If you are like me, then you will have been perusing the internet at some point for cheap motorcycles to see what bargains you can find.
Often I come across beat up sportsbikes that are Cat S or N, and I end up hovering over the ‘buy now’ button for way too long.
It took a while for me to wrap my head around insurance write-off categories to get clued up on what was a good and worthwhile buy.
You may have also been in the unfortunate situation of writing off your bike and wondered whether it was worth keeping hold of it and repairing yourself.
Well, I have pulled all the information you need to help you navigate the world of insurance write-offs; knowledge is key, after all.
Let’s get started.
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The old A, B, C and D categories have been replaced with the following new classifications:
Scrap only. Unfortunately, a Cat A write-off means that the bike is too dangerous to be returned to the road and must be destroyed; it will need to be crushed.
Break for parts. The ‘B’ classification is for motorcycles too dangerous to be put back on the road. However, salvageable parts can be removed and sold on before the bike is destroyed.
Category S (previously Cat C)
Structurally damaged but repairable. This category is for bikes that have suffered enough damage that the insurer had deemed it to be not economical to repair by their own mechanics. The bike must be professionally repaired before being deemed safe for the road.
Category N (previously Cat D)
Not structurally damaged, repairable. The ‘N’ category is typically applied to bikes that have suffered cosmetic damage to things like sportsbike panels or damage to components like steering locks.
Some insurance companies will still refuse to pay out if parts are difficult to find, as with many classic bikes. Providing the bike is repaired properly, it will be legal to use again on the road.
Why Did Insurance write-off Categories Change?
From October 2017, insurance write-off categories were changed and updated to make the system easier to understand.
The purpose was to prevent people from using loopholes to get bikes back on the road that was un-roadworthy and unsafe.
It was also updated to allow riders to have a chance to get their bikes back to fix them up to be in a road-worthy and legal condition.
The fact is, with ABS, Traction Control etc., trickling down to even the cheapest, most basic motorcycles as opposed to being reserved for just high-end Ducati’s and the like, repairing the bikes has simply become too costly for insurers to deal with.
Insurers authorised mechanics are generally required to use new OEM parts, even down to specific nuts and bolts, so repair is unnecessarily expensive.
Therefore, insurers are more likely to write off a bike once the cost of the repairs is more than half of the bike’s value.
Given the chance, smaller garages and home mechanics can usually repair the damaged motorcycle at a fraction of the cost.
So, you may have noticed a steady stream of cheap bikes on the market that are fairly easy and inexpensive to repair, as owners choose to keep their bikes and sell them on.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) changed the category codes to ensure the emphasis is on the type of damage on the write-off motorcycle instead of the cost of repair.
Hopefully, this has helped to negate unsafe vehicles being bought back and put back on the road and equally allowed owners to salvage their two-wheeled best friend from being crushed unnecessarily.
Buying an insurance write-off
So, you have found the bargain of the century, and you have the cash ready, then you spot it right at the end of the listing “please note this bike is a Cat S” (or Cat N).
Now what do you do? Your heart sinks. Is it worth the risk?
Before you decide to wallow in self-pity, here is what you need to know.
There is no guarantee with any used bike that it has not been involved in an accident.
Unfortunately, some owners do not declare an accident to their insurer, repair the bike (to an unknown standard) and get it back on the road.
The best way to avoid buying a bike that may have potentially dangerous structural damage; is to ensure you get a mechanic to look at the used bike before purchase.
Now for the bikes that are declared Cat S or N, the best way to check the motorcycle has been fixed to a professional and safe standard is to ask for a paper trail.
Ideally, an owner will have kept their receipts/invoices, which will prove the work was done and by which garage/mechanic so you can check them out.
Most insurers will require an MOT to prove the motorcycle is road-legal before they insure it, so it is best to get this done before purchase or as part of the deal.
An MOT won’t necessarily quality check the work, but the bike will be checked to ensure it is reasonably safe for the road.
Ask questions. Whether buying from a private seller or a dealer, ask them about the damage the bike has obtained, how it happened, what was replaced, what was fixed, etc.
You should be able to gauge how honest the seller is if you probe a little.
If what the seller says matches with the paper trail, then you should be good to go.
Is it a good idea to buy a write-off?
It depends on what you are setting out to achieve by doing so.
If you are looking for a motorcycle that you plan to ride and save some money from buying new, then providing you follow the above advice and check everything out thoroughly, you can’t go wrong.
Whereas, if you like to chop and change bikes regularly, you need to be conscious that once a bike has that ‘Cat’ label attached to it, resale value doesn’t increase even with quality repairs.
If a buyer does a HPI check, it will get flagged up in the bike’s history, so it is best not to conceal the information.
If you have found yourself a bargain that has been labelled Cat S or N and hasn’t had the repairs done, but you are handy with a spanner and don’t mind getting stuck in, then go for it.
It is best to only do this as a project for yourself and bear in mind that you are unlikely to turn any profit when it comes to resale.
It is also worth noting that just because an insurer has written off a motorcycle with it being too costly to repair, it doesn’t always mean that it will be cheaper to do it yourself or get your garage on it.
You need to know what you are getting yourself into. A simple oil leak might not be so simple, a split crankcase might lead to a whole rebuild, and a cracked fairing might just be the surface damage hiding what is underneath.
One problem can lead to another, and you need to know how much parts cost.
You shouldn’t have issues sourcing parts if you are going after something pretty standard like a Honda CBR.
However, if you have found a bargain MV Agusta F4 that some poor soul dropped on the track, you need to brace yourself for the time it will take to source parts, the cost of them and finding a competent mechanic. At which point, it may not be worth it at all.
The honest answer is that buying a write-off can be a brilliant idea and a terrible idea at the same time. It is all about your intention for the bike and whether you do thorough investigations before purchase.
Can Cat N write-offs be insured?
You have found the bike, done the checks and are ready to hand over the money; the last question on your mind is can I get this bike insured?
Both Cat S and N write-offs can be insured.
This is provided the damage has been repaired, and the motorcycle is road-worthy. An insurer will usually ask for an MOT to prove its road-safe. However, it is quite common for them to also ask for an engineers report, particularly if the damage was structural.
Provided everything is as it should be, you will be able to get the bike insured.
Be warned that insurance on a bike that has been written off will be more expensive, and this will need to be accounted for in your initial calculations about whether the bike is financially viable.
Some insurers will flat out refuse to insure a bike that has received even the slightest cosmetic damage, so also be prepared to switch providers.
There you have it, everything you need to know about motorcycle insurance write-off categories.
As with all used bikes, employ your common sense, do your standard checks, go into more depth, and do the maths to ensure it makes sense as a purchase; after that, go for it.
I have never written off my bike, thankfully, but I did write off my old BMW, and to say I was gutted was an understatement; I managed to get it back off the insurer and get it back to road-worthy status. It was costly and ridiculous, but the Beemer was sentimental.
Knowing your stuff will mean that if you hold your bike to a higher value than just financial, you can keep hold of your two wheels and breathe new life into it again.
Unfortunately, I wrote the same Beemer off a second time. Don’t do that.