What is and isn't considered a write-off?
When a vehicle is involved in a serious accident and extensively damaged, it's obvious that it can't be repaired and needs to be scrapped. When this happens, car insurance
is vital to make sure you're not seriously out of pocket.
But not every vehicle that's written off is only fit for the scrap yard. Sometimes insurance companies classify a car as a total loss (write-off) if it's not economical to repair the vehicle.
So what you consider to be just a panel dent or paintwork scratch, your insurance company may consider to be a total loss if the cost of repairing the damage is more than half the value of the car, for example.
To help drivers understand the different types of total loss, insurance companies classify write-offs in one of four ways. These are called salvage categories.
These categories came in to force ten years ago, and have recently been updated with the hope that they'll lead to more cars being repaired rather than simply written off for commercial reasons.
These cars are damaged beyond repair and must never be driven again. The car will be crushed and no parts can be salvaged.
These cars are unsuitable for repair and cannot be driven. However, usable parts can be salvaged and recycled.
These vehicles have damage to the structural frame or chassis, which can be repaired, but the self-insured owner or insurer has decided not to repair the vehicle.
To make it easier for car buyers to tell whether a car has been involved in a crash that has led to a structural repair, category S vehicles will have their vehicle registration document (V5C) marked with an S and include the wording:
"This vehicle has been salvaged due to structural damage but following a technical evaluation declared suitable for repair."
This will help buyers to be aware that the vehicle they're looking to purchase has been damaged and to check that any repairs have been properly carried out.
These vehicles have no structural damage and can be repaired, but the self-insured owner or insurer has decided not to repair the vehicle.
Even though the car mightn't have structural damage, it may still need work on safety critical parts, such as steering, brakes and suspension, so buyers should be aware of any repairs carried out.
Deciding what to do with a written off vehicle
If your car is deemed to be in salvage category A or B, there's not much you can do about it. The car is unfit to drive and you won't be getting it back.
That's one of the reasons to take out car insurance
in the first place. Your insurance company will pay you the going rate for a similar car from a reputable dealer in your area, less the excess on your policy.
However, if your car is classed as category S or N, you can choose to take the write-off value from the insurer and buy a different car, or you may be able to keep your car for repair, subject to your insurer's retention guidelines.