Cat C and Cat D are now-defunct terms for cars that have been damaged, but may be allowed on the road again after sufficient repairs.
If you’re in the process of learning to drive, or have recently passed, the terms ‘Cat C’ and ‘Cat D’ may not be familiar to you. These were two categories used to describe damaged (technically written-off) cars that were changed in 2017 to ‘Cat S’ and Cat ‘N’ respectively.
Cat S (formerly Cat C): This means there has been structural damage to the vehicle, but repairs are possible. However, the insurer is likely to view the cost of repairs as uneconomical and therefore declare the Cat S a write off.
Cat N (formerly Cat D): This is the least severe of all categories. Damage - which might include critical elements such as steering or brakes - must be repaired by a professional before the car can return to the public road.
There are also Cat A and Cat B - and these have kept their original category letters. These are the most severe categories of “write off”.
Cat A: Any vehicle labelled Cat A cannot be used on the road again. The vehicle is in such an unsafe, poor condition that it must be crushed. Repairs would be virtually impossible and certainly uneconomical.
Cat B: Any vehicle in this category cannot be driven on a public road again. The body shell must be crushed. However, parts may be salvaged for use in other vehicles.
Even if a car can be repaired, an insurer may decide it is too expensive to do so. For example, an expensive new car may be worth repairing because it will hold some of its original value (although it depends on the cost of replacement parts). But an older, more basic car may cost more to repair than to replace.
Some less scrupulous individuals may try to sell a vehicle without declaring that it has been written off. However, all write offs are automatically listed in Auto Trader. Failing this, you can pay for a vehicle history check. The cost of this check varies between £2 and £10+.
The key benefit of buying an insurance write-off is that it's much cheaper than an undamaged example. When/if it is sold on by a trader, they would be required by law to declare its write-off status. However, a private seller is not required to declare Cat D status, which means you should do your homework when buying a secondhand car (or buy from a dealership).
Buying a Cat D car may be an opportunity to improve your mechanical skills, or even make some money by selling the final repaired vehicle.
Only Cat S (formerly Cat C) and Cat N (formerly Cat D) can be legally sold on. Sufficient repairs must be undertaken before the vehicle is legally allowed back on the road.
Your insurer will offer you what it regards as the market value for your vehicle. A write-off means that a vehicle is uneconomical to repair. However, it may be that replacing relatively cosmetic parts - such as panels - is actually very costly. You may take the view that the car can be repaired, and as such you may be able to buy the vehicle from the insurer.