What is a Cat D car?

Vehicles classed as ‘Cat D’ under the old write-off categorisation system can be temptingly cheap, but they aren’t without their risks

By Shane Wilkinson November 20, 2023

Cars that have been previously written off fall into various categories. While this categorisation system has now been updated, cars that were written off before October 2017 will fall into the older categories of D or C. Vehicles categorised after this time fall under the newer categories of S or N. The more serious categories, A and B, remain the same.

Vehicles categorised as Cat D were previously damaged and deemed as too expensive to repair by the insurer. This damage could have been caused by a number of reasons such as a crash, a flood or vandalism.

But the key factor for a Cat D car is that it hasn't suffered any structural damage, which would make it unsafe, so it's still possible to sell it on or indeed get it fixed yourself and return it to the road. Therefore, it is likely you'll come across Cat D cars if you spend much time browsing the used car market, but its status should be clearly presented.

Cars with crash damage that couldn't be repaired safely were immediately scrapped. These were known as Category A and Category B cars. Cars that were able to be returned to the road but had sustained damage that cost more than the value of the vehicle were classed as Category C.

With the newer system, the new categories are now as follows:

  • Category A Car may not be repaired and must be crushed
  • Category B Car may have its usable parts recycled, but it also must be crushed
  • Category N A write-off that has not sustained any damage to its structure, and which may be repaired and safely returned to the road
  • Category S Car that has suffered structural damage but which is repairable. What is a Cat S car?

BuyaCar does not sell written-off cars.

What is a Cat D car?

These fall into the least serious category of insurance write-offs. Cat D cars have been damaged and written off even though the repair costs are less than the value of the vehicle.

On fairly new cars, the damage can be quite significant: an airbag may have gone off, for example. But on older cars, some minor damage could result in a vehicle being classified as a Cat D write-off.

What is the equivalent of Cat D under the new category system?

The older categories of Cat C and Cat D were defined by whether or not the cost of repairs exceeded the value of the car. Under the new system, the categories are defined by whether or not a car has sustained structural damage.

As a result, a car placed in Cat D under the old system could be a Cat N under the new one if it has no structural damage, or a Cat S if it has had some sort of structural repair.

Why are Cat D cars written off?

Modern cars in particular can be expensive to repair. A small front impact may require the bonnet, windscreen, headlights, and front bumper to be replaced.

It may also require a new set of electronic equipment - such as cameras, radar, and parking sensors, which are used for systems such as autonomous emergency braking and automatic headlights. Once fitted, these driver assistance systems must also be calibrated.

Repair costs for older cars can also spiral, particularly when insurers use new, manufacturer-approved parts and expensive labour.

Faced with the additional costs of a replacement hire car for the customer, administering the claim and getting the car inspected by an assessor, insurers can decide to cut their losses and settle with the customer. The car can then be sold for up to 65% of its pre-accident value.

How are Cat D cars repaired?

Independent repairers can fix Cat D cars for much less than insurers. With third-party, or second-hand parts, cheaper labour and reduced admin costs, restoring a car can cost a fraction of the price.

A competent garage will be able to make the car safe and roadworthy, but there’s no compulsory inspection that will guarantee a Cat D repair has been carried out properly.

Is a Cat D car safe to drive?

Cat D cars can be safe if they have been repaired properly. In fact, some older Cat D cars are safe to drive without being fixed if they have been written off because of something purely cosmetic such as dents.

More seriously damaged cars can be repaired to a high standard too but it’s hard to tell what has happened to the car and how competently it has been fixed. Cat D cars don’t have to come with a description of the damage sustained and repairs undertaken.

Problems can occur when safety systems were activated or damaged in the accident. Most responsible repairers will ensure such systems are repaired, replaced and functioning exactly as they should but less scrupulous repairers might be tempted to cut corners.

For example, they may not connect the airbags, or they may fit aftermarket airbags rather than factory-approved ones. They may disable the airbag warning light or fail to recalibrate sensors. These are not always easy to identify.

How do you avoid buying a Cat D car?

If you opt for an approved used car, then its history will be guaranteed, ensuring that the vehicle has not been written off, stolen or has any outstanding finance against it. They are the simplest way to avoid buying a written-off car.

If a Cat D car is being sold by a motor trader, their advertisement should clearly say so. A vehicle bought from a dealer is covered by the Sale of Goods Act. Any vehicle sold must therefore be “as described”, “of satisfactory quality” and “fit for purpose”. A written-off vehicle could fall short of any of these descriptions.

In any case, under law, a trader cannot conceal important information about a car and must make all reasonable checks to establish its status and condition.

If you’re buying privately, you’re on less secure ground but the seller must answer your questions truthfully. If later you find out the car is a Cat D write-off, you could issue a county court claim, although you’d have to prove they were aware of the car’s history.

Should I buy a Cat D car?

You’ll certainly save money on the purchase price: Cat D cars are generally up to 30% cheaper than similar models that have not been written off.

If you’re planning to sell the car on, you’ll need to account for a lower selling price as it will always be tarnished with the Cat D write-off label.

You will also need to be comfortable with the prospect of possibly not knowing exactly what happened to the car and how it was repaired. Having the car inspected independently can help provide some peace of mind.

Are Cat D cars expensive to insure?

Just as some companies don't like to insure young or inexperienced drivers, others may not be so happy about insuring a write-off. They’ll either completely decline or increase the cost of your premium so much that you go elsewhere.

Whatever happens, the fact is you’re likely to pay a little more overall. Don't try to save money by concealing the car’s status – the insurer would be within its rights to reject any claim you make on the grounds of non-disclosure.