Free Trader UK cars

Skip to contentSkip to footer
Advice

What are Category S and Category N cars?

Learn the difference between Category S and Category N cars, whether you can drive them after they’ve been written off and what you should consider before buying one.

When shopping for a used car, you’ll probably come across Category S (Cat S) and Category N (Cat N) cars.
These are both insurance categories given to vehicles when the cost of repairs outweighs what a car is worth. Normally, you’d see ‘write off’ and run in the other direction – but Cat S and Cat N are different. They can be, or already have been, repaired and made roadworthy again. We’ll go into the details below, but in a nutshell: • Cat S refers to structural damage, e.g. the chassis or crumple zones. • Cat N refers to non-structural damage, e.g. bumpers or the engine. If they’ve had the required repairs and are classed as roadworthy, you can drive Cat S and Cat N cars – but always check before you commit to buying. Learn more: • What are write-off insurance categories?How to tell if a car is a write-offWhat’s the difference between Category S and N?What were Category C and D cars? Should I buy a Category S or N car? Are Cat S or Cat N cars more expensive to insure? Free Trader UK’s insurance category checks

What are write-off insurance categories?

A ‘write-off’ is 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 the car’s worth (Cat S and N).
The four insurance write-off categories are: • Category A: cars which should be for scrap only, including salvageable parts. No parts of these cars can re-appear on the road – not even the bits that still technically work. • Category B: cars which have significant damage, though salvageable parts could be used in other vehicles. • Category S: cars which have structural damage that will need professional repair before they are safe to drive. • Category N: cars that may have cosmetic or non-structural faults (like brakes and electrics) that need professional work before they’re safe to drive. Category A and Category B cars are so badly damaged, Free Trader UK 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 is a write-off

The easiest way to tell if a car has been written off is to get a vehicle history check.
This will give you the key information you need, including whether a vehicle has ever been written off, the mileage, the number of previous owners and more. If the vehicle you check is revealed to have been written off (Cat A and B only) or scrapped, we’ll give you another vehicle check for free. Do I need a vehicle history check?

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, Category S cars can be driven after all repairs have been made and the car is deemed safe and roadworthy. After repairs, Cat S cars need to be re-registered with the DVLA before they go back on the roads, so check for this in the paperwork before you buy.

Category N explained

What does Category N mean?
Category N vehicles have suffered non-structural damage – this could be to the brakes, steering, electrics, safety-features, or even just cosmetic damage. Cat N cars 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?
Category N vehicles have suffered non-structural damage – this could be to the brakes, steering, electrics, safety-features, or even just cosmetic damage. Cat N cars 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.
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. We advise you to research thoroughly and with due diligence before committing to buy a used car.

What were Category C and Category D cars?

Category C and Category D cars are no longer used to classify write-offs. Cat S replaced Cat C, and Cat N replaced Cat D in October 2017.
The new Cat S and Cat N categories focus more on the condition of the car rather than the cost of repairing it, according to The Association of British Insurers (ABI). Categories C and D used to be 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. But as cars became more intricate, the repair bills grew and so it was more likely that they’d be written off. This wasn’t sustainable or accurate after a point, so the two new categories were introduced. That said, 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 ok 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?

This will be down to personal preference and the type of damage. If a car has been deemed roadworthy, it should be safe to drive. That said, research thoroughly and consider the following as a minimum:
• Always 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 or Cat N cars, and others won’t cover them at all Remember, as with any car, there’s no guarantee the car will remain roadworthy – it’ll still need servicing and regular MOTs. Find out if the Cat S or N car’s faults are likely to reoccur, and how much they’ll cost to put right if they do. Cat S and Cat N cars can be a lot cheaper to buy than an equivalent non-written off car. Bear in mind, just as it was cheaper to buy in the first place, it’ll be worth less when you come to sell it. Insurers will often sell Cat S and Cat N cars 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.

Do Category S or N cars cost more to insure?

Generally, you’ll pay a higher insurance premium but shop around for quotes and check the contracts before you commit. The final quote will vary depending on the car, your insurance provider, and the level of cover you opt for.
Just note that some providers might not cover Cat S or Cat N cars at all, so ask early on in the process.

Free Trader UK’s insurance category checks

For your peace of mind, we check whether a vehicle is recorded as having been written off whenever a seller advertises a vehicle on our website.
We use details sourced from the Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud and Theft Register (MIAFTR), operated by Insurance Database Services Ltd. This is one of the five standard checks we do on all vehicles advertised on our website. We’ll also investigate whether a car has been stolen, scrapped, imported or exported. We won’t advertise a car if we find it’s been stolen, scrapped or recorded as Category A or B write-off.

Buying with Free Trader UK

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 category as part of our vehicle checks.
Some sellers buy and list a full vehicle check on the vehicles they’ve listed on Free Trader UK. Keep an eye out for these, as they’ll give you summary of the vehicle history including mileage and outstanding finance. Consider getting your own vehicle history check just to be sure the information is accurate and not faked. If you buy your own report with Free Trader UK, you’ll also get data guarantee of up to £30,000 should any information be incorrect.

Search Free Trader UK for...

New carsUsed cars

Other articles related to Handy guides

Related Topics