What is a Cat D car?

Part of the now-replaced classification system for written-off vehicles, ‘Cat D’ cars can be cheap, but they aren’t without risk

BuyaCar team
Apr 19, 2021

Cars that have previously been written off fall into various categories. Some of these mean the car can be repaired and – if done so properly – made roadworthy again. Cat D cars fall into this bracket.

These vehicles have previously sustained major damage, which could have been from a crash or possibly caused by a flood. Insurers have deemed them too expensive to repair and written them off.

However, the system changed from October 2017 when a new categorisation system came into effect. Category D cars are now reclassified as either N or Category S.

Because the basic structure of the Cat D write-off car is not damaged, which would make them unsafe, they can still be sold on. They are then repaired more cheaply than insurers could manage and go on sale as Cat D cars, under an insurance code of practice.

Under this older system, when insurers calculated that the repair costs were greater than the value of the car, these vehicles were classified as Category C. Cars with crash damage that couldn't be repaired safely were immediately scrapped. These were known as Category A and Category B cars.

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 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.

BuyaCar does not sell written-off cars.

What is a Cat D car?

These fall into the least serious category of insurance write-off. 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 hire car for the customer, administering the claim and of 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 some 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 would ensure such systems are repaired or 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. They may not 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 have 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 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, then 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 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 younger drivers, so others may not be so happy about insuring a write-off. They’ll either tell you or increase the cost of your premium so much you go elsewhere.

Whatever happens, the fact is you’re likely to pay a little more. 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.


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