat D.

This is a misconception. It forfeits the reasons behind the change. Before the changes were made, newer cars get classed more as a Cat D as they would expect to have a higher value in relative to cost of repair.

The type of damage was not considered. A dealer would easily buy a heavily damaged high value car cheap at the car auction, get it repaired and sell it on to the public who may not be told the extent of the damage.

As far as they know, the vehicle is a Cat D (the very common belief that Cat D are minor damaged vehicles) and they will be happy to buy it. 15year old Vauxhall Astra would be classed as Cat C due to cosmetic paint damage whereas a 2yr old Vauxhall Astra with deployed airbag gets classed as a Cat D.

The new classification changed all of that. The previous classification placed the value of the car over the damage of the car. Buyers were misled into buying a car because it was a cat D and not because the extent of the damage to the car. But now the new classification is a better guide as it takes note of the type of accident.

A category S (Structural) indicates that the accident sustained affects the original – manufactured structure of the vehicle. Examples are front damaged that led to airbags been deployed, tailgate, doors, damaged beyond repair, bent chassis, damaged engine, and so on.

The damage could have affected the chassis, deployed airbags, or damaged engine. A category N (Non-Structural) indicates that the accident has not affected the structure of the vehicle. Examples are minor damage wing dents, headlights / rear lights damage, radiator damage, and so on.

Should I Buy a Cat S or Car N?

This is a difficult question to answer. Some buyers will never consider a write-off car whether its a cat S or N. Some may consider a cat N but not a Cat S. Buying write-off vehicles could save you a few hundred or thousands but you must buy wisely. Previously owned a car that would originally cost me £13,000 for just £6,000.

Never had any issue with the car as it was well repaired. I saw what I was buying before I purchased it. The car had suspension damage and windscreen damage. No damage to the chassis or engine.

The seller had new driveshaft and new windscreen fitted and, it drives as good as it never got involved in an accident. Well, one would say I was lucky. Buying a write-off vehicle could be tricky if you do not follow certain recommendations. My tips before you buy that write-off vehicle.

How To Buy A Cat S Car.

  • Check the pictures of the vehicle’s condition before the repair was done. Most sellers keep the pictures of the car before most repairs were done. They hardly show them to interested buyers for fear that they might miss out on a sale. If you are not comfortable with the damage, do not feel pressured just say “no thanks” and look further
  • Another option is to ask for a warranty on the repaired area. Most dealers do not like to give a long warranty on a used vehicle but if you ask for a warranty on the repair done, I feel that will work. You may have to pay a slightly higher price than the asking price so be prepared.
  • When was the repair done? A vehicle that was repaired long ago and has been in use since then, may represent a lower risk. This can indicate that the car has been well repaired (considering that you have done your checks and it is in a good state)
  • Go with someone with a good knowledge of cars. A lot of buyers often go with their mechanics to inspect. This may not be a very good idea as most sellers private or dealers do not like the sight of mechanics. A mechanic might be too honest about the condition of the car such that it could anger the sellers. Put those remarks into your offer, then you are likely going to miss out. I am not saying its a bad idea taking a mechanic to inspect. You need to understand the situation and use it well.
  • Finally, if you are buying from an unknown dealer you should do your due diligence check. Ask for records of previous dealings (evidence o years of experience). Make sure that you are not buying at an unknown address or at a supermarket car park. Try not to buy at the roadsides. You should verify that seller lives at the known address (you can match the address on the logbook with that of the meeting point.

Can I get a Cat S insured?

Many motorists who own a Cat D or Non-Structural repaired cars don’t even know they have a hidden past. On requesting an insurance quote, information would not be made known to the insurers as the owner of the car is unaware. Obviously, they have not misled the insurers and they have also not done anything wrong. The insurance companies do not perform a vehicle check before you get insured. You won’t even get the question on the quote form. Your vehicle is expected to be roadworthy with a valid MOT, else any claim may be rejected upon a claim request. Driving a dangerous car may void your policy.

Yes, you can have a previously written off car insured long as its road-worthy and you have disclosed any modifications on the vehicle.

Does a Category S or N affect my Insurance Premium?

No, it should not. Though you will likely not get a full value pay-out in an event of an insurance claim. This is the downside of buying a previously written-off car. You may have declared that your car is worth £5000. In an event of a claim, the insurers may likely pay you the market value similar valuation to with a marker. That is a cat S or N on the market, not hpi clear market value.

Example. A Ford Fiesta with a market value of £5000 may likely receive a pay-out of £4000. The difference in valuation is due to the car being a cat S. That represents a 20 percent less of the value of the same car which is hpi clear.

That would not matter if you had paid the market value at the time of purchase.

Is it safe to drive a Cat S?

Previously written-off cars carry as much risk as every other car. Now let me explain better. There are lots of independent repair centres in the UK. If the repair was done by a reputable garage, this may prolong the car’s life span. With expense no saved on quality parts replaced, it could turn out to look better.

Another factor is the maintanance culture of previous keepers. I have seen a well maintained Vauxhall Astra with over 150k mileage and has never had engine problems. Then you find similar cars with mileage less than 50k and have already had engines replaced.

When you ask expert mechanics, they tell you some of the reasons for those repairs are due to bad maintenance. Ignoring warning signs, lack of periodical service, wrong oil in the car, bad driving habits, just to mention a few.

All vehicles are subject poor maintainance history. Regardless of the HPI results. Would I consider buying a Cat N or Cat S? Yes I could, long as it was an excellent repair and I have done a good inspection. Could be saving a lot of money.

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