Everything you need to know about private registration plates

Last updated by mustard.co.uk on April 23rd, 2021

How to buy and register a private number plate – the mustard.co.uk guide

If you want to make your car stand out then a personalised registration is a great place to start. Here’s our guide to buying and using a private registration plate

Number plates are already unique to every vehicle, but they don’t exactly stand out. Unless the luck of the draw has given you a registration that actually means something, most car number plates simply look like what they are – a combination of letters and numbers designed to tell you about the car, not the owner.

But many more unique minds – or showoffs – desire something a bit different. It’s for these people that the system of cherished number plates exists, allowing the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to sell them personalised registrations.

A private reg plate can be made to spell out the owner’s name, something that’s important to them or simply make a funny word or phrase. With the exception of profanity and hate speech or political statements, almost anything goes provided it’s within the DVLA’s rules. 

Personalised number plates are extremely popular in the UK, but this popularity means that some of the best plates can be extremely expensive.

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What different types of personalised number plates are there?

There are four styles of registration plate in the UK.

Current style (post-2001)

These plates consist of seven characters – two letters, two numbers and a further three letters.

The two numbers in this style indicate the car’s age – for example, ‘15’ means the car was registered in 2015.

Prefix style

These plates were issued between 1983 and 2001 and indicate the car’s age via a single letter at the start. 

For example, a prefix licence plate that begins with an ‘F’ was registered in 1988.

Prefix plates use a letter, followed by one, two or three numbers, and then a further three letters.

Suffix style

These plates were issued between 1963 and 1983, and have the age indicator at the end. For example, a suffix licence plate ending in ‘B’ would have been registered in 1964.

Suffix plates follow the format of three letters, then one, two or three numbers followed by a final letter.

Dateless plates

These plates follow no set format and were issued in the UK before 1963. Nothing within the plates shows off the car’s age. These are the most sought-after as they can be as simple as two characters.

 

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What are the rules for personalised plates?

Rules for personalised number plates are the same as with any registration in the UK. They must use an approved font size and style, be printed on acrylic or a similar reflective material, and be the appropriate colour.

It’s illegal to use bolts, tape, or unorthodox spacing, even if doing so makes the plate ‘say’ something, and no number plate may be attached that makes a car look newer than it is. 

Where can I buy a personalised number plate?

Personalised plates are either sold directly by the DVLA [https://www.dvlaauction.co.uk/] or via a number of third-party dealers who specialise in buying and selling registrations. You can find number plates for sale easily with a quick internet search, and many dealers will be able to advise you on similar plates if the one you’re looking for isn’t available.

Particularly sought-after plates are often auctioned and can reach six-figure sums with ease.

What makes a personalised registration plate so expensive?

As with any product, it’s supply and demand that make a personalised number plate expensive.

If you opt for a current style licence plate with the three letters at the end unique to you, your initials for example, it’s unlikely to cost too much because there’s unlikely to be a lot of demand.

On top of that there are likely to be lots of options if you’re not fussed about the other characters on your plate.

They’re also more likely to be sold on the DVLA registration website with a fixed price, so there’s no bidding war going on to increase costs.

The rarer and fewer characters in the licence plate you’re after, the more you’re probably going to pay because there is likely to be more demand for such a unique and standout plate.

On top of that, more desirable plates usually end up in auction where bidding wars can drive the price up rapidly. These plates are status symbols – often ending up on expensive luxury cars owned by particularly rich people.

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Can I transfer my personalised registration plate?

If you’ve got a private registration plate you’ll want to keep hold of it when you upgrade your car.

To do so, you need to apply to the DVLA but can only do so if your vehicle is:

Registered with the DVLA

  • Still works i.e. can move under its own power
  • Is taxed or has been SORN for five years continuously

If you tick those boxes you can transfer your private licence plate for two reasons:

  • You want to transfer it to another vehicle
  • You want to keep hold of the licence plate for future use

It’s important to remember that you need to inform your insurer if you change the registration plate number on your car.

So if you’re selling your old car or getting it scrapped, you’ll need to remove your private number plate before you do, otherwise you lose the right to it. When you apply to remove your personalised licence plate the original registration number will go on the car once more.

Be warned, if you own a registration plate that begins with the letter ‘Q’, you will not be able to keep hold of it.

What do you need to transfer your personalised licence plate?

  • £80 and a valid debit or credit card
  • 11-digit document reference from your vehicle’s V5C logbook

Registering your new personalised number plate

It’s not enough to just buy your personalised licence plate, you then need to assign it to your vehicle.

When you buy a private licence plate online you’ll get an email confirmation of your purchase, while a V750, a Certificate of Entitlement, will be posted within two weeks; it’s this you need to use to assign your new plate to your vehicle.

From here you need to apply to get your new registration assigned to your vehicle through the DVLA, which you can do online or by post.

You can only fit your new registration plates once you have received confirmation from the DVLA in the form of a V5C Registration Certificate.

Can I put my private plate on a leased car?

You can, but as you don’t own the car you’ll need to take a few extra steps.

First you’ll have to contact the leasing company and get their permission. If they agree, you should fill in the V750 and change the nominee on the form to the finance provider.

A separate administration fee will usually be charged to do this.

Most leasing companies will also request you remove the plate and register a standard one before handing the vehicle back, so you should undergo the same process again a month or two before your leasing period expires.

Do I need to tell my insurer about a personalised number plate?

Yes, you do. Insurance won’t become any more expensive if your car’s fitted with a personalised number plate, but if you change your vehicle registration without telling your insurer you’re likely to invalidate your cover. Find out more about registration plates and your car insurance. 

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