The dangers of the Category C write-off


I have a friend who is very good at what she does, but knows less about cars than I do about string theory.

A month or so ago she had a crash. Driving slowly downhill on a wet road she turned into a blind corner and met a car that had stopped because it too had had an unforeseen coming together with a third car. Unable to bring her ancient Suzuki Alto to a halt in time, she cruised gently into the back of the already crashed car, adding a reasonable amount to the damage already sustained by the car she hit, and thoroughly stoving in the front of the Suzuki. Happily no-one was hurt.

Not the Alto involved! Another Category C write-off…

But when she told me about it, she was in more of a state than I’d have expected of someone who’s had an undoubtedly unpleasant but hardly life-threatening experience. It turns out that, unbeknown to her, the Suzuki was a Category C write-off when she bought it. And to those who don’t know, that means it’s already had a crash big enough to render it beyond economic repair.

Now although I’d not recommend anyone drives such a car, there is nothing illegal about putting a Cat C car back on the road. In fact it doesn’t take much of an impact to put a cheap, old car like an Alto into that category, but the V5 must be returned to Swansea so the car can be recorded as such.

Which is where it gets tricky. When I mentioned the V5 to her, she uncharacteristically burst into tears and said that when she bought the car the garage owner had told her “not to worry about the paperwork” which, kind soul that he is, he’d sort out on her behalf.

Having no interest in or knowledge of cars and trusting her friendly local garage man, she took him at his word. “He told me he’d sent the V5, but when I called DVLA they told me they’d not received it,” which of course, was all the excuse her insurers needed to wriggle out of their obligations. So now instead of having an inconvenient and mildly distressing incident, she’s the uninsured driver who’s written off a car that’s already been written off, and is now being hounded by the insurers of the car she hit. I think I’d have burst into tears too.

I gave her what little advice I could and said I’d go and remind the garage owner of his responsibilities, an offer she naturally declined. They live in the same village. So I told her that at the very least and whatever she did, she should never sit in that Suzuki again.

I saw her again this morning, all smiles behind the wheel of her newly repaired Suzuki. The insurers had gone quiet, the local garage man had bought her a drink, miraculously found the paperwork and all was well with the world. I reminded her she was driving a car that had now been written off twice, that the insurers were unlikely to stay silent forever and that her local garage man should likely be in something closer to a prison than a pub. She said she was satisfied he’d made a mistake and had promised to look after her come what may. More than anything she didn’t want to make a fuss.

And while some of me wanted to shout some sense into her, rather more understood her position entirely. Besides, I cannot discount entirely the admittedly remote possibility that she’s right, her garage man is honest and it’s all been an innocent mistake.

And even if it’s as bad as I suspect, his crime is small beer indeed compared to some committed by dishonest elements of the motor trade against trusting and unwitting members of the public.

Someone needs to step up to the plate. The AA has useful general literature with dos and don’ts about buying and running a new car, but offers no personal advice service. Indeed the best it can suggest is that people contact their local Citizen’s Advice Bureau. What is certain is that until an organisation with teeth, such as the Government or its appointed representatives, provides innocent victims with some means of redress against these people, the scamming will continue. But even in the unlikely event such a service is provided, there’s no guarantee it would be taken up by all. Take my friend: I truly think she’d rather drive a car she knows might be a deathtrap if it means she can also walk into her local pub and garage without the risk of being glared at.

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