What happens when your car is written-off?

If your car is written-off, your car insurance is likely to pay you its market value — but in some cases, you can keep the car.

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If you've been in a car accident and your car is seriously damaged, it may be written off by your insurance provider. Rather than getting your car back, you'll get an insurance pay-out for the market or agreed value of the car. In some cases though, you can request to keep your vehicle if it's deemed a repairable write-off.

Car written off meaning

If you are told that your car has been written off, it means it is unsafe or uneconomical to repair and is de-registered. The car's details are entered into the written-off vehicle register in your state or territory. There are two ways in which your car can be written off:

  • A statutory write-off: This is when your car will never be safe to drive again, regardless of how much repair work was to go into it. This means it can't be registered again.
  • A repairable write-off: This is when the cost of repairs exceeds the sum insured. Ordinarily, your insurer will keep the vehicle and pay you the car's agreed or market value.

What happens when a car is written off by an insurance company?

Once a car has been written off, its details are recorded in the written-off vehicle register. If you choose to accept your insurer's decision, you will receive a payout based on the car's market value. When determining this amount, insurers consider the following:

  • Its listed value and other current sales of the same model
  • The pre-accident condition of your vehicle
  • The distance on the odometer

However, your payout may also be smaller than you would expect because most car insurance policies allow insurers to reduce the amount payable by deducting:

  • The excess payable on each claim
  • Your car insurance premiums for the rest of the year
  • The unused portion of your registration and CTP insurance. You can recover your remaining rego value from your state's roads and transport authority, and your unused CTP from your CTP insurer

If you're unhappy about your car being written off, you have two options:

  • If the car is a repairable write-off, you can apply to the roads and transport authority in your state or territory to have the car repaired and re-registered.
  • If you think the car can be repaired economically, you can challenge the insurer's decision.

How to check if your car has been written off

If you have recently been involved in an accident and you want to know if your car has been written off, call your insurer and ask them if they have assessed your vehicle yet. Depending on your insurer and the extent of the damage, it may take some time for a mechanic to assess the damage to your car.

You can also use the Written-Off Vehicle Register (WOVR). The register is designed to provide protection for all road users by helping them avoid buying cars that have had substantial repairs, or that have been stolen and illegally rebirthed. Rebirthing occurs when the identifying parts of a wrecked car are transferred to a stolen car, allowing criminals to sell the stolen car with another vehicle's identity.

If my car is written off can I keep it?

Yes. You can make a request to your insurer to allow you to keep a repairable write-off. In this case, you will receive the sum insured less any salvage value. Bear in mind then that you won't receive as much but it may be important to you if the car has some sentimental value.

However, not all repairable write-offs can be legally re-registered. Check with your insurer then before applying to keep a badly damaged vehicle.

Re-registering your car also depends on the state or territory you live in. For example, in Queensland your car can only be re-registered if they've been fully repaired and have passed a Queensland safety inspection and a written-off vehicle inspection.

However, in New South Wales, written-off vehicles cannot be re-registered except in very limited circumstances. To be re-registered in NSW, your car must not have any non-repairable damage, and must also fit into one of the following categories:

  • The car was hail damaged, and you were the registered operator for more than 28 days before the damage occurred.
  • The vehicle was inherited from a will or letters of administration.
  • It was registered in your name for more than 28 days before the damage occurred.

How long will it take for my claim to be processed?

Your car insurance provider should adhere to the General Insurance Code of Practice, which means they must respond to your claim within 10 business days of receiving your claim. This usually gives them enough time to assess the information you have provided and tell you whether they will accept your claim or not. If they need more information, they will let you know within the 10 business day period.

In some cases, the insurer will appoint an investigator if they need more information. In these cases, they should let you know how much longer they expect to take before coming to a decision. It should also keep you up to date about the progress of your claim every 20 business days.

What happens if a financed car is written off?

