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Don’t get stung by an insurance write-off

29th October 2010 Print

Vehicle information expert HPI, is joining the BBC’s Watchdog team in urging used car buyers to protect themselves against the threat of purchasing a potential death trap.  Continuing its campaign against the ‘write-off fraudsters’, HPI warns consumers that  the potential number of insurance write-offs being dangerously repaired and returned to UK roads for sale is looking set to rise. Many of these vehicles will have been recommended by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) to be crushed or broken down for spare parts or scrap.  

As reported on last night’s Watchdog, all vehicles that are written off are put in to one of four categories, depending on the level of its condition. The categories include cars that can be repaired and returned to the road, or ones that are recommended to be totally scrapped and never allowed back on the road again.   It is not illegal to repair or return ‘written off for salvage’ vehicles back to the road as long as the seller declares the facts and provides evidence that the car has passed a Vehicle Identity Check (VIC).

However, says HPI, a lack of good quality second hand cars for sale, means unscrupulous sellers are using a variety of ways of conning used car buyers out of their money.  Nicola Johnson, Consumer Services Manager at HPI explains: “Criminals have been capitalising on a shortage of used cars for sale by disguising write-offs as a good buy.  One in twenty five vehicles we check are recorded as insurance write-offs and the insurers are writing off over 500,000 cars a year, which confirms the scale of the risk to buyers.  It’s all to easy to be taken in by shiny paintwork and a low price, but it could be hiding a multitude of faults that haven’t been fixed. Unscrupulous vendors will sell a write-off to make a quick profit but if the vehicle is not properly repaired any price is too high.”

This point was proven all too clearly by the BBC Watchdog team who reported on the case of Jayne Sauntson.  She paid £4000 for a Peugeot, and all seemed fine until she dented it and took it to a body shop to get it fixed. The bodyshop looked the car over and found it had previously been in a serious accident.  "The assessor from the garage called me and he just basically said if you'd had a more severe accident in it you wouldn't have been sat here talking to me today," said Jayne.

An HPI Check will give a used car buyer the complete picture of a vehicle’s history, including revealing if the car has been an insurance write off and if so, which category.   This offers protection from paying good money for a vehicle that is not fit for purpose and a possible safety risk.  Continues Nicola Johnson from HPI:  “A check against HPI’s registers will tell you if the car has ever been written off.  However, we recommend that anyone looking to buy a car that has been declared an insurance write off should seek to have it independently checked by Autolign or Thatcham to ensure that it is in fact road worthy before they part with their cash.”

The ABI Categories of ‘Write off’

Category A Scrap only – i.e. with few or no economically salvageable parts and of value only for scrap metal e.g. total burnouts.  These vehicles should not appear on the road.

Category B Break for spare parts if economically viable.  These vehicles should not reappear on the road.

Category C Repairable total loss vehicles where repair costs exceed the vehicle’s pre-accident value.

Category D Repairable total loss vehicles where repair costs do not exceed the vehicle’s pre-accident value.