Private plates are no longer a hobby. They’re big business. Each year, the DVLA rakes in over £100 million just by selling personalised plates. Some of these have become so sought-after that they’re fetching outright ridiculous sums. In fact, some plates have become far more expensive than the vehicles they’re attached to!
It’s easy to see, then, that such costly items have become the target of thieves. But it’s not just the ultra-exclusive plates. Did you know that owning a private plate makes your car twice as likely to get stolen? It is for this reason, too, that you need to notify your insurance provider straight away as soon as you’ve fitted one to your car, And be prepared to pay a higher premium as a consequence.
In this feature, we’ll fill you in on everything you need to know when it comes to buying and transferring a private plate. Things may seem complicated. But don’t worry. After reading through the information below, you’ll be able to take care of things without resorting to a dealer.
Private plates: Insane prices
Before we get to the practical part, let’s take a look at the madness of private plates. Is that putting it too strongly? Well, what other word should we use to describe the inflated prices demanded for selected plates at the moment?
Here are the most expensive plates ever sold on the UK market, according to website iNews:
1. ’25 O’: This seemingly unspectacular plate sold for the freakishly high price of £518,000. It remains the most expensive plate in the UK to this day by a far margin. What makes it special? Well, you can attach it to one of your freakishly expensive cars, such as a Ferrari 250 GTO. Besides, Ferrari dealer John Collins did not think it was excessive at all. Rather, he considered his purchase the ‘ultimate plate for the ultimate car’.
2. ‘F 1’: We don’t we need to explain why this combination is so popular. ‘F 1′ was the UK’s most expensive plate for many years, before it was overtaken by ’25 O’. It fetched £440,000 at the time.
3. ‘S 1’: This one’s far more interesting than the first two in our opinion. This plate is supposedly Scotland’s very first plate. Its value is therefore based not so much on ego or coolness, but historical relevance. It sold for £404,000 to an anonymous bidder. Here’s another fun fact: He claimed he’d fix it to a Skoda!
Why get a private plate?
It goes without saying that paying half a million Pounds for a number plate is borderline insane. Or perhaps it’s merely one of the things you need to keep life interesting if you have more money than you could ever spend.
One thing’s for sure: Plates like ’25 O’ or ‘1 D’ serve very little purpose other than stroking their owner’s ego. Sometimes, they may also act as an investment, which can be sold on at an even higher price.
This doesn’t mean that private plates can not be fun.
In fact, they’re one of the nicest thing about owning and driving a car. Here are some simple and modest reasons for getting one:
- Many cars these days have become almost perfect, but somewhat sterile products. A private plate can strengthen the relationship between you and your car and give it a more personal touch.
- A private plate can contain hidden messages. Some of them may only be apparent to yourself. Others are directed at other drivers. Either way, a bit of innocent mystery can be quite entertaining.
- Even if you don’t have half a million lying on your account, a well chosen private plate can still be a worthwhile investment. There is only one plate for each combination, which makes them such great speculation objects. Just imagine your financial situation if you had bought ’25 O’ at its regular price!
As website Aspiring Gentleman points out, another benefit is that you’ll never forget your plate anymore.
Which is actually a lot more useful and valuable than you might think. To understand, why, let’s take a look at the standard fair.
Standard Issue: What does a regular plate look like?
Different countries have different plate systems. To an outsider, many of these will look completely random at first. It is only on closer inspection that these reveal their meaning.
In the UK, too, there is a clear system behind each plate. For starters, they all follow the same format:
- The first two letters indicate where in the UK the car was registered. (This is actually very similar to the way plates work in many European countries, including, among others. Germany)
- The following two numbers are an age identifier. This is how it works: If you register the car between March and August, use the last two digits of the year. So, a car registered in 2020 would have ’20’. If you register the car between September and February, add 50 to this number. (i.e. 70 in this example)
- Finally, the plate contains three random letters. These make the plate unique to each owner.
There are also a few rules which mostly ensure legibility:
- The background of the plate needs to be plain. There must not be any pattern.
- The plate needs to be made of reflective materials. This obviously is necessary to make the plate legible at night.
