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How do personalised number plates work? The full guide

Learn all you need to know about buying a private number plate, the legal UK requirements, and how to go about the process

A close up of an orange Mercedes with a personalised number plate

How do private number plates work?

Private number plates are those fancy plates you often see on cars that spell out names and words. They're also known as 'personalised number plates'.

They're a great way of making your car look unique and have you stand out on the roads.

Buying a personalised number plate is something that many motorists look forward to and can often be quite expensive, depending on the plate you choose.

What can you get on a personalised number plate?

If you fancy getting your own personalised plate, you’ll need to think of a word, phrase, name, or initials that mean something to you and can fit onto a UK registration plate.

It might not be possible to get the exact word you’re after, but there will likely be variations that will fit the bill.

For example, you might need to shorten a name or use numbers in place of letters.

The number ‘4’ is a good stand-in for the letter ‘A’, while some might choose a ‘7’ in place of a ‘T’.

All registration plates still must fit the UK legal requirements, so make sure you check this before going ahead.

How to buy a personalised number plate from the DVLA or dealers

Once you know what kind of phrase you’d like on your private number plate, it’s time to track it down.

The DVLA set aside a number of registrations it thinks people might want as personalised plates.

It’ll then sell these at auctions throughout the year.

There are other ways to purchase a plate, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one that suits your preferences.

Find number plates for sale

Private plates from the DVLA

The DVLA is the best place to start to get a private plate right from the source.

It has a handy search tool that will let you browse the collection of plates on offer, or you can bid in any auctions if you see a registration you want.

Private plates from dealers

There are dealers out here who purchase personalised number plates to sell on, but this will likely be the more expensive option as they want to make a profit.

If you’re looking for a particular plate and can’t find it on the DVLA site, a dealer is a good next step.

Private plates from private sellers

Some people choose to sell personalised registrations privately, though this isn’t all that common.

Take a look at online forums and the advertisements in car magazines to see if you can spot your perfect plate.

A number plate being fitted to the front of a car

How to put a private number plate on your car

Once you've purchased your private plate, you’ll need to start the process of putting it on your car.

You can’t just pull the old one off and stick on the new one – there's a procedure you’ll need to follow.

  1. Visit the DVLA website to assign a plate online

  2. Enter the private plate and confirm you are the purchaser of the plate

  3. Fill out your vehicle details, including the current registration number and latest logbook (V5C) number

  4. You’ll also need to supply the registered keeper’s postcode as it appears on the logbook, and use the reference number you were given at the start of the online process to provide your V750/V778 details

  5. Pay the £80 transfer fee to the DVLA to complete the transfer

You can also do the transfer by post:

  1. Use your in-date V750/V778 form and fill out section one, making sure the registered keeper and nominee name are the same

  2. Fill out section one on the form, and sign sections one and six

  3. Send the form, along with an £80 cheque payable to DVLA Swansea, and your V5C to the DVLA

Don’t forget to let your insurer know if you’ve put a new plate on your car to prevent invalidating your cover.

What’s the UK law for personalised number plates?

In the UK, there are restrictions on what personalised plates you can use on your car based on the vehicle’s age.

You can't make your car look newer than it is by using a date that’s newer than the car itself.

The current style number plates in the UK display the age of the car with the third and fourth digits.

There are two plates issued each year that signify when the car was registered.

There are also restrictions on how your plate must look.

All plates must be made from reflective material, not have a patterned background, or use irregular spacing and fonts.

The front plate must be black characters on a white background, while the rear plate must be black characters on a yellow background.

A close up shot of a number plate reading: 'NEW'

How to transfer personalised number plates

You can transfer your current private number plate to a new car by paying a transfer fee of £80 to the DVLA.

You can do this online, or by sending a cheque through the post.

To transfer your plate online, you’ll need to visit the website to remove the licence plate from the current vehicle and then follow the steps to assign the plate to a new vehicle.

Through the post, you can fill out a V317 form and send this along with your vehicle’s logbook (V5C).

You could also send the ‘new keepers’ slip and completed V62 instead.

Can I keep my personalised number plate if it's not on a car? How to retain a personalised number plate

You can keep a personalised number plate even if it's not on the car; you just need to contact the DVLA to retain the registration and get the V778 retention document.

You can visit the DVLA website to retain a private plate, and once you’ve done this you have the rights to the plate for 10 years.

After this, you have to renew the V778 every 10 years so you don’t lose the rights to the registration.

How much is a personalised number plate? Private plate prices

Private number plates can be expensive depending on the type of plate you choose.

In fact, back in 2014, the registration plate ‘25 O’ was sold for an eye-watering £518,480.

Not all plates need to be that expensive though, and prices usually start at around £200.

Plates that are going to be well –sought-after will have higher price tags, such as the classic ‘F1’ plate.

Keep your eyes on the DVLA site and auctions to grab a bargain.

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