Cat D crash-damaged cars explained

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We’ve all seen ads for cars that seem incredibly cheap, only to see the dreaded phrase ‘Category D’ tucked away at the bottom of the spiel.

Immediately, most of us will suspect the worst and move on to the next ad – but is that necessarily a good idea? Might you be missing out on a bargain?

Here’s what you need to know about buying a second-hand car listed with crash damage.  

Does Cat D means avoid? We give a breakdown of what the difference categories of accident damage mean and five you a step-by-step guide to buying one of these vehicles safely

Does Cat D means avoid? We give a breakdown of what the difference categories of accident damage mean and five you a step-by-step guide to buying one of these vehicles safely

Does Cat D means avoid? We give a breakdown of what the difference categories of accident damage mean and five you a step-by-step guide to buying one of these vehicles safely

‘Cat D’ cars are one of four levels of damage that the insurance industry uses to categories accident-damaged cars.

Up to now these levels have been A, B, C and D, but to simplify things from October 2017 they’ll be renamed A, B, S and N.

Under the current system, Cat A cars are the worst. They’re so badly damaged they can’t even be used for salvage purposes and should be crushed.

Cat B vehicles have also sustained serious damage, but it’s OK for them to be broken down into spares.

A Cat C vehicle is fixable, but the cost of repairs will exceed the value of the car, so the insurance company will have ‘written it off’.

A Cat D write-off is also fixable, and at a repair cost lower than the car’s market value, but the insurance company’s decision to repair a vehicle like this will take into account other factors, such as the cost of a courtesy car while it’s being mended and the cost of inspection fees to validate the completed repairs. 

A Cat D write-off is fixable but may have been written off because the total cost of repairs, inception fees and the provision of an alternative vehicle while yours is being fixed is higher than the car's market value

A Cat D write-off is fixable but may have been written off because the total cost of repairs, inception fees and the provision of an alternative vehicle while yours is being fixed is higher than the car's market value

A Cat D write-off is fixable but may have been written off because the total cost of repairs, inception fees and the provision of an alternative vehicle while yours is being fixed is higher than the car’s market value

In that case the insurers might decide to ‘write off’ a very lightly damaged car, selling it to an independent garage which will then do the same repairs that the insurance company would have organized if it hadn’t been written off. That garage will then sell it on to the public.

From October 2017, the current A,B,C and D categories for crash-damaged cars will be replaced by new A, B, S and N categories that, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), ‘reflect the increasing complexity of newer vehicles which can make it harder for damaged cars to be safely repaired’.

The biggest difference between the outgoing A, B, C, D system and the new A, B, S and N one is that the updated system concentrates more on the condition of the car rather than on the cost of repair.

Categories will be changing from October 2017. This will see the introduction of Category A, B, S and N

Categories will be changing from October 2017. This will see the introduction of Category A, B, S and N

Categories will be changing from October 2017. This will see the introduction of Category A, B, S and N

Here’s how the new system will work: 

  • Category A, or ‘Scrap’ cars, remain the most badly damaged vehicles. They can’t be repaired or even broken for spares.
  • Category B, or ‘Break’ cars, are again very badly damaged and beyond repair, but they can be ‘broken’ into parts for salvage and recycling.
  • Category S, or ‘Structural’ cars have incurred damage to the basic structure that gives a car its strength. These ‘S’ cars can be fixed and re-sold, but you should ensure that the work has been checked by a qualified mechanic.
  • Category N, or ‘Non-structural’ cars, are equivalent to current Cat D cars. Their damage isn’t to the core structure, but there might still be some safety-related parts in areas like suspension or steering that will need to be replaced.

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Step-by-step guide to buying a Cat D car 

If you do the right research, know what to look for and know the right questions to ask, ‘Cat’ cars can be genuine bargains. Here’s an action list to help you.

– Buy from a dealer rather than privately seller

A car dealer is required by law to declare everything they know about a car, whereas a private seller only has to make sure the car is ‘as described’, so you have greater consumer protection if you buy a Cat D car from a dealer.

– Ask plenty of questions

An insurer isn’t obliged to answer any questions about why a car was written off, but you can find out a lot by asking the dealer questions about the damage sustained, where the repair work was done, what parts were replaced and whether any photos were taken.

– Have an inspection done

£200 for a professional inspection might seem a lot, but if you’re thinking of buying a ‘Cat’ car because it will save you at least that much (or more) on the purchase price, then it makes perfect sense. The AA, RAC, Dekra and Autolign all have inspectors who know what to look for.

– Invest in a history check

There may be more lurking in a ‘Cat’ car than the effects of the accident that put it into that category, so don’t skimp on normal secondhand car checks to discover if it’s been stolen or has any outstanding finance on it.

– Watch out for newer cars that seem incredibly cheap

A very low price on a newish car might tell you that repair work has been done on the cheap and isn’t up to the job. If it looks and smells like a fish, it probably is a fish.

– Avoid any car that might have a damaged chassis

Visible damage to a car’s exterior panels can be fairly easily fixed, but repairing damage to the underlying chassis is a much more exacting job. Poor work here can adversely affect the way a car handles, or severely reduce crash protection.

– Having decided that you’re going to buy a Cat D or Cat N car, remember to…

1. Tell your insurance company. Inform them that your car is a Cat D or Cat N so it can be marked on your policy, minimising the risk of any claim being rejected.

2. Check into a warranty. A used-car warranty is a low-cost way of getting some peace of mind for Cat D or Cat N cars.

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