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Tips & advice

How to sell a damaged or written-off car

Selling a car can be tough when it’s in good condition, let alone when it’s not. Here are our tips for finding a buyer for your damaged, non-running or written-off car

Selling any car can be a bit of a pain, which is why so many of us choose instead to trade-in against a newer model at a dealer in a part-exchange deal. However, if your car is significantly damaged after a collision, heavily rusted, written-off or the engine doesn’t run then things become a lot more complicated. Luckily there are still ways to sell a damaged or written-off car, and we’ll look at them in detail here.

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The first thing you need to do is learn as much as you can about the state your car is in. If it has been in a crash, is the damage cosmetic or structural? Is the engine still able to run? Which areas of the car are not damaged?

If your car is a non-runner, what’s the reason? Maybe the engine runs, but the gearbox is broken, or vice versa? Is the car an MOT failure, and in which case, what does the failure sheet tell you? Rust can also be a big issue, where exactly are the affected areas?

All of this information is vital when selling your damaged or broken car because it will help you to work out what to do with it. If you’re going through an insurance process, your insurer will help you to find this information out. Either the car will be repaired or it will get a category rating: N or S can be put back on the road, but cat B or A cars cannot.

Should you repair the car before selling it?

Once you know exactly what’s wrong you can start to think about what to do with your broken car. In some cases, it might be more economical to get the car fixed before you sell it. In cases where damage is only cosmetic, or if the mechanical fault can be fixed, it can be worth it to pay for the repairs before you sell.

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This calculation will depend on a number of factors: your car’s value as-is, the car’s value if fixed and the price of the repairs. There are also other things to consider, such as whether you can get parts easily - it could take a long time to fix if not - and how much stress this process could cause. 

For the rest of this article, we’ll assume that it’s not economical to repair your car and that you want to sell it as a non-runner. If you do decide to repair it, the most important thing to remember is to keep the receipts as part of the car’s service history so a future buyer knows exactly what work was done.

Where to sell a damaged or non-running car

If you simply want to sell your car as fast as possible and don’t mind getting a low price, there are quite a few car selling options out there. If your car isn’t too damaged - maybe it needs some bodywork repairs, but runs fine - then a normal car dealer might be willing to take it off your hands. It can’t hurt to ask, especially if you’re thinking of buying a replacement from them.

There are also car-buying services that claim to buy any car. Often these places will only give you the scrap value of the car, plus some profit for them - so you might also consider scrapping the car yourself for the full value. The car would be stripped for parts and the body crushed, and you’d get a few hundred pounds. You can search online to find a company that might buy a car for scrap.

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You can also take matters into your own hands and strip the car’s parts yourself, then sell them online piece-by-piece. This will get you the most money for a car that’s not able to be repaired economically, aside from fixing it yourself, but the process could take a long time if the parts don’t sell quickly.

You can skip that step and simply list the car for sale online (or put up an online auction) to see if any private buyers are interested. If you do this, be sure to include as much detail in the ad as you can about what’s wrong with the car to ensure you’re not misleading anyone. Take detailed pictures of all the damaged areas - as well as the undamaged bits. If relevant, tell buyers that the car cannot be driven and will need to be taken on a trailer.

A car auction will be a good way of selling at a price buyers are willing to pay. You can get an idea of your broken car’s value by searching for similar cars; often the term “spares or repairs” is used for vehicles like this. Buyers of damaged or broken cars are more likely to be fully aware of the car’s value, but you should know how much they will pay too so you don’t get ripped-off. Some older or classic cars can be worth a lot more than scrap value even in very poor condition. 

Paperwork and legality of selling a written-off car

Make sure that you have as much paperwork as possible relating to your car and particularly the damage. Any insurance documentation, especially information on it being category A, B, S or N - and/or MOT failure sheets - will be needed. Always be completely clear with a buyer about the state the car is in physically and legally, as a category A or B car cannot be made legal to drive on the road, but it’s not illegal to buy or sell.

On the other hand, if you have proof that the engine or gearbox was cared for with regular servicing and was in good order, and was not damaged in an accident at all, then this can be a big selling point as it can be put to use in another car. It’s the same for bodywork in a non-runner: your car’s engine might be broken, but if the bodywork is good, it can be reused on a car that does run. These factors will help you get the most value from selling a broken car - make sure to inform any potential buyers about the good points as well as the bad.

You’ll need the V5C document to sell or scrap a car, which you should always keep in a safe place as a car owner no matter what state it’s in. You can transfer ownership using the forms by post or do it online - just don’t do this until you’ve been paid.

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