Suppose you’re ever involved in a car accident where your car gets badly damaged. In that case, your insurance provider may consider writing-off your vehicle. This means that instead of getting your vehicle repaired and back on the road, you’ll receive an insurance pay-out. The amount of this pay-out will either be the market or agreed value of the car, depending on which option you chose when purchasing the policy.
What does it mean when a car is written off by insurance?
If your insurer informs you that your car has been written off, it means that the damage makes the vehicle unsafe to drive or it’s not worth the cost to repair it. The vehicle is deregistered, and its details are recorded in your state or territory’s written-off vehicle register. There are two ways a damaged car can be written off:
- As a repairable write-off: If the cost of repairs goes beyond the sum insured, your insurer keeps the vehicle and pays you its agreed or market value.
- As a statutory write-off: This means your car will never be considered safe to drive again. Irrespective of how much it’s repaired you can never register it again.
If you’re satisfied with your insurer's decision, you’ll receive a pay-out. This is based on whether you chose to insure it for the agreed or market value. The actual amount will depend on the terms listed in the product disclosure statement (PDS). For a market value policy the amount is decided after considering:
- The physical state of your car before the accident
- The car’s listed value and current sales of the same model or agreed value as per your policy
- The mileage on the car
Can you re-register a car that’s been written-off?
If your car has been documented as a repairable write-off, you can apply to have it re-registered. Re-registering the car is like buying back a written-off car from the insurance company. Most states and territories allow this but check with your local transport authority to confirm. You’ll need to put in an application with your insurer and ask that you be allowed to keep your car which they have deemed a repairable write-off.
If your request is accepted, you’ll receive the sum the car is insured for with the salvage value deducted from it. The amount might not be much, but it may be enough to help you repair the car and avoid the hassle of finding a new vehicle if you can’t be without a vehicle.
Before you do this, remember that not all repairable write-offs can be legally re-registered. Depending on the level of damage, it may be that the car is beyond salvageable and your insurer may not allow you to keep it. It would be a good idea to check these details before trying to keep the car.
Moreover, the rules vary from region to region. You must check what the authorities in your state or territory say. For example, in Queensland, a written-off car can be re-registered provided it’s fully repaired and passes the Queensland safety inspection as well as a written-off vehicle check.
On the other hand, most written-off vehicles in New South Wales cannot be re-registered except in rare instances. The written-off car should not have any non-repairable damage, and it must also fulfil one of the following criteria:
- It was registered in your name for at least 28 days before the damage happened
- The car was received as inheritance through letters of administration or a will
- The damage was caused by hail, and you were the registered owner for at least 28 days before the damage
What if the pay-out isn’t what I expected?
You might find that you’re disappointed with the pay-out you receive when your car is written-off. You will need to remember that insurers typically take into account the following factors:
- Any outstanding or unpaid insurance premiums for the rest of the year
- Any excess you’re due to pay for claims against the policy
- Any part of your CTP insurance or registration that remains unused on the vehicle. You can then approach your state's roads and transport authority to get a refund for the remainder of your registration and your CTP insurer for the unused CTP.
If you're not happy about the pay-out amount or the fact your car is being written off, you have two courses of action:
- If you believe the car can be repaired inexpensively, you have the right to challenge the insurer's decision.
- If it’s a repairable write-off, you have the option of applying to the roads and transport authority in your state or territory and get the car repaired and re-registered.
If you choose to challenge the insurer’s decision, they will likely still see your policy as finalised. You would then need to seek alternate insurance for your car.