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One-in-50 write-off cars are put back on the road without a record of being repaired

Second-hand car buyers are being warned to be extra cautious when search for their next model after reports of one-in-50 write-off motors being put back on the road with a clean bill of health.

This is Money shone a light last year on vehicles that had been insurance write-offs but then appeared back on the used market without any record of previous crashes, damage or repairs.

A fresh investigation by motoring magazine Autocar says a loophole in the database used by the motor insurance industry is allowing some write-off cars to return to the road, putting unsuspecting customers at risk.

One-in-50 write-off cars back on the road with a hidden history: A new investigation by Autocar reports that around 15,000 cars that should be declared as write-offs go back on the road unrecorded as a result of insurers not updating the system

The Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud Theft Register (MIAFTR) is used by insurers to record the details of cars they have written off, and by vehicle-check companies when confirming a car’s status. 

However, as we reported last year, the MIAFTR is currently only a voluntary scheme, meaning not all of the UK’s 200 insurers are signed up to it.

There is also no set time frame for insurers to update the industry databases, and it can take many months for a vehicle to be marked as a write-off. 

As a result, some write-off cars can slip through the system, be repaired and put back on the market without any reference to its hidden past.

Autocar says it puts motorists at risk of purchasing motors with an incorrect vehicle status. This not only raises a safety concern but also a financial threat to drivers.

Cars that have been written off are worth less than they would be if they hadn’t suffered a single prang.

It has previously been estimated that over £25million would be pocketed in total through sales of vehicles listed for more money than their condition should allow – and many with potential safety issues due to previous undeclared damage. 

Category A and B write-offs should never return to the road. 

Vehicle write-offs explained 

Category A, or ‘Scrap’ cars, remain the most badly damaged vehicles. They can’t be repaired or even broken for spares.

Category B, or ‘Break’ cars, are again very badly damaged and beyond repair, but they can be ‘broken’ into parts for salvage and recycling.

Category S, or ‘Structural’ cars have incurred damage to the basic structure that gives a car its strength. These ‘S’ cars can be fixed and re-sold, but you should ensure that the work has been checked by a qualified mechanic.

Category N, or ‘Non-structural’ cars, are equivalent to current Cat D cars. Their damage isn’t to the core structure, but there might still be some safety-related parts in areas like suspension or steering that will need to be replaced.

However, vehicles written off as category S or N can be repaired and resold, though must be declared so a buyer can make an informed decision.

Anyone who buys a vehicle at standard market value and subsequently finds out it was declared a Cat S or Cat N write-off stands to make a huge loss when they sell it on if its true history is later detected in history checks, or the owner finds out it was written off.

The issue with the MIAFTR database was first highlighted in 2019 and it is believed that around 15,000 cars that should be declared as write-offs go back on the road unrecorded as a result of insurers not updating the system.

This is equivalent to one in 50 of all vehicles written off by insurance companies. 

The result is used cars advertised and sold with a clean record, which in fact have been written-off previously.

Vehicle history checker, Motorcheck, told Autocar it estimates that at any given time, more than 2,000 cars are advertised with a clean history, but which have serious questions about their past life.

And because the cars records haven’t been disclosed by an insurance firm, their true history sometimes isn’t flagged up on the additional background checks motorists can pay for.

The MIAFTR sees roughly 700,000 claims per year added to its register, yet vehicles insured under third-party only, or those self-insured by their owners such as local councils or the police are not recorded in the database – posing a serious challenge for vehicle-check companies.

Mark Tisshaw, editor at Autocar, said: ‘Used buyers are at risk of unknowingly buying a written-off vehicle because of this loophole in the industry. 

‘A single vehicle health check is no longer a good enough guarantee, as our investigation found owners had bought cars which had been incorrectly flagged as not written-off by a vehicle health check provider.’ 

The Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud Theft Register (MIAFTR) is used by insurers to record the details of cars they have written off, and by vehicle-check companies when confirming a car's status. However, it is not compulsory to use, meaning some motors slip through the system

The Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud Theft Register (MIAFTR) is used by insurers to record the details of cars they have written off, and by vehicle-check companies when confirming a car’s status. However, it is not compulsory to use, meaning some motors slip through the system

Current law dictates that it is illegal to sell a vehicle that’s knowingly been written off, and is against consumer law to hide any information about the damage when advertising for sale.

However, if insurance records fail to flag cases like those pictured here, many innocent sellers are unable to check the real backgrounds of the vehicles – unless they have sourced and repaired the cars themselves.

A single vehicle health check is no longer a good enough guarantee, as our investigation found owners had bought cars which had been incorrectly flagged as not written-off by a vehicle health check provider 

 Mark Tisshaw, Autocar editor

‘The Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB) has told us they are introducing new measures to improve the database, but for now buyers remain at risk of inadvertently buying second-hand cars with incorrect histories, as well as having to rely on multiple vehicle check agencies to get an accurate understanding of their potential purchase’s background,’ Tisshaw added.

This is Money contacted The Motor Insurers’ Bureau regarding the MIAFTR last year.

A spokesperson told us: ‘We are committed to keeping roads safe and MIAFTR is one of the services provided to help do this.

‘MIAFTR is a voluntary scheme, supported by the Association of British Insurers 2017 Code of Practice for the Disposal of Motor Vehicle Salvage, and 97 per cent of the motor insurance market currently subscribes to load vehicles into MIAFTR.

‘Insurers send around a million records to MIAFTR each year and there are a series of controls in place to ensure the data is loaded in a timely and complete fashion.’

However, the MIB spokesman added: ‘At present, it’s not possible for MIAFTR to be a complete solution because some vehicles currently sit outside insurance processes such as self-insured large fleets and therefore wouldn’t be uploaded to MIAFTR. Like insurers, we’re keen to see changes to policy to help tackle the issue.’

‘We are committed to continuing to work closely with the industry and DVLA to improve data quality and the service as a whole to make it harder for people to sell on vehicles in this way to reduce the impact on honest motorists.

‘For example, earlier this month [November 2020] we introduced a new field to help us measure how quickly the database is being updated by insurers after the salvage category has been applied.’

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