Written-Off Cars: Explained and How to Spot

Here’s our quick guide to written-off cars and how to spot them.

What does it mean when a car is “written-off”?

When a car is involved in an accident, the insurance company can deem it to have been written-off if either the car is too irreparably damaged to be safely returned to the road or if the cost of repairs would exceed the value of the car. If that’s the case, the car itself is said to be a “write-off”.

The cost of repairs is calculated on the basis of an approved garage restoring the car to roadworthy condition using original parts from the car’s manufacturer. There are four categories of write-offs in Ireland.

What are the categories of write-off in Ireland?

Category A: a vehicle so severely damaged it cannot be safely or legally returned to the road. Examples of Category A write-offs include cars that have been involved in serious crashes or have been extensively fire damaged. No parts can be reused, and the vehicle must be crushed.

Category B: again, a vehicle so badly damaged it cannot be put back on the road. There may be salvageable parts that can be used in other vehicles.

Category C: this refers to a vehicle that has been damaged, but which can be repaired and returned to the road. The cost of doing so, however, would exceed the previously agreed value of the car. This is known as Category S in the UK.

Category D: when an older or low-value vehicle suffers even minor superficial damage like a dent or scrape, the cost of repair may still exceed the value of the car. As such even entirely driveable cars may be classed as Category D write-offs. This is known as Category N in the UK.

How to spot a written-off car

If you’re planning to buy a used car, in addition to checking for accident damage, buyers should carry out a vehicle history check using a website like Cartell.ie. A check with a history website will flag up any cars that have previously been Category C or D write-offs in Ireland or the UK. There’s no record kept of Category A or B cars because they’re legally obliged to be scrapped.

Buying a write-off

If a seller isn’t up front about a vehicle previously being a write-off, that’s a red flag and a sign that you should walk away from buying that vehicle. After all, what else could they be hiding?

If, however, the seller is open about the car’s history and you’re satisfied - after a thorough (preferably professional) inspection - that the quality of the repair work is such that the car is safe and roadworthy, then a formerly written-off car may represent good value.

Despite a high-quality restoration, however, buying a write-off may pose problems further down the line. You must inform your insurance company if your new car is a write-off, and it may demand an independent assessor’s report before it insures it. Trying to insure a former write-off could lead to higher premiums and many companies will refuse to insure a car that has been written off, its potentially excellent condition notwithstanding.

With all this in mind, although buying a former write-off isn’t a total no-no, it does pay to tread very carefully indeed.