19 Aug 2014
When is a write-off not a write-off?
The term “write-off” immediately suggests something so badly damaged that it’s of no further use or value. However, this is not completely true for vehicles and while many write-offs are only good for crushing, many others can be repaired and then safely and legally be put back on the road. This will depend on the write-off classification of the vehicle as determined by a professional vehicle assessor.
So, what exactly are the various write-off types and what do they mean?
Categories of write-off
Category A write-offs are the closest to what most of us would understand by the term “written-off.” These vehicles must never be driven again and can only be crushed; furthermore, no parts can be recovered from the written-off vehicle for reuse. Examples of Category A write-offs include vehicles that have been completely burnt out and those that have been totally submerged in salt water.
Category B write-offs can only be scrapped and must not be returned to the road. The bodyshell, frame or chassis of the written-off vehicle must be crushed, but – unlike Category A write-offs – it is permissible to reuse any roadworthy non-structural components. This category includes cases such as heavy damage (e.g. a bent chassis), partial submergence in salt water and complete submergence in fresh water.
Category C write-offs are capable of being repaired and put back on the road; the reason for the vehicle being written off is that the cost of parts and labour for repairs would be more than the pre-accident value of the vehicle. It is legal for the original owner or a third party to buy and repair a Category C write-off.
Category D write-offs can be repaired at a cost less than the vehicle’s pre-accident value. However, the vehicle is written off because other factors – such as the hire of a courtesy car for the owner or the time spent waiting for a specialist component – cause costs to exceed the pre-accident value. Vehicles replaced under “new-for-old” insurance schemes are also classed as category D write-offs. Again, a category D write-off can be bought and repaired by the original owner or a third party.
Category A and B write-offs are commonly referred to as End of Life vehicles and must be reported to the Department of Transport, while category C and D are known as Beyond Economic Repair vehicles and are not reported as the vehicle can be repaired and used on the road again.
In the UK, any vehicle classed as a Category A, B, C or D write off is reported and this is checked as part of a mywheels.ie report.
Is it legal to drive a written-off vehicle?
Category A and B write offs can never be legally driven after being written-off. However, it is legal to drive a Category C or D write-off that has been repaired correctly. Although Category C and D write-offs are classed as uneconomic to repair, in practice, work that would be uneconomic at standard cost rates can be viable for an enthusiast or professional with low (or no) labour costs and the option of using second-hand parts. In the UK, category C and D write-offs must undergo a Vehicle Identity Check (VIC) – a check intended to confirm that the vehicle is not a stolen one disguised as a repaired write-off – before returning to the road.
How to identify a written-off vehicle
In Ireland, a history check using mywheels.ie will show whether a vehicle is a category A or B write-off. There are no official Irish sources for Category C or D write-offs. In the case of vehicles that have been written off in the UK and subsequently imported into Ireland, a UK history report from mywheels.ie will identify all categories of write-offs.
Precautions when buying write-offs
There are many Category C and D write offs that have been repaired and are back on the road. At some stage the owner may decide to sell the vehicle and you may be interested in buying it. Anyone planning to do so needs to take precautions to avoid ending up with an unsafe or uninsured vehicle.
A thorough pre-purchase examination by someone with mechanical knowledge is essential, even if the vehicle appears to have only cosmetic damage, because of the potential for serious damage to hidden components. Additionally, the fact that the car is a repaired write-off must be declared to the insurer – failure to do so can result in a refusal to pay out on any subsequent claims.