Should you buy a written-off Porsche?

Can’t afford the Porsche of your dreams? Well, with a bit of creative thinking, perhaps you can. How? By buying a damaged-repaired car – what is classified in the UK as a Cat C or D vehicle. Typically, such a car is worth as much as 35 percent less than list, once repaired. The other side of the argument, though, is that such write-offs should be avoided at all costs. As is often the case, though, there’s a lot of misinformation going around about written-off Porsches, so let’s put the record straight.

Put simply, such a car has been damaged in some way, and the insurance company has deemed it uneconomical to repair (typically if the costs exceed 60 to 70 percent of the vehicle’s value) and paid the unfortunate owner the market value of the vehicle. The car then becomes the property of the insurance company which, typically, sells it to a salvage company that, in turn, either repairs it or sells it on to a garage or individual who will repair it themselves; either to keep or, more often, to sell on at a profit, but still for less than an equivalent unmolested car.

How, though, if the insurance company’s assessor has written the car off as uneconomical to repair, can someone then return it to roadworthiness and make some money to boot? Well, the insurance company would calculate the cost of repair using brand-new parts and factor in labour rates, and possibly the cost of a courtesy car for use by the owner while repairs are being made. However, by using second-hand parts and doing the work themselves, it’s possible for a repairer to keep the costs right down. On the flip side, though, another way of saving money is by skimping on the quality of repair – which is why you need to tread carefully when buying a ‘write-off’.

If you’re considering buying a damaged-repaired car you need to go in with your eyes wide open; but of course you should do that with any car purchase. Honest sellers will make it clear that a car has been registered as Cat C or D (see xxxxx for an explanation of categories) and will price it accordingly. However, the less scrupulous may try to fob off such a car as ‘straight’, so it’s essential to check the paperwork with the vehicle and run a car check (see xxxx) to discover its history.

If a car has been listed as Cat C, then tread particularly carefully, as that rating suggests that it has suffered serious damage, while Cat D generally means that the damage has been less severe. That said, we have heard of insurance companies factoring in the cost of a hire car into the equation, which can push a Cat D car into Cat C!

The interesting thing about all this is that a newish, high value 911 can suffer quite severe damage and be deemed worth repairing, so you can unwittingly buy such a car at market price and, assuming the work has been carried out properly, never be aware of the car’s history. Internet forums are full of stories of high-value Porsches, such as GT3s, being badly damaged, repaired and – rightly or wrongly – sold on at full price.

Yet similar damage to an older, less valuable car will lead to it being written-off and, even if it’s been properly repaired, it will forever be known as a Cat C or D and be valued accordingly. Another factor that can lead to this outcome is the fact that many classic Porsches can be more expensive to repair than modern ones; for example, a 993 front wing is about £800; more than twice the price of the equivalent 996 item. Interestingly, as values of classic Porsches have gone up, a car that would have written off, say, ten years ago, would today be considered worth repairing!

All of which is why such a Porsche can be a great buy. As a guide, a Cat C should be priced 30-35 percent down, and a Cat D car 20-25 percent lower than expected. As with a non-damaged Porsche, though, the value will also depend on mileage, condition and service history.

Brian Goff of Porsche specialist Jasmine Motorsport has bought a number of damaged Porsches over the years, he says. “The Cat Cs we generally break for parts, while the Cat Ds we usually repair and put back on the road. “We’ve done one 964RS replica this way and, because the car was stripped right down to a bare shell and properly repaired, the end result was no different to a non-damaged car.”

However, Brian points out that values of written off cars have risen in recent years, so that buying and repairing them has become less attractive. “Lots of damaged modern Porsches, such as 996s, 997s and Boxsters, are being bought and shipped from the UK to Eastern Europe, where they are cheaply repaired and then sold on, usually with no record of the previous accident damage.”

Another option, which is very tempting for eBay trawlers, is to buy a damaged Porsche and, either do the repair work yourself, or commission someone else to do it. However, Brian warns against getting carried away and buying a damaged car with the expectation of repairing it cheaply. “I’m amazed at the number of people who buy a Porsche on eBay without seeing it beforehand. And even those who do inspect the car before buying inevitably underestimate what it will cost to repair. There are always hidden costs when you start stripping a car down to fix it. Unless you can do much of the work yourself and have access to cheap parts, it’s often not worth doing.”

With that in mind, then, it usually makes more sense to buy a Cat C or D Porsche that has already been repaired and returned to a roadworthy condition. Ideally, though, such a car should have a record of what work has been done to it, and by whom. Ideally, this should include receipts for parts and labour, plus a photographic record of the damage and the repair work. Brian Goff warns against buying without this sort of documentation: “I’ve seen Porsches that have not been repaired properly or have items missing, such as passenger airbags. Such cars will, at best, look and feel wrong and, at worst, be plain dangerous.”

Buy carefully, then, and you’ll end up with a Porsche that looks as if it’s worth more than you paid for it, and no one but you will be any the wiser. Plenty of people do it and are very happy with their cars.

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