Buying a Used Car: Can Insurers Miss Write-Off Histories?

April 21, 2023 by Zoe Hicks – 3 mins read

It makes sense to check a vehicle for markers and avoid the pitfalls of buying an insurance write-off or even a stolen car. Running a MIAFTR check through Motorscan’s premium car history check does just that, and whilst it may not be foolproof because of an ill-conceived loophole, it remains the most highly effective tool to avoid car fraud!

Discovering beforehand that the car you’re about to buy may be a write-off is undoubtedly advantageous. Indeed, the Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud Theft Register (MIAFTR) is vital for this very issue and for spotting stolen vehicles. Insurance companies collate and record details of cars that are written off under insurance, recording the data with the MIAFTR. However, the scheme unhelpfully remains voluntary, so Motorscan has been looking into the possibility of written-off cars not making it onto the register and how this may affect those looking to buy a used car.

What is a car write off?

Usually, a vehicle is written off (treated as a total loss) when the repair costs are higher than the car’s market value. The vehicle’s insurance provider will assess the damage, calculate the repair costs and decide whether it’s economical to proceed. If not, the insurer will write the vehicle off.

How can an insurer miss a car write off history?

Thanks to an irresponsible loophole, the MIAFTR is an entirely voluntary scheme insurance companies sign up to, meaning not all of the 200 or so UK insurers are registered. Effectively, this means vehicle write-offs are missing from the register. Similarly, delays and errors in uploading the data to the MIAFTR result in write-offs not always recording.

What are the consequences of an insurer missing a car write off history?

Insurers have no legal obligations to register with the MIAFTR scheme, so they suffer no consequences if vehicle write-offs are missing. However, the industry loophole does allow fraud to increase within the motor industry, with vehicles with repaired damage potentially appearing on dealer forecourts without consumers being aware the car has undergone what could be significant repairs.

How can you check if your car has been written off?

Whilst the MIAFTR isn’t foolproof, thankfully, over 95% of insurance companies subscribe to the scheme, and it remains a vital tool in helping prevent fraud. You can perform a MIAFTR check through Motorscan’s premium car check service, which reports this data as well as checking for any outstanding finance, plate changes, previous owners, salvage status and if the vehicle is an ex-police, NHS, fire or taxi. Check out our sample report for further details.

What to do if you discover your car has been written off?

Firstly don’t panic. Motorscan’s premium car check report should provide further details, including where the damage occurred on the vehicle and what write-off category it was assigned. Indeed, not all cars written off are unroadworthy, and in many cases, the insurers simply decide it’s too costly to repair, choosing to write the car off instead. Of course, if you diligently check before making the purchase, you may want to consider looking for an alternative vehicle. Insurance write-off categories are as follows:

Write-off Category meaning:
  • Category A – Scrap only; cars damaged beyond repair and should be crushed, never to be driven again and includes any salvageable parts that must also be destroyed.
  • Category B – Car body shell should be crushed, signifying extensive damage and shouldn’t be driven again. Some parts are salvageable for reclaiming for use in other vehicles.
  • Category S – Car suffered structural damage and is more than just cosmetic; and too costly to repair. The vehicle is unsafe to drive until professionally repaired.
  • Category N – Vehicles categorised here have incurred non-structural damage, which may simply be cosmetic or electrical. However, non-structural can also include steering, brakes and other safety-related parts, so you shouldn’t assume category N vehicles are driveable.

How can you avoid buying a car that has been written off?

The easiest and quickest way to prevent yourself from buying an insurance write-off is to perform a MIAFTR check through Motorscan’s premium car history check service. Our rigorous premium check scans the MIAFTR register, alerting you to any markers indicating the vehicle is written off or is subject to theft. It also checks that the car hasn’t appeared in a salvage auction and provides an abundance of other vital data to give you a clear overall history of the vehicle you’re about to buy.

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