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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. It is possible to dispute an insurer's decision about a written-off vehicle, but you'll need to do so quickly.

What you need to know

  • If you have been in an accident or another event that leads your car to become severely damaged, it may be written off by your insurer.
  • Rather than getting your car back, you typically get an insurance payout for the market or agreed value of the car.
  • In some cases, you can request to keep your vehicle if it is deemed a repairable write-off.

Written-off car: What does it mean?

If you are told that your car has been written off, it means it is unsafe or too costly to repair. In this case, you'll get some kind of payout from your insurer. The car's details are entered into the Written-Off Vehicle Register (WOVR) in your state or territory.

There are 2 ways your car can be written off:

Number 1

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 ever be registered again and is nothing more than scrap metal.

Number 2

A repairable write-off

A repairable write-off is when repairs would be possible, but the cost of making them is more than the policy's sum insured (also known as agreed value) or exceeds the car's market value prior to the accident.

How much damage is needed to write off a car in Australia?

This depends on certain damage categories and thresholds set by the WOVR. Again, a car is written off when an assessor – arranged for by the insurer – deems the damage to be so severe the vehicle is unsafe to drive again. Or, the repair cost is near to or above what it would have been worth on the used car market.

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 rego and CTP insurance

Do you get rego back if your car is written off?

Yes. You can recover your remaining rego from your state's roads and transport authority, and your unused CTP insurance from your CTP insurer.

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 review any vehicle's past status with a PPSR check online. This 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.

What can I do if I disagree about my car being written off?

If you're unhappy about your car being written off, you have 2 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 speak to your insurer and challenge their decision.

You'll need to be quick if you want to dispute an insurer's decision. After the insurer declares a car as written off, they have just 7 days to notify the Written-Off Vehicle Register (WOVR).

How to gather evidence

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 decide you want to make a complaint, you can do so through an insurer's internal dispute resolution service, and then to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) if necessary. Or you may be able to lodge your case with the car insurance ombudsman.

If my car's 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 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 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 it's been fully repaired and has 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.

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.

Selling a car that's 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 which 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.

Compare car insurance with Finder

1 - 7 of 24
Name Product Roadside assistance Accidental damage Storm Choice of repairer Agreed or Market Value
Budget Direct Comprehensive
Optional
Optional
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: The 2024 winner of our Best Value Car Insurance award. It's cheaper than most, plus you can lower costs by adding age restrictions.

⭐ Current offer: 15% off your first year's premium when you take out a policy online. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: Anyone who wants a good value policy.
Youi Comprehensive
Optional
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: The 2023 winner of our Best Features Car Insurance award. Plus, it's one of the only insurers to automatically include roadside assistance.

Who it might be good for: Those who want good customer service with lots of inclusions.
Australia Post Comprehensive
Optional
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: Covers a little more than other insurers. You don’t need to pay an excess for windscreen repairs and cover applies to anyone who uses your car.

⭐ Current offer: Get $75 off your first year's comprehensive car insurance premium when you buy online. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: Multiple people using one car.
QBE Comprehensive
Green Company
QBE Comprehensive
Optional
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: Our best-rated Car Insurer for Customer Satisfaction in 2021/2022 and Green Insurer for the last 3 years.

⭐ Current offer: Save $75 when you purchase a new comprehensive policy online. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: Those who want a trustworthy insurer and more cover than other brands, such as 3-year new car replacement (e.g. they'll give you money for a new car for up to 3 years if yours is written off).
Bingle Comprehensive
Market
Finder's summary: Our data shows it’s the cheapest comprehensive policy. It just covers the basics such as damage to your car, theft and storms – it doesn’t go in for add-ons and extras.

Who it might be good for: Those wanting a low-cost, no-frills policy.
Qantas Comprehensive
Optional
Optional
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: You need car insurance so why not get one that lets you earn Qantas Points? It's good value too (it's underwritten by the same insurer as Budget Direct).

⭐ Current offer: Earn up to 20,000 Qantas Points with every Qantas Car Insurance policy you take out by 22 April. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: People who want more bang for their buck with Qantas Points.
ROLLiN' Comprehensive
Agreed
Finder's summary: One of the most cost-effective insurers for under 25s, according to Finder research, with no aged-based excess.

Who it might be good for: Young drivers looking to keep costs down and anyone who’d like to get more flexibility from their car insurance.
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*Some brands differ in benefits so make sure to check the Product Disclosure Statement to find out which policy best suits you.

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