Should I buy a Category N car?

Do you love taking chances?
Everyone has a different risk threshold, especially when it comes to making a large purchase. Exactly how comfortable you feel with venturing into the unknown will affect whether you should buy a Category N car or not.
Category N is one of four write-off categories in the UK. All cars that have been written off will have sustained damage, but some can be repaired and put safely back on the road.
Category A and B cars are typically severely damaged and should be sent to scrap, but you might come across repairable models labelled as Category C, D, N, or S.
Write-offs can offer a great deal. If you can save on the purchase price and pay a reasonable price for the repairs, a Category N can be a cost-effective choice. This is especially true if you know a mechanic or have the skills to complete the work yourself. In that case, the potential rewards could outweigh the risks.

Got a specific question in mind? Why not skip ahead:

What does Category N mean?

If a car is classified as Category or Cat N this means it has non-structural damage that might be expensive to repair but can be fixed to make the car roadworthy again.
With non-structural damage, the car should have a frame and chassis in good condition, but there might be problems with its bodywork, lights, electrics, or engine.

Should I buy a Category N car?

Buying a Cat N car can be risky.
You might be able to get a great deal on a car in this category. In fact, some of the models given Cat N status might only have cosmetic damage but, due to their age and low value, they aren’t worth repairing for an insurer. Book it in for a day or two with a talented mechanic and you could be back on the road in no time!
However, others will have incurred more serious damage – and it’s not always obvious. If issues are affecting systems under the bonnet or with the electrics, they might not be immediately noticeable and could emerge later. Getting these problems resolved to a high standard could be costly.
Weigh up the pros and cons before deciding whether to buy a Cat N and be sure to carry out checks. Look over the bodywork, inspect the interior, and take it for a test drive before making an offer. Even if it’s already been repaired, you may want to take it to a mechanic for a second opinion and run a search on an insurance comparison site to get an idea of how much it might cost to insure.

Will a Category N affect insurance?

It can be harder to find insurance for a Cat N car due to the risks involved. While you can get a car in this category repaired and made safe for the road, insurers can’t be sure that it really is as good as new, and problems won’t emerge further down the line.
Unfortunately, this does mean some insurers won’t offer cover to any write-offs while others will charge a higher premium.

What damage will a Category N car have?

All Cat N cars will have experienced non-structural damage so the frame and chassis should be good to go. Instead, you’ll usually find there are issues with the body panels, lights, or electrical systems.
Non-structural damage is a wide spectrum; the car might only have cosmetic issues that can be easily fixed but they could equally have problems that require a large investment of time and money to make them safe.

What are the ‘write-off’ categories?

Curious about the categories? There are four main write-off categories currently used in the UK:

Cat A

These cars are severely damaged and must not be repaired or returned to the road. These cars are usually destined for the scrap heap.

Cat B

Like Cat A, these cars will also be extremely badly damaged and should be crushed, but they might have some usable parts that can be recycled and used again.

Cat S

These are cars that have sustained some structural damage, but if repaired, could be made safe to drive on the road.

Cat N

These cars can also be repaired to be made roadworthy but will have sustained some non-structural damage.

Before 2017, Cat C and Cat D were used instead of Cat S and Cat N. While these categories do overlap with their replacements, the big difference between Cat C and D and Cat S and N is that they focus on repair costs rather than whether the damage is structural. The cost of repairs for Cat C cars will usually be more than the car’s value. Cat D cars can also be repaired but it will cost more than 50% of the vehicle’s value.

Why wouldn't an insurer have a Category N car repaired?

It’s all about cost. When assessing the damage on a Cat N car, the insurer will calculate exactly how much the repairs will cost vs. how much the car was worth before it was involved in an accident.
They’ll take the total cost of repair into account, including how expensive it could be to source parts and how much it might cost to fund a hire car while yours is in with the mechanic.
If the car calculates that these costs are too close to the car’s value, they’ll likely decide it’s not worth the investment and write it off as a Cat N instead.

Is a Category N car safe to drive?

The scale of the damage on a Cat N car can range from purely cosmetic damage to issues with the electronic systems.
Even so, as these aren’t structural problems and haven’t been deemed severe enough to earn the car Cat A or B status, it should be safe to drive once it’s been repaired by a professional mechanic.  
It’s best to find a mechanic you can trust to carry out the work. They should also double-check every part of the car, especially the safety mechanisms, as sometimes hidden problems can emerge later if the safety systems were activated or damaged in the accident.

FAQs about Category N cars

When were the new write-off categories introduced?

In October 2017, the write-off categories were revised to provide more information on the type of damage cars in each category have sustained.
Cat A and B remained the same, but Cat C became Cat S (to show that the car’s sustained structural damage), and Cat D became Cat N (non-structural damage).
However, cars written-off before 2017 didn’t change category so you might still find older cars on the market marked as Cat C or Cat D.

Is it worth buying a Category N car?

Whether a Cat N car is right for you will depend on how comfortable you are with taking a gamble.
You’ll likely be able to pick up a Cat N car cheaply, but the repairs needed could be costly and might eat into any savings you made on its purchase price. It’ll also likely cost you more to insure a Cat N car than an undamaged model.
However, if you’ve trained as a mechanic – or have a friend or family member that can make professional level repairs for less – you might be able to save on repair costs.
Once repaired, your Cat N car should be completely safe to drive, but that doesn’t mean that new or related problems won’t emerge in the future. There are a lot of unknowns involved, but if you love the idea of a challenge, a Cat N might be worth the risk. 

Can a Category N status be removed?

Once a car has been written off and placed in Cat N, it will retain that status no matter what. Its write-off status won’t be removed even if you’ve invested time and money in fixing any issues and making it roadworthy. Once it’s Cat N, it’ll always be Cat N.

Is it illegal to sell a Cat N car?

You won’t be breaking any laws if you put a Cat N car up for sale, but you must be upfront in your adverts and when dealing with any potential buyers. As the car may need investment and write-offs aren’t as popular on the used market, you might not get a great price for it. Buyers can be reluctant to buy Cat N cars that have been repaired, just in case there are hidden issues that might emerge further down the road and due to the high insurance costs.