Written-Off Vehicle Laws in NSW | Auto Recylers Association of Australia

Written-Off Vehicle Laws in NSW

The Government of New South Wales introduced new laws effective from 31 January, 2011 which aimed to improve road safety and consumer protection, and clamp down on vehicle theft, re-birthing and related crime.

From 31 January, 2011 vehicles assessed as a total loss are classified as statutory (non-repairable) write-offs. This means they cannot be registered and can only be used for parts or scrap metal.

A written-off vehicle is a damaged vehicle that has been assessed as a 'total loss'. A vehicle is a 'total loss' when it’s damaged value plus the cost of repairs is greater than its undamaged market value.

The laws apply to NSW light vehicles up to 15 years old, including cars, trailers, caravans and motorcycles. A light vehicle is a registrable vehicle less than 4.5 tonnes gross vehicle mass (GVM).

There were, on average 36,000 vehicles written off annually in NSW. Approximately 13,600 of these vehicles were presented for re-registration each year.

The problem with the previous system was that a great many written-off vehicles were purchased at auction by “back-yard” repairers, cosmetically repaired and put back on the road in an unsafe condition.

There was also substantial evidence highlighting that the availability of repairable written-off vehicles was significantly contributing to motor vehicle based crime.

The new legislation sets out nationally agreed vehicle damage assessment criteria. The legislation prescribes that the Road Transport Authority cannot re-register a written-off vehicle with non-repairable damage. The damage assessment criteria for light vehicles are as follows:

A. Water damage
• Immersed in salt water above doorsill level for any period, or
• Immersed in fresh water up to or above the dashboard or steering wheel for more than 48 hours.

B. Impact damage
• Impact damage to three (3) or more of the following areas:
i. roof (300mm x 300mm or more)
ii. cabin floor plan (300mm x 300mm or more)
iii. firewall (300mm x 300mm or more)
iv. suspension (any damage)
v. major mechanical component, such as an engine block or transmission case (deform, crack or break).

C. Fire damage (burnt out)
• Burnt to the extent that it is only fit for wrecking or scrap.

D. Theft / vehicle stripped
• Stripped of all or most of its interior and exterior body parts, panels and components (such as the engine, wheels, bonnet, guards, doors and boot lid).


There are some exemptions to the new law, and certain vehicles written-off after the legislation is introduced will be able to be registered. Applications to repair and register a written-off vehicle will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The registered vehicle operator (or owner if the vehicle is not registered) can apply to the RTA for an authorisation to repair if the vehicle is in an “exempt vehicle category”, or is being kept by the same registered operator or owner, and able to be repaired to legislated standards.

“Exempt vehicle categories” include high market value, hail damage, low production run, first or last in production run or model range, personally imported, individually constructed, inherited or owned for five years or more by a member of a recognised enthusiasts club for vehicles of that type.

If the RTA gives an Authorisation to Repair a written-off vehicle, the repairs will need to be certified by a licensed motor vehicle repairer and the vehicle must pass two inspections before the owner can apply for registration.

The laws will not affect a repaired write-off that was registered before the legislation start date. Vehicles classified as repairable write-offs and registered before the legislation starts can be re-registered for the life of the vehicle, providing registration requirements are met.

Unregistered vehicles classified as repairable write-offs before the legislation can be registered if the following requirements are met:
• The vehicle must pass two inspections – one for mechanical safety and one for identity validation.
• From six months onwards after the legislation starts, repairs must also be certified by a licensed motor vehicle repairer

A person can buy, repair and register a NSW vehicle that was written-off and recorded on the Written-Off Vehicle Register (WOVR) before the legislation started. The requirements for vehicles classified as repairable in NSW before the legislation was introduced will apply.

If a vehicle was recorded as a repairable write-off in NSW before 31 January 2011, a Certificate of Compliance will be needed for the repairs from six months after the legislation start date onwards.

A Certificate of Compliance is an RTA form that must be completed by the licensed repairer who inspects the written-off vehicle repairs. The form contains a declaration that the repairs were done according to the manufacturer's repair guidelines (or to acceptable industry standards if there are no manufacturer's guidelines).

All written-off vehicles applying for registration in NSW must pass two inspections – one for mechanical safety and one for identity validation.

Buying a repairable write-off from another state

If the repairable write-off is recorded on the WOVR before the legislation start date of 31 January 2011, the vehicle can be repaired and registered if it meets RTA registration requirements.

If the vehicle is recorded as repairable on the interstate WOVR after 31 January 2011, it must be have been repaired and registered in the other State before the owner can apply for registration in NSW.


The implications of this new law for auto-recyclers in New South Wales are still to be seen. Some believe it will lead to the industry getting access to a greater range of better quality dismantling stock, as firstly they expect to see an increase in the number of non-repairable write-offs, and secondly recyclers will not be competing at auctions against body repairers for these vehicles.

One other potential implication is that the value of vehicles that have been declared an economic write-off prior to 31 January, 2011 may well increase as there will be a two year timeframe during which these will still be able to be repaired and re-registered.

Will this stop the “Re-birthing Industry” in NSW?

Probably not – but it will make it more costly, and probably slow it down. Those involved in the professional stolen car trade will still be able to buy Economic Write-offs outside NSW, but they will have to transport the damaged vehicle to NSW, re-birth it using parts from a matching stolen car there, then send it interstate to have it inspected and re-registered.

All of this adds to the costs of the process, and makes it less profitable. So it may have some slowing down affect.

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