How to check if a car has been in an accident or written off?

By Leanne Winters - Published: 17 February 2021

The terms ‘accident’ and ‘written off’ can sometimes be used in a similar way to describe the status of a car. But it’s important to understand what each term is referring to, especially if you’re looking to buy a used car. Below, we explain in detail the difference between the two. Further down in the article, we give you the top signs to look out for when shopping for a used car to avoid buying a car that may need work on it if it has been in an accident or is written off.

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

While buying a car that has been in an accident isn’t always a bad idea, it’s important to find this out before you hand over your cash. With around 330 car accidents happening every day in the UK, it might not be uncommon to come across a used car for sale that has been in an accident. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the car you’ve run a vehicle check on isn’t safe to drive on the road in its current state, but it does give you an indication of how the car has been treated in the past. Unlike cars that have been written off, cars that have been in an accident can still be roadworthy when they have been repaired.

Depending on the damage the accident has had on the car, if it hasn’t been written off, which you can find out in our written off car checker, then chances are that the vehicle may just have a few dents, bumper damage, and paint scratches. That’s not to say you shouldn’t buy a used car that has been in an accident without caution, as some dealers may not be honest about the true status of the car. See further down in our article for the top signs to look out for on damaged cars.

Should I buy a written-off car?

Firstly, let’s explain what a write-off is. An insurance write-off is a term used by car insurers to specify that the car is no longer roadworthy or is beyond the point of repair from a financial perspective. Additionally, not all car write-offs are treated equally either. A car that has been written-off is evaluated and put into one of four categories to determine the car’s future, which can also determine whether or not you want to buy a car that has been written off. The four categories are:

A - The vehicle must be crushed without any parts removed from it, as it cannot be recycled or repaired at all.

B - The vehicle parts can be removed to be recycled, however, the rest of the car cannot be repaired.

S - (Previously category C) - The insurer has decided to write off the car and not to be repaired. However, the vehicle is repairable but was impacted by damage to the frame or the chassis.

N - (Previously category D) - The vehicle didn’t take damage to the frame or the chassis, however, the insurer has decided to repair the car and has written it off. The vehicle can be repaired, however, it’s important to note that safety features will need to be examined and repaired in order to be roadworthy again.

Our written-off car check report can run any car registration plate to find out if the car you want to buy falls into any of these categories.

Indications to look out for when buying a used car:

  1. Ask the owner

    Always have a good and honest conversation with the owner or seller when buying a used car. It’s best to still be cautious even if the seller confirms that the car is in excellent or good condition.

  2. Checking the history

    After speaking with the owner of the vehicle, it’s best to run your own check on the used car you wish to purchase. The most convenient and safe way to do this is by using our instant written-off checker report, which will confirm if the car has been written off by an insurer. It will also confirm the category it falls under.

  3. Examine the bumper

    When you are checking a used car for accidental damage, a good indication of evidence is by checking the bumper. Sometimes, even when a car gets repaired, the bumper may have been overlooked when the owner took it for repair. If you find any signs of damage on the bumper, there’s a chance that the car may have been in an accident. You should ask the owner at the time of examination. Alternatively, if the car bumper looks newer than the body of the car, this might indicate that the car was in an accident and has been repaired to look in good condition, when in fact there may be internal damage you can’t see.

  4. Look for gaps in the panels

    It’s not just the bumper that gives the telltale signs of a car accident. Scan the used car you’re looking to buy with a close eye, especially when it comes to the bodyline of the vehicle. Check if the door or panel has a gap, which is a sign of the car being in an accident. Also, be wary of any irregular design flow on the panels as this might mean that the car was not repaired accurately.

  5. Check the paintwork

    Checking the paintwork on the used car you want to buy may sound obvious, but it’s not just the scratches you need to look out for. Examine the car with careful detail to see if the car has ever been re-painted or part painted to hide scuffs and damage. Always make sure to view a car in the day, and if possible, while the sun is shining, as you will be able to notice an uneven paint job to cover up accident marks. Furthermore, repainted car bodies may be an indication of the buyer trying to hide internal damages by selling you a shiny-looking car to appear more new.

  6. Check the windshield

    Inspecting the windshield on a used car for cracks is a clear indication of accidental damage to the car and will also reveal the carelessness of the upkeep of the car overall. If you notice any cracks in the car windows, always ask the seller for more information on how and when it happened. Additionally, if there are no cracks on the windows, examine the windshields serial number stamped on the glass and compare it with the other glasses on the car to see if they match. This will give you an indication of whether or not the windows have been changed, which could be down to accidental damage.

  7. Check the engine bay

    Lastly, checking the engine bay will help you learn more about the car and whether or not it is roadworthy. Bear in mind how you’ve examined the body of the car and see how the engine bay reflects that. If the engine bay is sparkling clean, while the car body shows issues, this could be a suspicious indication of a car that has been in an accident. It could mean that the buyer is trying to lure you in with a new-looking engine to make you think that the car runs smoothly and safely.

We hope these top signs on how to check if a car has been in an accident or written off has helped. For a comprehensive full car report, including a written-off check enter the registration number here.