Can you 'buy' back a car that has been written off?

My insurer has said it is not economical to repair my car. Should I buy it back from them?

This is one of the most common questions we get asked. But how do you buy back a vehicle you already own? 

Retaining a Cat D is extremely foolish. You are being conned by your insurer. Here's why. Imagine the repair costs on your £10000 car are £8500. Your insurer advises you that the car is a Cat D total loss, but you can retain the vehicle for £3000.

This means you get £7000, plus your car back unrepaired. But it now has the stigma of being a Cat D. And the market value is around 20 percent less than it would be without.

We already know it is going to cost £8500 to repair your car, so even using second hand parts you would struggle to repair for £7000 you received. Once you have spent your £7000 your car is now only worth £8000.

Contrary to what every insurer and pretty much anyone you speak to will tell you, yes you can retain a Cat B total loss.

Had you asked for a cash in lieu settlement, you would have received the £8500 and still have a vehicle that is not a total loss. In other words you would be at least £2000 better off.

Insurers do no like providing a cash settlement at higher figures. They prefer to reduce the risk of fraud and they have the contractual right to offer to repair. You can also insist on the vehicle being repaired.

In both situations, your car has been (or should be) repaired to manufacturer standards. So it should stil be worth approximately what it was prior to the accident.

Do not forget, read your contract of insurance. It will state you are indemnified up to the market value. The insurer only has the right to retain the vehicle when they have bought the vehicle off you. Up to that point the vehicle is always yours.

What about retaining a Category C total loss?

This is where the repair costs exceed the market value. So the vehicle when repaired will be worth approximately 20 to 30 percent less than a vehicle without this history. This seriously needs to be considered.

>> What is an uninsured loss?

If the vehicle has any structural damage, walk away. Unless you are a professional commercial repairer or have access to one, we would not contemplate retaining. The only time it makes sense to retain a Cat C vehicle is if there is cosmetic damage, or when the panels damaged are 'hang on' panels such as front wings, bumpers and doors.

Can you keep a Category B loss?

Contrary to what every insurer and pretty much anyone you speak to will tell you, yes you can retain a Cat B total loss. The question again though is why?

These vehicles can never go back on the road. You will not be able to obtain a V5C and you will never be able to tax or insure it.

The only time we would suggest retaining a Cat B is if you either have a classic vehicle - and the parts are extremely rare and hard to come by - or you have a modified vehicle and wish to retain the parts you have fitted.

>> What's the difference between a Cat C and Cat D write off?

This could be on anything, from a vehicle with engine and suspension modifications, to a van that has been converted into a camper. There is a possible third - retaining a flood damaged vehicle and converting it into a track or off road vehicle.

You may find the insurer will request a certificate of destruction of the shell of the vehicle, once all the items required have been stripped.

What must be remembered is the Code of Practice for the disposal of salvage is just that. It is not lawful and is not under an Act of Parliament. This means it cannot be enforced on a consumer. 

This is why it needs to change. At the moment anyone can get their hands on any salvage. As a consequence, a vehicle that has a category loss against it can be on the road but not repaired safely. Insurers need to stop profiteering by selling salvage as "constructive total losses" and repair them correctly.

>> Your complete guide to motor insurance


Phillip Ellis    on 19 June 2017

Problem with costs of repairs is that they are too high by so called approved repairers. Quite likely a repair cost of £8500 can be a lot cheaper at a small repairer.
I recently damaged my rear bumper and cost would have been in excess of £200 but I had it done for £90.
If only we could go back to getting two or three quotes ourselves we would save hugely on insurance costs.

motorclaimguru    on 19 June 2017

I would disagree completely.If you had your rear bumper repaired for £90, it will have been a bumper scuff, and the smart repairer will have carried out a local repair, he will not have painted or lacquered the full bumper.
This is a non-compliant repair, as the lacquer, if the whole panel has not been painted it will peel off and react in the future.

Insurer approved repairers are the cheapest you will find, they work on volume and work on disproportionately low rates on the basis of guaranteed work.

If a repair is "cheaper" is it better?
There are a lot of brilliant small repairer's out there, but there are also a lot that do not follow manufacturer's methods to repair your car. The same can also be said with insurer "approved" repairers as they often take short cuts due to the extremely low rates they get paid.

If your making a claim on your insurance, make sure "indemnity" is provided, and our vehicle is re-instated to it's pre-accident conditions using manufacturer methods.

Repair cost should actually be double what they are,the power of insurance companies contracts have negotiated rates that are not sustainable for the future of the repair industry. There was 20,000 repairers in the UK according to the Association of Bodyshop Professionals 20 years ago, due to these suppressed rates and lack of profit, there are less than 3000 now.

Amateur Torque    on 21 June 2017

Hi Motorclaimguru,

When you say "If your making a claim on your insurance, make sure "indemnity" is provided", what do you mean? In lamens terms please.

motorclaimguru    on 23 June 2017


"indemnity" is being put back in the situation you were in (either by way of money or repair)prior to the loss (accident) occurring. It basically means "cover your loss".

Kind regards


Wantok    on 26 June 2017

Is it not better to avoid the car being written off by cancelling your claim?

thats what I did - and I had the car repaired for much more reasonable costs using used panels etc. I obtained a fresh MOT and 7 years later the car continues to be a joy to drive.

   on 23 May 2018

Can someone please advise, I just bought a written off car. It was fully acknowledged but the previous owner had only handed one key to the insurance company/repairer. She is now demanding £150 for the spare key. Any advice? Is she supposed to hand over the spare key to insurance company?

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