Transport & Car Blog

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What is Cat S?

  Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Category S is one of four categories of write-off that insurance companies use to accurately determine the level of damage a vehicle has suffered to cause it to be written off. In basic terms, a Cat S vehicle is one which is deemed to have sustained structural damage, including its chassis, often as a result of an accident.

In the vast majority of cases, a Cat S vehicle can be repaired despite its structural issues. Nevertheless, repairing structural damage to vehicles can be extremely expensive. That’s why used vehicles with structural damage will often be written off as the repair, administration and possible hire car costs will exceed the total value of the vehicle prior to its accident.

Who repairs Category S cars?

Typically, bodyshops with specialist facilities and independent garages will be best equipped to repair Cat S vehicles. These bodyshops and garages will tend to operate with lower overheads than most other garages because the Cat S vehicles they repair cannot be sold at the same price as comparable vehicles without historic structural damage.

The vast majority of garages and bodyshops that accept and repair Cat S cars are highly reputable and specialists in their field. They need to be prepared to repair and reinforce bodyshells and assess electrical aspects as well as a vehicle’s exterior. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) defines the ‘structure’ of a vehicle, which may have been damaged in a Cat S write-off, as:

Cat S auction car

  • Rear chassis leg
  • Front chassis leg and welded cross member
  • Front inner wing
  • Front upper wing support
  • Sill
  • Front header rail
  • Rear header rail
  • Side cant rail
  • Fire wall and front bulkhead
  • Rear inner wing
  • Rear wheel housing extension
  • A-post
  • B-post

What are the risks with Cat S vehicles?

Arguably the biggest risks regarding the purchase of a Cat S vehicle is the fact that none of the repair work carried out by bodyshop specialists and independent garages has to be independently inspected by law. This means that motorists cannot be 100% confident that a repaired Category S car is safe for everyday use on roads and motorways.

Although buying a repaired Cat S vehicle normally means acquiring a car at rock-bottom prices, there could well be minor flaws and imperfections that will exist when driving it on the road. Whether it’s annoying rattles and squeaks from external parts or uncertainty surrounding the efficiency of the car’s airbag deployment, these are issues that you simply have to accept as par for the course with a Category S car.

Why do insurers write-off Category S cars?

Typically, car insurers will write-off a vehicle as a Category S if the structural damage is deemed uneconomical for them to repair. This may be because the cost of replacement parts – and their fitting – may be equivalent to or greater than the value of the car itself.

In fact, most car insurers will start to consider a vehicle a Cat S write-off when the cost of repairs equates to 50-60% of a vehicle’s value.

What to do if you disagree with an insurer’s Cat S classification

The final write-off decision will rest with your vehicle’s insurer, based on the market value of your vehicle at the time – not the price you paid for it. However, if you still believe your insurer has undervalued your vehicle’s worth in the market, you can challenge their decision.

To contest your insurer’s decision, you’ll need to find a vehicle of a comparable make, model, age and mileage available in the used car market. If you had recently fitted new parts or accessories, these should also be taken into consideration.

If you are still unhappy with your insurer’s decision, you can make a final appeal free of charge with the impartial Financial Ombudsman Service.

Can I insure a Cat S vehicle?

Yes, it is absolutely possible to insure a Cat S vehicle, but you must be aware that this category of vehicle is considered high risk in the eyes of car insurers. Given that insurance is all about the level of risk, Cat S vehicles that have been repaired without the need for independent checks or tests are considered a grey area. It’s not easy for insurers to determine their present condition or market value.

Put simply, insurers will offer you a policy for Category S vehicles, but be prepared to pay a significantly higher premium than owners of vehicles that haven’t been written off as Cat S.

Could I buy a Category S car without realising it?

It is against the law for a car dealership to hide the classification of a vehicle as a Category S from prospective buyers. Be sure to read through your prospective vehicle’s paperwork with a fine-tooth comb. If you are suspicious about the history of a vehicle, don’t be afraid to conduct a full HPI check with a vehicle information firm.

An HPI check won’t be necessary if your car dealer operates under the umbrella of the car manufacturer’s approved used car scheme. These provisional checks will have been undertaken on your behalf to protect you and the dealership.

If you choose to buy a vehicle from a private seller, it is a considerably greyer area. Although private sellers are equally required to be honest, they may be totally unaware their vehicle used to be a Cat S write-off, resulting in you getting no compensation if you take them to court. To avoid such a frustrating and costly scenario, it’s always best to pay for a full HPI check on any used vehicle you’re thinking of buying to give you total peace of mind.

Do Cat S cars need a VIC check?

The UK’s Vehicle Identity Check (VIC) scheme was abolished back in 2015 following considerable consultations with key stakeholders and the Department for Transport (DfT). Instead, owners of Cat S cars looking to get their vehicle back on the road can apply for a replacement V5 log book from the DVLA in the normal manner.

What is the difference between Cat S and Cat N?

While a Cat S write-off is a vehicle that has sustained structural damage, a Cat N vehicle is one that has no structural damage, with only bodywork requiring attention. Put simply, this means that Cat N vehicles usually have only cosmetic damage following road accidents, with their overall structure and chassis remaining intact.

So, although a Cat N vehicle is still deemed to be not cost-effective for insurers to repair non-structural damage, there is nothing to suggest that a Cat N buyer cannot get the vehicle back to its previous condition with the sound fitting of our very own guaranteed recycled car parts. In fact, Cat N cars increasingly offer significant savings, compared with buying the same model undamaged.

Prior to the recent reclassification of vehicle write-off categories, Cat S and Cat N used to be described as Cat C and Cat D respectively.

Should I buy a Cat S?

Buying a Cat S vehicle could be a useful option if you plan to keep it until it reaches the end of its working life. As we’ve already discussed, the value of Cat S vehicles is much less than comparable undamaged models, so if you’re thinking of repairing a Cat S car and selling it on to make a profit, you’re unlikely to make a considerable sum.

It does require patience when buying a Cat S vehicle. You’ll need to look beyond cosmetic issues and get a professional to determine the extent of structural damage too. The AA and RAC both offer services that send engineers out to assess your prospective vehicle before parting with your hard-earned cash for the car. This, along with a full HPI check, can help to give you peace of mind at the wheel once it is fully repaired.

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