Should you write off a write-off?

I spotted a 1998 996 Carrera for sale for £13,000 the other day. Cheap, even for a Tiptronic, but remarkably so for a car claimed to have only 39,000 miles on the clock.

Then, the next day, the same car was up for just £8000. The seller had added a note to the advert saying he’d just been told the Porsche had been registered as a Category D in 2004 but he’d never known.

What does this mean? Well, basically it means that the car had suffered some form of damage and an insurance assessor subsequently deemed that, although the car could safely be repaired, it would be uneconomical to do so. The usual reason for this is that repairs would cost at least 60 percent of the vehicle’s value, so the insurance company would rather pay out for a replacement vehicle.

Such cars are often subsequently bought from the insurance company and repaired, which is quite legal so long as the seller is clear about the car’s history, and the price reflects that history.

Now, a Cat D car is always going to be worth less but I think this seller had panicked and dropped the price more than he needed to. Assuming the car would have been worth £13,000 if it had not been written off, I’d suggest that with this history, it would still have been worth at least £10,000. So someone somewhere has got a bargain.

My first experience with a Cat D car was some years ago when I had a Peugeot 205 1.9 GTi – a great little car. One night, the entire leather interior was stolen from it, and the cost of replacing this and putting right some damage the thieves caused came to some £3000, and the car was only worth about £4500, so the assessor wrote it off. Not wanting to lose an otherwise great car, I did a deal with the insurance company whereby I kept the car and they paid me a reasonable sum. I was then able to source a second-hand set of seats (I did wonder if I’d be buying back my own ones!) and get the damage repaired for far less than £3000.

A good result, although I knew that my car was now registered Cat D and would always be worth less, even though it had never suffered any accident damage.

Indeed, most Cat D cars haven’t suffered major damage and, as such, can make good second-hand buys, so long as they are priced accordingly and, when you come to sell, you are transparent about the car’s history.

Sadly, not all sellers are so honest while others may be genuinely ignorant of their car’s history, so it’s essential to do an HPI check before buying any car. I assume that’s how the seller of this Porsche discovered the grim truth – a prospective buyer ran a check on it.

By the way, there are four categories of insurance write-off in the UK:

Category A: Scrap only with few or no economically salvageable parts and which is of value only for scrap metal.

Category B: Break for spare parts if economically viable (excluding any residual scrap value).

Category C: Repairable but repair costs (including VAT) would exceed 100 percent of the vehicle’s pre-accident value.

Category D: Repairable vehicle where repair costs including VAT do not exceed around 60 percent of the vehicle’s pre-accident value.

Category A and B cars are generally deemed unfit to repair safely. However, you are allowed to do so, but the repaired vehicle must be subjected to an engineer’s report and a vehicle identity check before it can be returned to the road. A Cat C vehicle must also go through these checks. If a Cat A, B or C car is reregistered, the history will be recorded on the V5 document, but a Cat D won’t be. However, a vehicle check will flag up all four categories.

Personally, I’d steer clear of all the above with the exception of a Cat D, so long as I was convinced it had been repaired properly and was sensibly priced. Indeed, I wish I’d been quick enough to snap up that 996!

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