Abstract The net-section limit load approach is typically used in assessment of pipes with local wall thinning, based on which a maximum load carrying capacity is easily estimated from one equation that includes two terms associated with the effect of the defect geometry and the material's resistance (strength). To better understand the applicability of the net-section limit load approach to pipes with local wall thinning, four different limit load expressions for pipes with local wall thinning under pure bending are considered, together with two different definitions of the material's resistance. Estimated failure moments are then compared with full-scale pipe test data. It is found that the use of an appropriate limit load solution reduces not only the degree of conservatism but also the dependence of the assessment results on the wall thinning geometry, and thus gives the best results. Therefore, finding such solutions for pipes with local wall thinning is an important issue.