Insurance is supposed to offer peace of mind that in the result of an accident your policy will pay out to cover any repair and compensation costs that you might be liable for, and which could be far more than you could afford out of your own pocket.
The term ‘write-off’ usually implies a seriously damaged car, but in recent years a worrying trend has emerged where even a minor scrape to an older car can see it deemed uneconomical to repair.
One case that made the national press in recent weeks was a driver whose L-reg Toyota Corolla was written off by her insurance company after ‘suffering’ a broken sidelamp lens and some scuffs on the bumper – fairly standard fare for a car driven in Central London. The engineer sent to evaluate the cost of repairs deemed the Corolla to be worth only £312 and the insurance company wrote off the car, offered the owner £40 to settle the claim (the first claim she had made on her policy).
After that story appeared in The Guardian, insurance company Covéa made a new offer that did not write-off the Toyota and offered the owner £533 to repair the car. While that situation was resolved satisfactorily, it does highlight the problems faced by owners of older and less valuable cars.
The values of older cars (especially built from around 1990 onwards) have plummeted in recent years, putting these cars at risk from similar low-value write-offs. The reasons for these depressed values are many and varied. Cars from this era enjoyed a generally much higher level of build quality and mechanical longevity than cars from earlier decades, meaning they have survived in higher numbers. This increased supply keeps values low. At the same time these cars were made in the early days of electronic controls and sub-systems, which are generally deemed unrepairable if they fail, especially with the recent changes to the MoT test that require systems such as ABS and emissions controls to work if fitted. This means that the market sees these cars as disposable, even when in quite good condition, because even a single electronic problem could render them unroadworthy in the eyes of the MoT tester.
The used car market is also being affected by the increasingly rapid turnover of news models being introduced to the market. As an example, the MkI Volkswagen Golf was on sale between 1974 and 1983. The MkVI Golf’s production life was only three years (2009-2012).
This means that ‘new’ models are now superseded when they are only a couple of years old. This lowers their value, and the glut of nearly-new cars on the used market that have taken a heavy hit in depreciation has a knock-on effect to the bottom of the market, as older cars have to be priced very, very low to make people consider them over a newer model.
This ‘arms race’ of new models began with Japanese and Korean builders, who could afford to replace models at shorter intervals and used this as a key selling point to establish themselves in the European market. Now it is being driven by safety and emissions legislation, which is continually being made more stringent, so cars can become obsolete after only three years or so. Modern design and production methods also make it quicker, easier and cheaper to radically update cars.
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
This isn’t just a problem that affects ‘bangers’ such as early ‘Nineties Corollas, many bread-and-butter cars from the ‘Eighties are becoming scarce as they fail to make headway towards becoming accepted as classics. These cars are being hit by a combination of stubbornly low values and the difficulty and expense of finding replacement parts and panels to repair even minor damage, which can quickly outstrip the value of a car in the eyes of the insurers. A 1978 Ford Fiesta was recently offered for sale in an online auction. It had been in a low-speed accident with a damaged nearside wing and headlamp but remained fully driveable. Nonetheless the insurers had deemed it a Category C write-off because the cost of repairs was judged to be more than a third of the car’s value, despite it having an extensive service and repair history.
Ironically it is the older classics that are not affected by this problem. These cars often have long-established enthusiast and club support with a higher survival rate for the model, higher values and in many cases a ready supply of original or remanufactured parts for the commonly-damaged parts such as bumpers and wings.
It is the cars in the middle ground that are at risk. It is up to an owner to prove their car’s value if the worst happens. Offers from insurers can be rejected and countered. Having a comprehensive history file to show that the car has been well maintained and evidence of the sales price of similar models could make all the difference.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
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