All cars that are written-off by an insurer get put into one of four categories: A, B, S or N.
Each category shows how damaged the car is and whether it is legally roadworthy.
The categories were changed a few years ago. They used to be A, B, C and D. Category S has replaced category C.
Here, we explain everything you need to know about category S cars (and the difference between these and category C cars).
A category S car is a car that's been written off by an insurer because of structural damage. (That's what the 'S' stands for.)
Structural damage includes damage to things like the:
Most category S cars can be repaired but the insurer doesn't think it's worth paying for them compared to how much the car is worth.
So it works out cheaper for them to offer you a payout for the car's market value than to pay for repairs.
Category S has replaced the old category C group of write-offs.
There's not much difference between a category C car and a category S car. The things you can do with them both are the same.
The categories were just updated to stay in line with newer cars because they have more advanced technology and rely more on electrics.
No cars will be put into category C these days. But there are still some cars around that were put in category C before the categories were updated.
These are still called category C cars.
There are three different types of car insurance cover and some don't include a payout if your car is written-off as category S.
Insurers will pay out if you have a fully comprehensive policy and your car is written-off.
If you have third-party, fire and theft cover, your insurer will only pay out if:
If another driver causes damage that isn't related to fire or theft, you'll get a payout from their insurer.
Third-party insurance alone won't cover you if your car is stolen because it only insures against injury or damage that you cause to other people or their property.
This means that your insurer won't pay out if your car is written-off.
If another driver causes the damage, you'll get a payout from their insurer (not yours).
If your insurer writes off your car and puts it in category S, they may offer you a payout.
To work out how much to offer you, they'll have a valuation of your car done to see how much it was worth just before it was damaged. This is called its "market value."
Insurers don't use the original value of the car when calculating your payout.
Usually, insurers minus an insurance excess from the final payout as well. The excess is a sum of money you have to pay when you make an insurance claim.
If you think the valuation is too low, you can challenge your insurer and try to negotiate a better price.
You'll need lots of evidence to prove that their valuation isn't right.
Try to get as many quotes from different sources and make note of any changes you made that could increase the car's value, such as a new set of tyres.
If your case doesn't get anywhere you can also get in touch with the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) who will review your claim and make a final decision about the valuation.
With any written off car, you have to keep paying your insurance until your cover ends.
Sometimes insurers take the amount you still owe off your payout before giving it to you.
If you paid for your cover in a lump sum, you won't get a refund for any of this, even if you cancel your car policy.
If you decide to buy back your category S car, your insurer might let you use your existing policy to insure it.
The price of your car insurance may get more expensive because statistically, written-off cars are more likely to have accidents.
Many insurers refuse to cover written off cars at all. If yours does, you'll need to find another company to insure your category S car.
When your insurer puts your vehicle into category S, they might give you the chance to buy back your car (so you can keep it).
Technically, your insurer owns your car once they give you a payout for it.
If you want to buy the car back, you'll get a chance to negotiate a price you feel happy with.
You should get your repairs done by a qualified engineer to make sure that it's safe to drive.
When an insurer writes off a category S car, they get rid its V5C registration documents. So the car doesn't officially exist on paper anymore. 💨
Legally speaking, if you want to buy back your category S car, you have to re-register it with the DVLA by law.
If you don't, you're driving an unregistered car around, which is illegal. 🚫
When you re-register your category S car you'll get a new logbook that's marked to show the car's been written off.
Category S cars can be cheaper to buy than cars of the same model and age.
There are a few other costs to consider which could make them more expensive over time though.
Repairs done to a category S car don't have to be checked, so you'll need to hire a qualified engineer to make sure it's safe to drive. This can cost around £200.
Finding insurance for written-off cars can be difficult. Most insurers see write-offs as "higher risk" and many refuse to cover cars that have been.
Insurers that do offer policies for write-offs tend to charge a lot more.
Legally, you also have to tell any future buyers that the car was written-off as category S, which could make it more difficult to sell.
It's illegal for any seller to lie about a car's write-off history.
If you've bought a car that's been written off in the past, but the seller lied to you about this, you should tell Trading Standards as soon as possible.
To stop this happening, you should always do your own checks when you're buying a used car.
You can use our free car checker tool to check a car's write-off history.