Sally Cockburn managed to get the insurer to change her mind
When your insurer says you should keep your car but you don't agree with it, what can you do? We hear from someone who took on the costumes - and won
On receiving a £3211 check on an old Nissan Micra that was declared write-off by an insurer, most of us would happily cash it in and look for a new set of wheels. Not Sally Cockburn. The retired teacher promptly put the check back in the envelope and contacted the company that sent it to her, claiming that the firm was unreasonably qualifying her Micra as a category B write-off, defined as a car whose body needs to be crushed, but which can be broken into pieces. Instead, she asked the insurer to reconsider because her car suffered only minor damage and was safe to drive.
The fights were to the point, but Sally wasn't ready to admit that due to some minor fender damage the Micra - a car she'd owned for 10 years, liked to drive and bought with money left from her mother - had to be delivered at the landfill.
Her troubles began one morning when a truck peered into the front corner of her Micra for a dropped front fender. To his credit, the driver left his details so that Sally could contact him and get the ball rolling. Tax liability claims for a truck insurer asked Sally to send him photos of the damage. Based on this examination of the desktop from the images, the expert judged the impact to be moderate. Even so, he believed the Micra's steering and suspension could also be damaged.
He calculated that it would cost at least £4155 to repair Sally's car, but it was even worse. An expert says the Sally Micra 1.4 SE automatic 5-door registered in 2006, but only 16 miles per hour, had a market value of £000 before the accident - almost £3310 less than what would be repaired. As a result, he declared the Micra Sally to Category B decommissioning. Its liquidation value: £1000.
“I couldn't believe it,” Sally says. “How could he write off his car so easily for the strength of a few photos? Is this common practice? Are insurers forcing motorists to accept their car is only salvageable when it isn't?”
Sally immediately appealed the appraiser's decision. He offered her the front geometry of the Micra that was checked and if the report was satisfactory, he would consider her case. At what point the knight in shining armor Sally intervened.
Colin Mullan owns a workshop near Sally. He's an old school mechanic - a fixer is not a substitute. He understood Sally's affection for her micra and her cruel refusal to scrap it.
“The expert knew Sally's car was old, but low mileage and in good condition,” says Colin. “He could have been more sensible, looked at the car in person and judged it would be easy to repair. In my experience, however, insurers do by the book, which makes them too quick to write off cars.”
Colin drove the Micra to a tire fitter to have the front geometry checked. However, the report was not detailed enough for the examiner, who said it needed to be rechecked. So Colin took the Micra to another test station that could provide more details and that this time the tracking found on one wheel was light. No problem - quick settings and everything was fine. The auditor accepted this second report. True to his word, he reconsidered his decision and reclassified the Micra as a category N write-off - a car with no structural damage - but a stinger in the tail.
The check also showed that the rear Micra wheels were not properly aligned. Although the problem was not related to the accident, the expert insisted that Sally sign a disclaimer confirming that she was aware of the problem and that she would not use the car until the geometry problem was corrected. In fact, he didn't think it could be.
“I'm in a Catch-22 situation,” Sally says. “The expert said that I shouldn't be able to drive a car while its rear centering was fixed, while at the same time breathing that it couldn't be. I didn't want to sign a liability waiver because if I did, my poor car could be taken to a landfill."
Colin was no less stunned. “Any car from the Micra era with the same rear suspension setup could have left the factory in that state. It doesn't affect the stability of the car one iota,” he says.
Even so, he was able to straighten the back of the Micra wheel and he passed with flying colors for the third geometry test. The appraiser accepted the result and refused for his claim. He also revised the calculation amount to reflect a reduction in the cost of car repairs and an increased residual value.
A few days later, Sally received a replacement settlement check for $2528. There was a delay while the car was reclassified by MIAFTR, the anti-theft and registration fraud insurance industry, from a Category B to a Category H write-off during which Sally could not drive. car on the road, but when it was done she was good to go.
Regarding the use of remote desktop inspections to create a vehicle condition and Sally's efforts to have her car re-classified, a spokesman for the Association of British Insurers said: “It is in both the customer and the insurer that the vehicle write-off process is accurate, efficient and allows you to avoid unsafe vehicles by returning to the road. Insurers will always use a qualified engineer to ensure that retired vehicles are properly classified. Whether an engineer can conduct an on-site inspection or desktop evaluation will depend on the nature of the claim. If a customer is dissatisfied with their claim being processed, they should contact their insurer.”
Meanwhile, Sally is just happy that she can drive her Micra: “Colin says that he can fix the fender quite cheaply, but the main thing is that my beloved Micra has been reclassified to category N write-off, which means it can be insured and I can go again. I hope my story will give people the confidence to make their car decommissioned to recategorize if they think the decision is nonsense.”
Write-off categories explained
It sounds terminal, but the definition of write-off covers cars that are so badly damaged that they can never get back on track with those that can be repaired and driven again. Explain what is what Insurers put write-offs in one of four categories.
Until October 2017, it was, in descending order of severity, A, B, C and D. You still don't see cat C and D the car is up for sale. The categories are then slightly modified to emphasize the structural state of the car. Categories A and B are still there, but s and N are replaced by C and D. Category C means the car has been damaged and needs to be professionally repaired to get it back on the road, while N, the least severe, refers to a car that suffered no structural damage. However, it may still have issues with its control and security systems.
Write-offs are cheaper to buy, but can be harder to resell. From an insurance-leading motor standpoint, the insurer told Autocar that endangering the driver is its primary concern when calculating insurance premiums, not whether their car falls into category C, N, C or D, write-offs or not. When buying a used car, it is advisable to establish the car's status with a car service check.
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