- On both the front and rear plate, all letters and numbers need to be black. The front plate must use a white background, the one on the rear a yellow one.
And that’s it! All of these limitations mean that whatever exotic private plate you may chose, the result will still look pretty standard,
Getting a private plate: Overview of all the documents and forms
In the following section, we’ll cover the processes for buying and/or transferring a private plate. As you will see, there’s quite a bit of information to digest and take into consideration.
This is why we’ll begin by giving you an overview of the various documents and forms you’ll require. You don’t need to know this list by heart. But it certainly helps to have a rough understanding of this:
V5C: This is the vehicle log book. It contains a variety of basic information related to your car. Although the V5C is available online these days, there is still a paper version for each car. When you buy a private plate for the first time or when you later transfer it, this information is updated by the DVLA. To this end, you will have to send it in and then wait until you receive the current version.
V317: Transfer / retention form: Use this form if you want to transfer a plate from one car to another. Depending on your preferences and needs, you can transfer the plate directly or hold on to (‘retain’) it a little longer.
V750: Also called the Certificate of Entitlement. It entitles you to use a private plate for your car. Once you have received your V750, you will have to renew it every ten years or else it will expire.
V778: If you wish to retain a private plate without actually using it yet, you’ll need the V778, or Retention Document. It works exactly like the V750/Certificate of Entitlement. Meaning, it’s valid for a decade after which you need to renew it.
Private Plates Part 1: Buying
Before you can transfer a private plate from one car to the next, you first need to have bought one. So that’s where we’ll start.
The process is neither particularly complicated nor very expensive. As we mentioned, the DVLA makes a lot of cash by means of the total amount of plates sold each year. But for the average driver, getting a private plate is only a moderate investment, at a mere £80.
In the following section, we’ll go over the different steps with you one by one. Before you begin, however, you need to take a decision first.
Buying from the DVLA or a dealer?
As with a car, you can buy a private plate through a specialised dealer. You can find these all over the web and their prices usually seem pretty okay. Alternatively, you can apply for a plate directly with the DVLA. The DVLA is the main government body issuing licenses and plates and has set up fixed procedures for this.
Some will argue that which of the two is better is a question of personal preference:
- Applying for a private plate with the DVLA is straight-forward and simple and, best of all, cheaper. There is no magic formula to the process, nor are your chances of getting the plate of your dreams higher with a dealer. Just read up on the topic, apply your knowledge and everything else will fall into place.
- Going through a dealer is more comfortable. Granted, the dealer will set you back a few Pounds. But she will also take care of all the paperwork for you. This includes assigning the plates to the car. If there are any hickups or questions along the way, the dealer will respond to them in an adequate fashion – ideally, at least.
We tend to disagree, though. Applying for a private plate is a very simple and basic task and there really is no need to go through a dealer for this. Save the money, use it to pay off your car loan in time – and continue reading our private plate tutorial instead.
To actually be eligible for a private plate, you need to fulfil a few criteria. None of this is particularly groundbreaking. Some of it may actually sound a bit trivial. But for completeness’s sake, we are listing all requirements below:
- The car must ‘exist’ or rather, be available. Sounds like a strange requirement? Well, it simply means that the DVLA needs to be able to inspect it. Getting a private plate for a car you’ve got stashed away on the other side of the globe somewhere won’t work.
- The car must be registered with the DVLA in the UK. You must be the legal owner and this needs to be included in your V5C document. Also, its tax needs to be in order.
- The car must, as the government stress, “be of a type that needs an MOT or heavy goods vehicle (HGV) test certificate” and “be able to move under its own power”. We suspect these conditions were included to avoid people getting private plates for their trailers.
- The registration can not make the car appear to be younger than it actually is. What does this mean? Let’s assume you own a car registered in 2010. Then you can’t get a number plate like ‘D 15’, which would suggest that it’s from 2015. The idea behind this rule is to protect drivers from potentially scrupulous dealers trying to trick potential buyers into bad deals.
- The plate needs to be a standard issue and legible. (For more on this, see above) You can not transfer a ‘Q’ or ‘QNI’ plate. These cars are classics whose exact identity remains doubtful. Finally, the plate may not be rude or offensive. (Do you really need any examples?)
