What’s a Category S or Category N car?

Category C and D cars are changing to Category S and N cars from 1 October 2017. Just because a car has been 'written off', it doesn't necessarily mean you should reject buying it.

Words by: First published: 10th September 2018
If an insurance company ‘writes off’ a car, it's placed in one of four categories rated from A to D, with A the most severely damaged. Category A and B cars are so badly damaged, Auto Trader will not allow them to be advertised for sale, and we would strongly advise you to not buy one, as insurance companies reckon they could not be repaired.

It is fine to buy a car from Category C or D. In both 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.

However, from 1 October 2017, categories S and N have replaced the old C and D categories.

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

Both Category S and N cars can be repaired and put back on the road, but the two are defined as follows:

At some point, a Category S vehicle suffered structural damage, and has been written off by the insurer as it was uneconomical to repair. This damage could be to any part of the vehicle's structural frame, including the chassis.

A Category N vehicle has also been written off by the insurer as it was uneconomical to repair, but the difference is that it suffered non-structural damage. The vehicle's structural frame or chassis did not suffer any damage.

With Category S and N cars, insurers will often sell the car on for salvage, 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/N car, is that it will cost less to buy than the equivalent non-written off car, but you must make sure the car has been properly repaired.

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/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.