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Crash Course in Your Accident Alphabet

Crash Course in Your Accident Alphabet

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The new Salvage Code is designed to better describe what state a vehicle's in after an accident; motoring journalist, John Swift, takes a look at what they mean and what you need to look out for when buying a used car.

What do the Salvage Code letters mean when you're looking at a used car?

There are four categories, grsded by the seriousness of the damage:

  • A (Scrap) - must be crushed
  • B (Break) - must be crushed
  • S (Repairable Structural) - has structural damage, but can be repaired
  • N (Repairable Non-Structural) - has no structural damage and can be repaired

How do I know if a car's been damaged in an accident?

Since last October it’s much easier for you to know if a used car or van you’re interested in buying has been damaged, and if so how badly, because that was when a new Salvage Code for describing crashed or bent vehicles took effect.

In a nutshell, it puts the emphasis purely on the condition of a vehicle whereas before it was more on the cost of repair. Previously, a write off was one that was not economically viable to put right; now it refers to one not fit to be on the road.

Or as a spokesman for Thatcham Research, the insurance industry’s engineering and legislative centre, put it: “Central to the updated version is the reclassification of repairable salvaged vehicles, shifting focus from commercial considerations such as repair costs and Pre-Accident Value (PAV), to an assessment of the ‘Structural’ and ‘Non-Structural’ damage to the vehicle.”

Contact Swansway Accident Repair Centre

Dented door and rear panel on grey car


Salvage Code Categories

There are four categories, or grades of seriousness, and they are: 

  • A (Scrap)
  • B (Break)
  • S (Repairable Structural)
  • N (Repairable Non-Structural)

What were previously Categories C and D have been replaced with Categories S (Repairable Structural) and N (Repairable Non-Structural). Vehicles will now gain a Category N classification, where the cost of repair exceeds the vehicle’s value but there is no structural damage.

Also, and for the first time, vehicles which have some structural damage will now gain an ‘S’ identifier on the V5C Vehicle Registration certificate, telling potential buyers whether a vehicle has been salvaged. The full text reads:  This vehicle has been salvaged due to structural damage but following a technical evaluation declared suitable for repair.

The new Code is very good news for all of us and gives us a much more accurate picture of what we might be buying. It has come about after work from the insurers, the vehicle repair sector and police and reflects the vastly increased complexity of modern cars and the inter-connectedness of the various components – mainly the safety ones – which push up the cost of a repair but, by replacing the damaged components, can be made as good as new.

Light blue dented corner of a bumper

For example, let’s look at what the vehicle repair and the insurance industries call the ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems). Whereas before a simple car park bump could have broken the plastic front bumper nowadays that unit will probably have anti- collision and parking assistance sensors. 

Headlamps have complex bulbs which automatically switch on or off depending on the light and windscreens have cameras mounted in them measuring the gap to the car ahead to activate the AEB (Automatic Emergency Braking). These and many more systems are all adding to the cost of fixing a car.

Fitting an ADAS camera to a windscreen can have a big impact on the repair cost. For example, a new one for a Ford Focus with ADAS can increase by 123%, when estimated calibration costs are factored in, and by 78% for VW Golf.

Those with even relatively minor damage are expensive to repair. The average bill to repair a car after a bump has rocketed by almost one third in the past few years to around £1,750 and under the old classification could have been scrapped, when just by replacing a part they can be as good as new.

Dark blue dented car door

Another factor is not so much the components but the very materials cars are made of. In the pursuit of getting better fuel economy and lower emissions, manufacturers are looking at using smaller engines, but to deliver the same performance customers want they have to make the cars lighter so heavy steel is increasingly being replaced by lighter aluminium or CFRP, carbon fibre reinforced plastic.

These do make a car lighter, but are a lot more expensive to work with after a bump so it’s often cheaper to replace than repair.

The Thatcham spokesman said: “The rising use of a mix of new materials in modern cars is leading to more intrusive repairs. This means that where we were once able to partially replace a panel, we now need to replace it in its entirety. This is especially true of aluminium panels, which are challenging the repair industry as it is stiffer and harder to reshape than steel.”

Again, this just underlines how out-of-date the old system of classifying cars by their repair cost rather than damage was and how misleading it was to consumers.

The new Salvage Code gives us a more meaningful picture of the damage to a vehicle and is based on its condition, not the cost to repair it.


Salvage categories explained:

Cat A: Scrap – don’t even go near one. The vehicle has been so badly damaged it can only be sent to the crusher.

Cat B: Break – too badly damaged to be repaired for road use but it can be used for spare parts, before crushing.

Cat S: Repairable structural – the chassis or some part of the structural fame has been damaged and the insurer or owner doesn’t think it’s worth repairing but you may do.

Cat N: Repairable non-structural – similar to the above but with even less expense to put it back to a roadworthy condition. Bear in mind that the words `non-structural’ does not mean all the safety critical parts are good. It may need new suspension, steering or brake parts.


Contact Swansway Accident Repair Centre Easy Guide to Buying a Car