What is a Category S Car?

Browsing the used car market, you might come across vehicles labelled as Category S. The price might look temptingly low, but there's a reason for that. That 'S' stands for structural damage. Cat S cars have been written off by insurers after sustaining damage to areas like the chassis or crumple zone in a crash. Cars in this category can be repaired and put back on the road, but they must be re-registered with the DVLA.

What is a Category S car?

How is a Cat S car different from Cat N or Cat D?

Cat N cars are less seriously damaged than Cat S cars, with the damage having occurred to non-structural aspects of the car – the seats, for example, or the lights. Cat S and Cat N have replaced the old Cat C and Cat D classifications respectively, although the change has not been applied retrospectively, so there are still plenty of Cat C and Cat D cars on the market. There are also Cat A and Cat B cars, the designation for these having remained unaltered. These are beyond repair – Cat B vehicles can be raided for parts while Cat A are good only for scrap metal.

Is a repaired Cat S car safe to drive?

Many garages will repair Cat S cars, but with no legal requirement for the work to be inspected, it’s impossible to be absolutely sure the car is safe for the road. A sensible precaution would be to get any repaired Cat S car independently inspected and to put it through an MoT. This will add a fair bit to the cost of buying what should otherwise be a cheap car, but it’s well worth the investment to make sure you’re not putting yourself in danger. An MoT should identify most issues that could make a car unsafe to drive.

Should I buy a Cat S car?

The big attraction of a Cat S car is that it should be much cheaper to buy than an equivalent vehicle that hasn’t been written off. If you can satisfy yourself that the car will be safe to drive, there are big savings to be made on the upfront costs.

However, there are other downsides in addition to the safety concerns. Once a car has been classified as Cat S, the label stays with it forever. This will negatively impact its value in the long term: you’ll never be able to sell it on for much, and you might have difficulty finding a buyer. Insurance will likely be harder to find too – some insurers will cover Cat S cars, but the premium will be more expensive. You’ll need to weigh up all these factors to figure out whether the purchase makes sense for you, but if you’re looking for a long-term vehicle, a Cat S car could be a smart investment.

Could I end up buying a Cat S car by mistake?

It’s illegal to conceal a car’s Cat S status when selling it. Make sure you check the paperwork thoroughly, and if you’re still unsure, you can check the vehicle’s history with various companies online. Dealerships will be a safer bet than private vendors – if the dealer is operating a carmaker’s approved used car scheme they will have run these checks for you.

Any other steps I can take to reduce the risk when buying a Cat S car?

It’s worth asking plenty of questions when considering a Cat S purchase. How and where was the car damaged? Are there any photos of the damage? Where was it repaired and what was replaced? The insurer is under no obligation to release this information, but asking these questions of the dealer can help you get an idea of what you’re buying. Avoiding cars with chassis damage will reduce the risk of lingering issues – bodywork is much easier to repair effectively. You should also inform your insurer of your car’s status, or you risk having any claims turned down in future.

Take a look at our comprehensive guide to insurance write-offs for more information.

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