Buying a private plate: The process
The process for acquiring a private plate is fairly simple, as we mentioned. It is even simpler if you just bought a brand new car. In that case, the dealer can and should take care of this for you.
Do note that things will take a little longer if you want to fit the plate to a used car you only recently bought. The reason being that you will first need to wait until you receive the new V5C document.
Then, you can start shopping for a private plate of your liking.
There are a few ways you can do this. We already mentioned dealers, but would advise against them, as mentioned.
The easiest option is to go through DVLA Personalised Registrations. This is a very simple website which allows you to check whether your favourite plate is available.
The nice thing to the site is that it will check with all available outlets. Meaning it will also trawl through the current auctions.
Which brings us to your second option: Many private plates are auctioned off by the DVLA. These plates were once in the possession of a driver registered in the UK but have now reverted back to the agency. Auctions bring them back into rotation.
These auctions take place up to five times a year. For more information, visit the DVLA website.
Once you’ve bought the plate, you will receive the V750. This means, you can now use this particular plate for a car of yours. You still need to apply, though.
Your next step is to assign a private number to a vehicle.
You can do this online or by post. All it takes is either a V778 retention document or the V750 certificate of entitlement. Everything the DVLA needs is included in these.
In return, the DVLA will send you the new, updated V5C document. Whatcar explain what happens next:
“Once you’ve done this, the car’s original registration number is automatically reassigned, and you’ll need to fit the old number plates before it can be driven on public roads. As before, you’ll be sent a new V5C document, detailing the car’s original registration number, a V778 ‘retention’ document – which proves the private plates still belong to you and that you can use them later – and a reference number.”
Next to fitting the plate to the car, you will also need to notify your insurance provider instantly. As mentioned, they may consider a private number plate an additional risk and adjust your policy accordingly.
Finally, buy the actual plate.
If you’re going through a dealer, this step is obviously taken care of for you. Once the dealer has readied the paperwork, they will manufacture the plate and send it to you.
If you’ve taken care of the above mentioned steps yourself, you will need to look for a suitable manufacturer. Thankfully, the government website actually allows you to search for registered suppliers close to where you live.
Make sure to take the following documents with you when purchasing the plate:
- A valid identity document. These include, among others, your driving license or national identity card. Your passport is not enough! (It does not include your current address)
- Proof that you can actually use the registration number. There are many documents which can do the task. These include V5C, V750 or V778.
Once you receive your beautiful new plate, fit it to your car and start driving.
Transferring a private plate
Transferring a plate becomes a topic when you start looking for a new car. That is, if you actually want to keep the private plate. If you do not, you could also sell the car with the plate and try to make a profit with it. The process to get this done is easy. Just fill out the “Assign a number online form” to the new owner’s name on the DVLA website.
Alternatively, you can also sell the plate separately to a dealer. This can make sense if you have a plate that you think will fetch quite a nice sum.
If you do want to keep the plate, then there are two basic options.
Option 1: Transfer the plate directly
This tends to be the default option: You buy a car and transfer the private plate from your first car straight to its successor.
Simply apply for the transfer using the V317 form. In this form, you can specify all details on the new and old car. Send this V317 along with the V5C to the DVLA and wait for them to process it.
As soon as they’re done, you will receive the necessary entitlement and can fit the plates to the new car.
Option 2: Retain the plate
Sometimes, you do want to keep a private plate, without actually making use of it straight away. Maybe you currently like another plate better, but could imagine using the old plate again sometime in the future.
Whatever the reason, the DVLA have explicitly allowed for this option. The process is identical to transferring a plate. The only difference is that you need to check the boxes for retaining the plate.
Instead of the V750, you will receive the V778 this time, which allows you to hold on to the plate for ten years. If you decide you do want to use it, simply apply for the V750 online.
Is your head spinning from all these options and different forms? We can relate. In practise, however, you’ll find that things are a lot easier than they may seem. And if you want to buy from CCC, don’t worry: We’ve got you covered! Talk to us now about finding a great second hand car with a suitable plate.