What is Cat C? What is Cat D? These are now-defunct terms for cars that have been damaged, but may be allowed on the road again after sufficient repairs.


Insurance write-off categories - at-a-glance
  • A. Scrap
  • B. Break
  • S. Structurally damaged repairable (formerly Cat C)
  • N. Non-structurally damaged repairable (formerly Cat D)


What does 'Cat C' mean? And what is 'Cat D'?

These questions might arise if you're learning to drive; looking for a second hand car; or if you’ve been involved in a collision and a claim needs to be made.

‘Cat C’ and ‘Cat D’ 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) car meaning: This means there has been structural damage to the vehicle - such as to the chassis or suspension - but repairs are possible. However, the insurer is likely to view the cost of repairs as uneconomical and therefore declare the Cat S (Cat C), meaning it is a write off. 

Cat S cars must be re-registered with the DVLA.


Cat N (formerly Cat D) car meaning: This is the least severe of all categories. Damage - which might include critical elements such as steering or brakes, as well as things like lights and the infotainment system - must be repaired by a professional before the car can return to the public road. 

Once identified as having less severe damage, the car may be classified as a Cat N (Cat D) car, meaning it does not need to be re-registered with the DVLA. 


Why change the category names?

Previously, whether repairable salvage was categorised as C or D depended on the repair costs compared to the pre-accident value. This is not the meaning of the replacement S and N categories, which are applied based simply on the type of damage sustained, without any comparison between the cost and value.


Changes to V5C document

If a car has been classified as either Cat S or Cat N, the V5C document will be marked with an ‘S’ - which means the vehicle has been salvaged. This makes it easier for prospective buyers to identify a car’s write off history.


What about Cat A and Cat B?

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. 

No parts of any Cat A car can ever be used on another car.


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.

How car insurance firms decide whether a car is economical to repair or not

Even if a car can be repaired, a car insurance provider 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.


How to tell if a car has been written off

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+.

What would be the point in buying a Cat D insurance write-off?

As stated, An insurer may decide fixing a car - or even processing the claim - is too costly, and classify it as a Cat D insurance write off. The owner is paid the market value of the car, and the car is sold at auction. Sometimes these cars find their way back on to the used car market.

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).  As mentioned above, you can do a vehicle history check to make sure. It should also be clear on the V5C document.

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) cars can be legally sold on. Sufficient repairs must be undertaken before the vehicle is legally allowed back on the road.


How can an apparently minor bump write off a car?

Apparently minor prangs can have a serious impact on the usability or drivability of a car. For example: a car is standing in traffic when another vehicle bumps into it from behind. This might cause relatively minor “cosmetic” damage to the car, such as scratches and slight denting to the rear panels.

However, the owner may later discover that the boot latch was knocked out of position, making it impossible to open the boot. The cost of enlisting a body shop to replace these panels and other parts might cost more than the car itself - especially if the car is older. It may therefore be considered a write off by the insurer (Cat N).


My insurer has declared my car a Cat C (S) or D (N) write-off. What now?

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 - e.g. fixing the engine, clutch, panelling, and windows of a badly damaged vehicle would cost more than buying a comparable model on the second hand market.

But damage doesn’t always need to be very extensive to be expensive. It may be that replacing relatively cosmetic parts - such as panels - is actually very costly. For example, finding the right panels for an older model may be extremely costly or impossible. 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. .

Learn more about Cat A, B, S and N here.