How to Avoid Buying a Lemon – 5 Things to Know About Write-Offs

Man inspecting car damage

Nobody wants to buy a lemon. With many people now looking online for a good deal on a used car, it’s more important than ever to know the facts about write-offs.

You may be wondering what qualifies a car  to be deemed a write-off. A car will be on the  Written-off Vehicles Register (“WOVR”) if it’s been in a significant accident or some other event (like a flood) that causes substantial damage to it.

1. There are two kinds of write-offs

There are two types of write-offs: a statutory write-off and a repairable write-off.

A statutory write-off is more serious in terms of damage. An assessor will declare that a car is a statutory write-off if it has sustained structural damage. This damage needs to be significant enough that the car cannot be repaired to an acceptable and safe standard. A car that is declared a statutory write-off cannot be re-registered.

A statutory write-off will usually be sold off in parts.

A repairable write-off is more common in the used car market. A repairable write-off is a vehicle that has not had significant structural damage, but its repair and other costs would likely outweigh the value of the vehicle. Repairable write-offs are often older or cheaper cars.

In Queensland, in order for a repairable write-off to be re-registered after the accident it must pass a safety certificate inspection and a written-off vehicle inspection.

2. Do your research

Private sellers don’t always disclose that their car is a write-off. If you see a used car deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is and it’s probably a write-off.

To protect buyers, all write-offs are registered on a database after being involved in an accident.

Before you buy a used car, do a search to determine if it is on the register – you can complete the check here.

3. Value

Fewer people want to own a car that has been written off – whether it’s because they are worried about its safety or for some other reason. As a result, write-offs are harder to sell and this impacts their value.

If you’re going to buy a write-off, the price should be a fair amount less than the value of a similar car that hasn’t been written-off.

4. Repair

You should also ask the seller more about the car’s previous damage and repair. Ideally it should have been fixed by a qualified repairer – ask to see the receipts for the repair and even consider speaking with the repairer.

If the seller is refusing to show you the receipts or is hesitant to give you information, this may be a warning sign.

Also bear in mind that damage caused by a flood event may not be cosmetic. Electrical faults could take time to become apparent.

It’s a good idea to have the car inspected to ensure it is safe and meets roadworthy requirements. You can arrange to have it inspected by a local mechanic or utilise a service like the RACQ’s inspection service.

5. Insurance and finance

If you are considering buying a write-off, you should check with your insurance company to see whether or not they will insure the vehicle. Some insurers won’t, while others will restrict the level of cover.

Some finance companies also often won’t lend money on a car that is a write-off, so best investigate this if you’re looking to secure finance for your car purchase.

If you’re looking to buy a used vehicle, do your research and you’ll avoid buying a lemon on wheels.