Price too good to be true? The value of a vehicle history check

When looking to purchase a new car, there are a whole host of factors that people consider. As well as the cost, make and model of the car, there are the cosmetics and the vehicle's age to consider too. But perhaps the most important factor to consider is the vehicle's history.

The value of a vehicle history check

One of the big mistakes that people make when purchasing a car is to judge the vehicle on how it looks and how it drives on a test drive. When people buy a car through Zuto, we always do a full history check on each vehicle because this is crucial to help ensure that there are no nasty surprises down the line. Things that a vehicle history check may contain:

● The number of owners - One owner may suggest that the car has been reliable whereas several owners (especially for a reasonably new car) may suggest that there may have been problems with this car which has led to people offloading it quickly.

● The type of owners - The vehicle history check may also reveal the type of owner. For example, it may reveal that the car was used as a taxi, which could account for a high mileage on the car. However, it may also be seen as a positive as cars that have been used for professional purposes are often carefully serviced and maintained.

● MOT history - Vehicle history checks show a full MOT history, including any advisories. This can help a buyer decide if a car has been well looked after or not and predict any future repairs that may be necessary.

● Is the car on finance? - If so, if you were to purchase the vehicle, you wouldn’t actually own it, the finance company would, and if the previous owner did not keep up with repayments, the car could be removed from you.

The most important thing to look out for however is whether the vehicle has been involved in an accident. If it has, the vehicle history check will assign it one of four codes. For many years, the codes used were Category A, Category B, Category C and Category D. However, these have recently changed to Category A, Category B, Category S and Category N. Whilst the new categories are in use from October 2017, there may be some sellers who still talk in terms of the old system so we will take a look at both illustrate that whilst they are largely the same, there are a couple of key differences.

The previous write-off classifications

Before October 2017, cars that had been involved in an accident were classified as follows:

Category A

Cars classed as Category A are classed as a total loss with no retrievable parts. This could be a car that has been on fire for example, leaving only the shell and is completely beyond repair. Category A cars cannot go back on the road.

Category B

Category B cars are vehicles that have suffered structural damage and the repair costs exceed the market value, or they are vehicles that have suffered flood damage and have been immersed in effluent or contaminated water. Category B cars cannot go back on the road.

Category C

Category C vehicles that have significant damage and are those where the estimated cost to repair the vehicle is more than its market value. Category C cars can go back on the road.

Category D

Category D vehicles are those vehicles that have generally suffered nothing more than light damage, but the financial costs are estimated to be more than the market value of the car. Category C cars can go back on the road.

These classifications have been in place in the UK for a number of years and many people are familiar with them. However, the classifications are changing and it is important that potential car buyers understand the new categories so that they can make an informed choice and ensure that they do not make and expensive mistake.

The new write-off categories (from October 2017)

Under the new write-off categories, Category A and Category B classifications are largely the same, but Category C and Category D have been replaced by Category S and Category N.

Category A (scrap cars)

Category A cars are cars that are so badly damaged they cannot be repaired. They can only be crushed for scrap.

Category B (break cars)

Category B cars are still very badly damaged and are beyond repair. However, unlike Category A cars, their parts can be salvaged and recycled if their in good enough condition.

Category S (structural cars)

Cars in Category S have sustained damage to their structure, but they can be repaired and re-sold.

Category N (non-structural cars)

Similar to the old Category D classification, these cars have sustained damage, but not to its structural frame. Even though Category N cars haven’t had their core safety structures damaged, there may still be safety critical parts such as steering components and suspension that will need replacing.

Why is it changing?

The main reason behind the change is that the previous categories are not really fit for purpose for more modern cars. As modern cars are becoming increasingly more complex to repair, the increase of the use of electronics (which are expensive) can easily make a vehicle uneconomical to repair. According to the Association of British Insurers, the new code will make the UK’s roads safer. Ben Howarth, Senior Policy Adviser for Motor and Liability at the ABI, says:

“The salvage code is a great example of the insurance industry working together for the good of the general public. It’s important the code moves with the times, and this update takes account of two years of consultation and extensive technical scrutiny from Thatcham Research. The changes are focused on making the UK’s roads safer, and ensuring that consumers have transparency about the history of vehicles they are considering buying.”

Is it safe to buy a car that has been in an accident?

We understand that it is tempting to consider buying a Category S or Category N write-off when you see some of the prices that they are going for. Sometimes being sold for up to 50% off list value, there’s no doubt that you get a lot of car for your money. However, you also need to ensure that you fully understand the implications of such a purchase. Even cars that have no structural damage to them can have issues with other parts that could compromise you and your family’s safety such as the suspension and steering.

The solution?

If at all in doubt, get a full vehicle history and valuation check, free of charge with Zuto. This will give you all the information that you need to ensure that you can make an informed choice about the car in question. We offer this free of charge for any vehicle you’re looking at.

Why not see what your monthly repayments could be for your new car with our monthly budget calculator.

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