Everything you need to know about private registration plates

Posted by mustard.co.uk on August 17th, 2017

Every year, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has more than 45 million personalised registration plates available to buy.

The DVLA has been selling personalised plates since 1989 and after almost 30 years in business, it estimates it’s raised more than £2billion in private plate sales.

They’re extremely popular in the UK, as you can see, but depending on the level of personalisation you’re after, they can cost quite a lot of money but it really depends on the type of registration plate you want.

The different types of personalised registration plates

There are four basic styles of registration plate in the UK. They are:

  1. Current style

The current style registration plate has been in use since 2001 and consists of seven characters, beginning with two letters, two numbers and finishing with three random letters. The numbers indicate the vehicle’s age.

You can buy personalised versions of current style plates but they’re often difficult to spot because their variations are quite subtle.

An example of a personalised current style plate available to buy online is ‘AB02 ACC’.


  1. Prefix style

Prefix style registration plates were issued in the UK between 1983 and 2001. They are called prefix plates because it’s the first letter that indicates the vehicle’s age.

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

An example of a personalised prefix style plate available to buy online is ‘A1 BXU’.

  1. Suffix style

Suffix style registration plates were in use in the UK between 1963 and 1983. They have the age indicator at the end of the licence plate.

They started with the letter ‘A’, so if you see a registration plate which was ‘ABC 123A’, it would have been registered in 1963 while the plate ‘ABC 123B’ would have been registered in 1964.

  1. Dateless style

Dateless style registration plates were used in the UK prior to 1963. Nothing within the licence plate indicates the vehicle’s age.

Where are personalised licence plates sold?

You can buy a personalised licence plate online or via DVLA auctions.

Dateless style licence plates generally don’t make it online and are primarily sold at auction.

How much do personalised licence plates cost?

The cost of a personalised licence plate really depends on how personalised you want to make it and where you buy it from.

Pricing starts online from £250 and rises to a peak of £2,500 for private plates but at auction, costs can rise rapidly, depending on demand.

The most expensive number plates ever sold


The most expensive car number plate ever is the ’25 O’ bought by a Ferrari dealer in 2014. It cost an eye-watering £518,000.

Generally, the most expensive private plates ever are two to three characters long, however Roman Abramovich, Chelsea FC owner, paid a reported £285,000 for ‘VIP 1’ while ‘51 NGH’ was sold in 2006 for a whopping £254,000.

What makes a personalised number plate 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.


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 form 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.

You can find out more about how the UK licence plate system works, what happens when new registration plates are released and more in our useful insurance guides.