If there's still finance owing on your car when it is deemed a total loss, the insurer is obligated to pay the financier any outstanding amount. However, in some cases there may be a shortfall between the amount paid out by your insurer and the finance amount owing, which is where motor equity insurance can help. This is designed to pay the financier the outstanding loan amount when your comprehensive car insurer's total loss payout is insufficient to pay out your loan contract.

Can I challenge a write-off?

If the insurer decides that your vehicle is uneconomical to repair and declares it a write-off, you may disagree with the cost quoted to repair your vehicle or your car's salvage value. If this happens you can dispute their assessment, but you only have a very short window in which to do so.

Insurers must notify the written-off vehicle register within seven days of declaring a car a write-off. Once they've notified the register it's usually extremely difficult to get them to change their mind.

If you do decide to challenge a repairable write-off assessment and push for your insurer to repair the car, you'll need to gather evidence that shows the cost of repairs or salvage value are cheaper than the market value of your car. You should gather together the following:

  • Quotes from smash repairers to outline how much it will cost to repair the vehicle.
  • Quotes from salvage yards that reflect the salvage value of your vehicle.
  • Evidence of the market value of your vehicle from a company such as redbook.com.au or glassguide.com.au.

If you provide this information to your insurer straight away and ask them not to report your vehicle to the written-off vehicle register, it may be possible to get the assessment changed. Of course, if you're unhappy with the way you're treated by your insurer you can also complain through its internal dispute resolution service, and then to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) if necessary.

Can a car that has been written off be re-registered?

Yes. If your car is a repairable write-off, that is, it has only been written off because the cost of salvage and repair will exceed its market value, you can apply to have it re-registered.

This option is available in most states and territories, so you’d need to check with the roads and transport authority in your area to find out what you have to do. For example, written-off vehicles in Queensland can only be re-registered if they’ve been fully repaired, and have passed a Queensland safety inspection and a written-off vehicle inspection.

However, in New South Wales, written-off vehicles cannot be re-registered except in very limited circumstances. To be re-registered in NSW, your car must not have any non-repairable damage, and must also fit into one of the following categories:

  • The car was hail damaged, and you were the registered operator for more than 28 days before the damage occurred.
  • The vehicle was inherited from a will or letters of administration.
  • It was registered in your name for more than 28 days before the damage occurred.

Selling a car that has been written off

There is one very big drawback to repairing and re-registering a vehicle that has been written off: its status as a “repaired write-off” will severely hamper its resale value.

The written-off vehicle register is designed to protect consumers and prevent them buying a car that has been written off, and required substantial repairs to get back on the road. If you decide to sell the car in the future, the fact that it is listed on the register as a repaired write-off can have a big impact on how much prospective buyers are willing to pay.

What happens if a financed car is written off?

If there’s still finance owing on your car when it is deemed a total loss, the insurer is obligated to pay the financier any outstanding amount. However, in some cases there may be a shortfall between the amount paid out by your insurer and the finance amount owing, which is where motor equity insurance can help. This is designed to pay the financier the outstanding loan amount when your comprehensive car insurer’s total loss payout is insufficient to pay out your loan contract.


Compare car insurance with Finder

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14 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    JeffFebruary 28, 2020

    My car was rear ended when parked in a street – i have no evidence as to who did it. It happended about 1 week before the annual rego/insurance was due. The car was still drivable as it only really impact the rear door/window & bumper – all indicators etc were ok. I decided to get it registered and insured as i needed the car. The insurance assessor will view my car next week and i believe it will be written off. Insured value is $11,500 and repair bill is about $9000. I have already had to pay the excess ($895) for the claim to progress PLUS a whole years rego / insurance etc….
    My question is: will i be able to claim THIS years insurance back from the insurance company…..

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      AlexandraFebruary 28, 2020Staff

      Hi Jeff!

      Sorry to hear about your accident. Just so you’re aware, we can only provide general advice about your situation, but hopefully, we can still help you get some clarification on what’s going on.

      If I’m understanding your situation correctly, you can claim for your written off car on last year’s policy as that’s when the accident occurred.

