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Category S (Cat S) and Category N (Cat N) are a type of insurance category given to a vehicle if it has been written off by an insurance company because it’s uneconomical to repair.

However, just because a car has been 'written off', it doesn't necessarily mean you should reject buying it. Here, we look at whether you should consider buying a Category S or Category N car.

Jump to:
Write-off insurance categories explained
Difference between Category S and N
What were Category C and D cars?
Should I buy a Category S or N car?
Can I insure a Category S or N Car?
Checks performed by Auto Trader

What are ‘write-off’ car insurance categories?

A ‘write-off’ is common jargon for a vehicle that’s sustained so much damage that it’s either unsafe to drive (Cat A and B) or the cost of repairs outweighs what your car is worth (Cat S and N).

The four insurance write-off categories are:

• Category A: cars which should be for scrap only, including salvageable parts. These should not re-appear on the road.
• Category B: has also had significant damage, though salvageable parts could be used in other vehicles.
• Category S: has structural damage that will need professional repair before it is safe to drive.
• Category N: no structural damage but may have cosmetic or non-structural faults (like brakes and electrics) that need professional work before it’s safe to drive.

Category A and Category B cars are so badly damaged, Auto Trader will not allow them to be advertised for sale, and strongly advise you not to buy one.

If they have been repaired, Category N cars can be sold and driven. If they have been repaired and re-registered with the DVLA, Category S cars can also be sold and driven.
How to tell if a car has been written off
The easiest way to tell if a car has been written off is to get a vehicle history check.

Some sellers may try to sell Category S or Category N cars as non-damaged. If you buy one without realising, you may be paying over the odds for it.

Auto Trader perform five basic checks, including whether it is a write-off, on every vehicle listed on the site – which you can learn more about below.

Learn more about vehicle history checks here.

What’s the difference between Category S and Category N?

Both Category S and N cars can be repaired and put back on the road, but there are some differences between the two.

Category S explained

What does Category S mean?
Category S vehicles have suffered structural damage and have been written off by the insurer as they were uneconomical to repair. This damage could be to any part of the vehicle's structural frame, including the chassis.
Can Category S cars be driven?
Yes, after all repairs have been made and the car is safe and roadworthy. After repairs, Cat S cars need to be re-registered with the DVLA before they go back on the roads.

Category N explained

What does Category N mean?
Category N vehicles have suffered non-structural damage like brakes, steering, electrics, safety-features and cosmetic damage. These have also been written off by the insurer as they were uneconomical to repair, but the vehicle's structural frame or chassis did not suffer any damage.
Can Category N cars be driven?
Yes, after all repairs have been made. Cat N cars do not need re-registering with the DVLA when they go back on the road, but you’ll need to tell them it was a write-off.

What are Category C and Category D cars?

Categories S and N were introduced on 1 October 2017 to replace Categories C and D respectively.

Categories C and D were decided by the insurance-estimated cost of repair:
• Category C meant the vehicle’s repair costs were more than the car’s value
• Category D meant the vehicle was less expensive to repair than replace.

As cars became more intricate, the repair bills grew and so it was more likely that they’d be written off so new categories were introduced to better reflect the modern market.

According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the new categories focus more on the condition of the car rather than the cost of repairing it.

Vehicles categorised as a Cat C or Cat D prior to 1 October 2017 will remain a Cat C or Cat D — which is why you may still see cars advertised with this category.

It’s okay to buy a car that’s Category C, D, S or N. In all cases, they reflect a car that was repairable, but the insurers chose not to — probably because they thought it was cheaper to replace the car than repair it.

Should I buy a Category S or Category N car?

With Category S and N cars, insurers will often sell the car on for salvage, which is when someone else may choose to repair the car. If the car is repaired properly, there’s no reason you shouldn’t buy and run it.

The attraction of a repaired Cat S or N car is that it may cost less to buy than the equivalent non-written off car, but you must make sure the car has been properly repaired.

Here are some things to consider:
• Before you buy it, ask to see documentary evidence of what happened to the car and what repairs it has had.
• Consider having a third-party inspection done to give it the all-clear.
• Also check how much it will cost to insure, as some insurance companies will charge more for Cat S or Cat N cars, and others won’t cover them at all.

Bear in mind, just as it was cheaper to buy in the first place, it will be worth less when you come to sell it on.

Do Category S or N cars cost more to insure?

The answer will vary depending on the car, your insurance provider, and the level of cover you opt for. As a general rule, you may have to pay a higher insurance premium but shop around for quotes and check the contracts before you commit.

Also note that some providers may not cover Cat S or Cat N cars at all, so check with providers.

What insurance category information does Auto Trader check?

When a seller advertises a vehicle on our website, we use the details sourced from Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud and Theft Register (MIAFTR), operated by Insurance Database Services Ltd, to check whether the vehicle is recorded as having been written off.

This is one of the five basic checks we do on all vehicles advertised on our website. Our basic vehicle check will also show if a car has been stolen, scrapped, imported or exported. We won’t advertise a car if a check reveals it’s been stolen, scrapped or recorded as Category A or B write-off.

Cat A or B vehicles can’t be advertised on our website, but Cat C, D, S or N vehicles can. We’ll highlight its insurance status as part of our vehicle checks. For more information, read insurance categories explained.

As well as our five basic checks, some sellers have purchased our full vehicle check on the cars they’re advertising which includes checks for mileage discrepancies and outstanding finance. This means you can see a summary of a cars history without having to buy a full vehicle check report. The only difference is you won’t have a data guarantee of up to £30,000 should any information be incorrect.

Data can always change so we strongly advise you to perform your own vehicle check with data guarantee for added peace of mind.

Get a vehicle check