Car insurance write-offs: What to do after an accident and how it affects your insurance

Posted by on February 7th, 2019

Being involved in a car accident is scary. Shock can leave you confused and even if you think you know what to do after the event it never hurts to refresh your memory – here’s a reminder.

What to do after a car crash

The moments after an accident can be a bit of a blur but it’s important to try and stay calm. You should:

  • Stop the car and switch off the engine.
  • Keep your hazard lights on.
  • Check to see whether you or your passengers have been injured and call an ambulance if needed.
  • If the accident is serious or the road is blocked, you should also call the police.
  • Try not to apologise and don’t take responsibility for the accident until you’re confident you know exactly what happened.
  • Swap insurance details with any other motorists involved, if you don’t do this at the scene, then you must report the accident at a police station within 24 hours.
  • Telling your insurer you’ve been in an accident

    If you’ve been in an accident, you need to let your insurance provider know – even if you don’t want to make a claim.

    If you do want to make a claim, then collecting as much information as possible can make the process smoother so it’s good to make a note of:

  • The date and time of the accident.
  • Weather, road and traffic conditions.
  • Contact details of other motorists, passengers, witnesses and if the police are on the scene, it’s a good idea to take their details too.
  • Registration numbers and the make, model and colour of any other vehicles involved.
  • The damage caused and if you can, then photos are a good way for your insurer to visualise the scene. If you don’t have a camera or smartphone, then write a description and draw a rough diagram of where vehicles are positioned.
  • Aim to call your insurer as soon as possible – ideally from the scene of the accident so if they ask you any specific questions, you can find out the answers quickly.

    You’ll be asked for your policy number (or details so they can identify you), as well as information about the other vehicles and drivers involved, including their insurance details.

    When is a car a write-off?

    A written-off car isn’t always a twisted hunk of metal, ‘write-off’ is just an insurance term for any vehicle that’s considered too expensive to fix. Even relatively new cars with (what look like) minor scrapes can end up a write-off if repairs are likely to be more than the value of the car.

    Insurers classify write-offs into four categories: A, B, S, N (groups S and N replaced C and D in 2017):

  • Category A – cars are so badly damaged they’re only fit for scrap. No parts of the car can be salvaged.
  • Category B – the B stands for ‘broken’ so cars can be dismantled with the chassis scrapped but working parts reused.
  • Category S – the S stands for ‘structural damage’ but these cars can be professionally repaired and be made roadworthy again. Cat S cars need to be re-registered with the DVLA.
  • Category N – the N stands for ‘non-structural’ damage, but cars may need cosmetic work or repairs to electrics or onboard systems. Once repaired cars can be driven again and don’t need to be re-registered with the DVLA.
  • For more advice, head to our guide which explains everything you need to know about write-offs, including how it affects your insurance and what to do if you disagree with your insurer’s decision to write-off your car.

    A pile of wreaked vehicles in the scrap yard

    My airbags have gone off, is my car a write-off?

    Deployed airbags don’t automatically mean your car’s a write-off but the cost of replacing them will be something your insurer will need to consider.

    It’s hard to pinpoint just how much a replacement airbag will cost as it really depends on the type of car you have. Also, don’t forget that many newer cars also have passenger and side impact airbags which can push the price up even more.

    To decide if a car’s a write-off, insurers work to what’s known as a ‘repair-to-value’ ratio. If your car costs more than the percentage they work to, then it’s likely to be written-off.

    For example, if your provider uses a ratio of 50% and your car is valued at £5,000 then they’d consider it a write-off if repairs were more than £2,500.

    What happens if my car is a write-off?

    You should check your insurance policy documents to see if your insurer has any particular write-off procedures.

    In most cases, your insurer will ask an assessor to review the damage to your car and work out repair costs. If your car is considered ‘beyond economical repair’ then your insurance provider will make arrangements for it to be taken away.

    It’s important to remember that it’s still your responsibility to tell the DVLA that your car has been written-off (or you could be fined £1,000*).

    Can I keep my car after an insurance write-off?

    When your insurer settles the claim and has compensated you, the car becomes their property, but you can buy it using your payout – but only if it falls into categories S or N.

    If you think you might want to keep the car, then you should let your insurer know sooner rather than later.

    What happens if I write off a car still on finance?

    If your car’s leased – for example if you have a PCH (personal contract hire) or PCP (personal contract purchase) plan, then you should call the finance provider as soon as you can so they can explain what the options are.

    Typically, if the insurer has written-off the car, they’ll offer you a settlement based on the value of the car. You can then use this money to pay the finance company what you owe. If the compensation isn’t enough to cover the outstanding amount, then some options include:

  • Asking your insurer how they reached the valuation figure for the car, if you disagree with it, then you’ll need to explain why – for example if you’ve seen like-for-like cars listed at a higher price.
  • If the outstanding finance is more than the value of the car (and you concur with the insurer’s valuation) then you’ll need to speak to the finance company and come to an agreement about how you pay the rest back.
  • If your car is a category S or N write-off, you could negotiate to buy the car back with the insurance settlement. You would then keep the car and carry on with your finance repayments, but you would be responsible for the cost of repairing the car yourself.
  • White damaged car stationary next to road

    What happens if I write-off a rental car?

    You should call the rental company and explain what’s happened – in most cases, they’ll sort out the recovery, arrange repairs and organise a replacement car for you.

    Most car rental companies provide a ‘collision damage waiver’ which is included in the rental cost. The waiver isn’t insurance, it’s the rental company waiving their right to make you pay hefty repair costs.

    However, the waiver does come with an ‘excess’ and this is the amount you would be required to pay in the event of an accident or theft of the car. The amount of excess will vary from company to company and type of car.

    If you’re hiring a car, then it’s a wise precaution to check exactly what you’re covered for, just in case you do have an accident.

    Can a repairable write-off be insured?

    Category S and N cars are also known as ‘repairable write-offs’ and once fixed, can be driven again.

    Bear in mind that buying insurance for write-off cars, can be more expensive and some insurers may not be willing to cover you. If you can organise an engineer’s report, this could help you get insurance – the AA and RAC offer car inspection services.

    You can find out more about insuring cat S and N cars (previously cat C and D) in our guide to Category S and N write-offs.

    Can I check if my car’s a write-off?

    If you’re buying a car that’s been previously written-off and repaired, then by law, the seller has to make this clear to you – but for your own peace of mind, you can check the history of a car, as well as its MOT status at GOV.UK

    Where can I buy a write-off and is it worth it?

    Write-off cars are easily available to buy from online used car websites, some dealerships and auction houses. Whether it’s worth buying a write-off really depends on what you’re going to use it for.

    For example, if you’re a mechanic with the intention of buying a write-off to repair and then sell on, then you’ll need to be sure your numbers add up. There may be hidden damage that costs you more to fix and write-offs usually sell for less than undamaged cars of the same make, model and age.

    If you’re a buyer looking for a car for personal use and can fix it up yourself, then a write-off can be good value for money. If you’re buying a repaired write-off purely because it’s cheaper, you’ll need to be confident it’s been fixed properly (an engineer’s report can confirm this).

    Before you go down the route of buying a write-off, always check how much the insurance could set you back. You can compare quotes right here and now or you can speak to a member of the team on 0330 022 8814.

    Other articles you might find useful

    How to make an insurance claim
    What is No Claims Bonus?

    *Correct as of 9 Jan 2018