      In terms of getting your money back on this year’s premiums, you’re actually entitled to a cooling-off period of 21 days, where you can get a refund if it’s within 21 days of you purchasing your policy and you haven’t made a claim yet. Given that your claim for your written-off car falls under last years policy, you should be okay to take advantage of this (provided it’s within the time frame).

      If you’ve fallen outside that date range, you can actually still cancel your policy with the insurer and get a refund. The insurer should just charge you for the month(s) you were with them for, and then refund the rest of the years premiums.

      I hope this helps. Please reach out if you’ve got any other questions!

      Best,
      Ally

    Default Gravatar
    DebscorollaDecember 9, 2019

    I was rear ended whilst stationary. My car is 1998 toyota corolla nearly 300000 on odometer. The other partys Insurer rang that an assessor will have to assess whether enough money to repair it as the person insured has not to cover it. What happens now do I have to accept the agreed market value wont be much so i will lose car and penalised cause of actions

      Default Gravatar
      NikkiDecember 12, 2019

      Hi Debscorolla,

      Thanks for your comment and I hope you are doing well. Sorry to hear about the recent accident you experienced.

      As it says on our pages, “If the other party is uninsured and cannot pay you for the damage done to your vehicle, it does make sense to claim on your own insurance. However, if your car is seriously damaged, it may be written off by your insurance provider. Rather than getting your car back, you will get an insurance pay-out for the market or agreed value of the car, depending on what you selected when you set up your policy.”

      You can challenge a write-off if you think your car can be repaired economically. You can read about how to challenge a write off on the part to the page that says “Can I challenge a write-off?”.

      Hope this helps and feel free to reach out to us again for further assistance.

      Best,
      Nikki

    Default Gravatar
    EvanAugust 6, 2019

    My car was marked as a repairable write off and I had to hand in the plates but my insurance refused to pay me out.

      Default Gravatar
      NikkiAugust 7, 2019

      Hi Evan,

      Thanks for leaving a question on our page. Sorry to hear your insurance refused to pay you out. Typically, your payout is based on the car’s market value base on a number of factors as discussed above. Your payout may also be smaller than you would expect because most car insurance policies allow insurers to reduce the amount payable by some deductions.

      If you’re unhappy about your car being tagged as a repairable write-off, you can apply to the roads and transport authority in your state or territory to have the car repaired and re-registered. If you think the car can be repaired economically, you can challenge the insurer’s decision. Note that you only have a very short window in which to do so. Please read further on the part of the page that says “Can I challenge a write-off?”

      Hope this was helpful. Don’t hesitate to message us back if you have more questions.

      Best,
      Nikki

    Default Gravatar
    EvanAugust 1, 2019

    Hi there,

    Can an insurance company mark my car as a repairable write off with transport and main roads, and not pay you out?

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JeniAugust 1, 2019Staff

      Hi Evan,

      Thank you for getting in touch with Finder.

      If your car is marked as repairable write off, your insurer will keep the vehicle and pay you the car’s agreed or market value because the cost of repairs exceeds the sum insured. Some states still allow you to repair and re-register repairable write-offs. I suggest that you speak to your insurer about your written-off car if you feel keeping your vehicle after it’s been damaged.

      I hope this helps.

      Thank you and have a wonderful day!

      Cheers,
      Jeni

    Default Gravatar
    RugaJanuary 19, 2019

    Can I accept the insurer’s write-off payment and keep my car? The assessor inferred I could keep the market value minus what they were going to get for scrap. If I fix the hail damage can I keep driving my car and get a green slip?

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      ValJanuary 26, 2019Staff

      Hi Ruga,

      Thank you for leaving a question. If the insurer decided to write off your car, it is up to you to accept it or not. The information posted on our site is general information that will help or guide you to make your decisions, but for your case it is still advisable to speak with your insurer directly and ask them if you can continue driving and keep the slip if you take care of the car damages.

      Hope this helps

      Regards,
      Val

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