If you’re shopping for a used vehicle, you might come across the terms “Cat A, B, S, or N” from time to time. These classifications aren’t here to tell you what sort of pets the previous owners have. They’re essential descriptors letting you know whether insurers have written off the car!

What Is A “Write-Off”?

Insurers may “write-off” a car that’s been severely damaged in an accident and is no longer safe to drive. A write-off is generally registered when the vehicle is so damaged that it’s beyond repair (for example, it was involved in a fire), or it could be because the costs of repairing the damage exceed the value of the car.

Although we generally consider a write-off to be beyond repair, a low-value vehicle could fall under this classification following even minor damage. In figures, if the predicted costs of repair come to over 60% of the vehicle’s value, an insurance company will deem the car “beyond economical repair” (BER, for short) and assign them a category depending on the extent of the damage.

What Do The Categories Mean?

Previously, vehicles written off were categorized under A, B, C, or D.

In 2017, this classification was reviewed by the ABI (Association of British Insurers) and amended to Cat A, B, S, and N.

This new system emphasizes establishing the structural components that affect the safety of a vehicle following a write-off.

You can use these categories to establish the extent of damage to a vehicle and whether it’s safe or viable to repair it. Suppose you’re looking for a used car. In that case, understanding what the classifications are and what each one stands for could make the difference between you mistakenly buying a vehicle that’s only suitable for scrapping, one that’s drivable, or one that’s not even worth its parts!

To give you an overview, these are the four categories:

  • Cat A: Scrap only, nothing safe.
  • Cat B: Some parts may be salvageable once broken down.
  • Cat S: The vehicle is significantly structurally damaged but potentially repairable.
  • Cat N: Not structurally damaged and can be repaired

Let’s look at these in a bit more detail.

Cat A

If a vehicle has a Category A registration, it’s only suitable for scrapping, and shouldn’t even be broken down for parts. This category encompasses cars that have sustained the worst possible damage, usually following a significant road traffic collision and/or the vehicle has been entirely and irreparably burned out by a fire.

Anything left of the vehicle following an incident that leads to a Cat A classification must be scrapped. A certificate of destruction will be issued once the car has been appropriately crushed or discarded.

You cannot sell any component of a Cat A vehicle, not even the gear knob! If you ever spot a car for sale with this classification, stay well away.

Cat B

The second category for write-offs still covers vehicles that are not suitable or safe enough for repair; however, cars with a Cat B classification may be broken down and sold for parts.

This means that, although the car certainly can’t be driven on the roads again, some parts of the vehicle are sufficiently free from damage to be broken down and sold independently.

You should never buy a Cat B marked vehicle if you’re looking for something to drive. But if you’re a professional who knows how to appropriately break down a car and sell the (safe) parts, you could do so.

Cat S

S category vehicles are part of the new(ish) descriptors following the 2017 ABI review and identify cars that the insurers have written off but may still be repaired.

Repairs for a Cat S vehicle are likely to be expensive. They would undoubtedly be considered BER (beyond economical repair) by an insurance company, but this is something you could pay for yourself if the vehicle is being offered for a reasonable price. The repairs are done by a professional.

A Cat S is usually administered when a vehicle has sustained some structural damage, such as bent or twisted chassis, damage to the crumple zone, or problems with the car’s vital components.
If you do purchase a Cat S vehicle, you must have any repairs completed by a professional before the car is put back on the road and that you declare the work to your insurance company and possibly the DVLA.

If your car sustained the damage before 2017, the vehicle would show a Cat C marker on the documentation, rather than the new Cat S.

Cat N

Cat N vehicles are the “safest” type of written-off vehicle… Although we use the term “safe” loosely!

This write-off category lets you know that the vehicle has been in an incident that might not have caused structural damage. Still, there will be other issues: usually cosmetic or electrical.
Cat N can be relatively minimum damage and arguably not worth “written-off” status at first glance. This category of the written-off vehicle occurs more frequently with modern cars. It often involves damage to electrical safety elements that are costly to repair and can be dangerous if not fixed properly. You may find Cat N cars with damage to the braking system or steering components, for example.

As with Cat S cars, Cat N is part of the 2017 ABI review’s changes, so vehicles that sustained this class of damage before 2017 would show a Cat D classification.

Get It Checked

These four categories are fundamental, and you must be aware of them whether you’re a car owner or in the market for a new (or used) vehicle. Purchasing a car with one of these classifications is likely to come with a higher car insurance premium and could involve costly repairs that an insurer won’t cover.

When shopping for a used car, it’s vital to run a car history check to ensure the vehicle isn’t subject to one of these categories or anything else that could affect its value.
Simply providing the registration plate can give you loads of vital information to identify a bargain or a bust. When you pay a small fee, you can uncover even more information about a used car. This way, you know exactly what you’re getting and can decide whether it’s worth the risk.