Ask the Expert: What's the risk in buying a category S write-off?

The Fiat 500 Abarth – worth buying, even as a write-off?
The Fiat 500 Abarth – worth buying, even as a write-off?

Dear Alex,

I have found a Fiat 500 Abarth for sale that ticks all the boxes for me, however it is registered as a Cat S and priced accordingly. The private seller appears open about the repair. But I have doubts, and wonder what I can do to assess my risk. What do you suggest?
– ML

Dear ML,

Write-offs are always difficult to advise on, because their suitability depends on the quality of the repair.

That said, I don’t think written-off cars are to be avoided at all costs. In fact, a Category S (structural) or Category N (non-structural) write-off that’s been repaired well can be a good buy, because it’ll obviously be cheaper than one that hasn’t been crashed.

There are a couple of things to do here. Firstly, if you haven’t already got pictures of the damage, see if you can find some on

This site doesn’t only pull up vehicle data discrepancies like any other check – it also checks to see if the car’s ever been listed for sale for salvage. If it has, you should be able to find some pictures of it in its crashed state, which might allow you to double-check how honest the owner is being about the damage.

The next thing is to get the car ­independently inspected. An AA or RAC inspection should pick up any problems, especially if you inform them when you book the inspection that the car is a write-off and let them know where the damage was, so that they can be on the look-out. The RAC even offers a specific post-accident inspection, which ensures the repairs made to the vehicle meet the manufacturer standard.

If the seller is honest, they’ll have no problem consenting to an ­inspection. And if the car passes ­muster, you should be able to buy with peace of mind.

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