How to buy a bargain crash-damaged car

How to buy a bargain crash-damaged car
How to buy a bargain crash-damaged car

The classifications for crash-damaged cars have changed. Here’s what you need to know

Cars that are involved in hefty accidents are often described as being ‘written off’ by car insurers. They are classified using four different categories, or levels, which have recently been updated: A, C, S or N.

The change has been introduced by the Association of British Insurers (ABI). It says the idea being the new scheme is to reflect how complex modern cars have become – this can make it harder for badly damaged cars to be safely repaired. Essentially, the new scheme looks at the condition of the car, rather than simply how much it would cost to repair it.

So what’s what in the new ABI salvage vehicle code? Here, we run through each level in turn.

Category A – Scrap
These are the most badly damaged cars – they’re not allowed to be repaired and must be crushed.

Category B – Break
Again, these are badly damaged cars that cannot be repaired for use on the road again. Their parts, however, can be reused.

Category S – Structural
These cars have structural crash damage, but an insurance inspector has deemed it OK for it to be repaired and put back on the road. This replaces the old Category C level.

Category N – Non-structural
Replacing the former Category D level, these cars have accident damage, but not to a level serious enough to damage the structure. The core safety systems will also not have been damaged – however, safety-critical parts such as steering or suspension may still have bene impacted and need replacement.

The new classifications, combined with the tempting prices of accident-repaired Category N cars, can make buying such a car tempting. However, it’s not a straightforward as you may think – certainly, if the savings are too good to be true, they probably are: has the repair work been done to a good enough standard?

You also need to tell your insurance company if you’ve bought a Category N car – if you don’t, there’s the risk any further accidents would see you turned down for a pay-out. Other things to consider include:

1. Buy from a dealer

If you purchase from a dealer, you get far more consumer rights than buying privately. The dealer must also disclose everything they know about the car – a private buyer can keep things hidden.

2. Ask questions

Be inquisitive. Ideally, you’d like to see photographs of the car before it was repaired, and also know who did the work and just what they did during the repair. Put your detective hat on to discover as much as possible.

3. Buy a vehicle inspection

It will cost you £200 or more, but a vehicle inspection is money well spent when considering an accident-repaired car. An inspector will tell you exactly what state the car’s in – and also whether there’s any damage you may not have spotted.

4. Buy a history check

You already know the car’s been in an accident, but what else may have happened to it? The last thing you want when choosing to save money through this route is to then discover the car has other potentially expensive skeletons in its closet.

5. Buy a warranty

Warranty providers offer special cover for Cat N cars. For absolute peace of mind against any future problems, it’s a great way get some backup to the repairs that have been carried out.

6. Don’t buy cars with chassis damage

Repairing a car’s chassis is much trickier than repairing its bodywork. Unless the repair has been carried out to a high and expensive level, it can continue to cause problems much further down the line. We wouldn’t take the risk.

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