Buying a private number plate
Buying a number plate for the first time can be very daunting, there are many places to buy from, and you may even find the same number plate for sale on different websites at different prices. In this guide, we will try to clear up all the confusion, and give you some useful and helpful information on where you should buy from, and what to expect.
When purchasing a number plate, there are generally 4 options; you can, buy from the DVLA directly, buy at a DVLA auction, buy from a number plate dealer or buy privately, and we’ll cover each option below.
OPTION 1 - Buying from the DVLA direct
The DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) is the government body responsible for assigning, transferring and retaining personalised number plates in the UK.
With over 50 million registrations available, they’re always the first place we recommend searching if you are looking for a personalised number plate.
The reason is simple, if you find a brand-new registration (as in one that’s never previously been issued/assigned to a vehicle), then they’re guaranteed to be the cheapest place to buy it from - in the past we’ve seen dealers advertising DVLA plates on their sites claiming to be cheaper, however their prices excluded VAT and the £80 assignment fee, so once you got to the checkout, the plates actually worked out to be quite a bit more expensive. The DVLA do seem to have stamped this out now but it’s worth noting.
As eluded to above though, the main limitation with the DVLA site is that they only sell registrations that have never been issued before.
With more and more people now choosing the personalise their cars with a cherished plate, many of the ‘best’ registrations have already been purchased, therefore you aren’t going to find that elusive P3 TER or R4 LPH plate on the DVLA site.
If you do find a plate you like, you can purchase online or over the telephone, and once you have done so, the DVLA will send you a Certificate of Entitlement (V750), which entitles you to put the plate on your car.
As with almost every place you purchase a registration from, you won't be sent a physical number plate, though, so you'll need to take proof of identity (like a Driving Licence) and your Certificate of Entitlement to your nearest registered number plate supplier, who will be able to make it up for you. Expect to pay around £20 for a set of plates.
OPTION 2 - Buying at a DVLA auction
The DVLA's number plate auctions can be great for picking up some of the most exclusive plates, but you'll have to be flexible when it comes to money.
Most lots have a reserve of a couple of hundred pounds, but don’t rely on this as an indicator of a plates value or how much it will sell for - some registrations go on to fetch incredible amounts. The plate '51 NGH', for example, was sold for £254,000 back in 2006, and in March 2009 '1 D' went for a record £352,000.
There are usually six DVLA auctions a year, with each one featuring about 1,600 number plates over three separate days. You can view number plates ahead of the auction on the DVLA website and then, when the auction starts, you're able to place bids by phone, over the internet, or in person.
It’s worth noting that your bid, or the ‘hammer price’ isn’t actually the full amount you will have to pay for a registration when purchasing at auction. The hammer price doesn’t include VAT, the Auctioneer’s Buyer’s Premium 7% (+ VAT) or the £80 Assignment Fee, which are all additional extra costs to consider.
Once again, once you’ve completed a purchase, the DVLA will send you a Certificate of Entitlement (V750), which entitles you to assign the registration to your vehicle, and again you’ll need to get your physical plates made up.
OPTION 3 - Buying from a number plate dealer
As mentioned before, if you want to purchase a ‘second hand’ registration, i.e. one that someone has already purchased and now may be wishing to sell on, then you’ll need to look elsewhere than the DVLA.
The DVLA isn't the only place that sells personalised number plates. In fact, if you want a particularly desirable plate, you may be better off searching among the many private number plate dealers that operate in the UK. This is because some of the best plates will have already changed hands several times before finding their way back onto the market.
If you are buying from a dealer, your first port of call should be one of the dealers belonging to the Cherished Numbers Dealers Association (CNDA). This group, set up by the Retail Motor Industry Federation, aims to instil confidence in number-plate buyers by making its members sign up to a strict code of conduct, however do be aware that whilst some carry their own stock, dealers are often acting as middlemen, advertising number plates on behalf of private sellers (meaning they will be adding a commission onto the price - it’s how they make their money).
In exchange for their commission, they will handle the sale (much like an estate agent does with a property), so you’ll be speaking to the dealer when making your purchase, rather than the actual seller of the plate.
If you’ve read the first section of this guide, you’ll be aware of this already, but it’s worth highlighting again - before purchasing a number plate from a dealer, always, always check that the number plate you are looking to purchase isn't available from the DVLA direct, if it is and you buy from a dealer, you’ll be paying more than you need to.
Also, we recommend entering the number plate into Google in quotes e.g "ABC 123", and checking its price across multiple sites. Some plates are advertised with multiple sites who all add different commission amounts onto their price.
Take the below example - we’ve not included details of the registration or the dealers websites as that wouldn’t be fair to the seller of this particular registration or the dealers, however, all of these 4 images are screenshots of the prices being displayed on 4 different dealer websites for the same registration!
For this reason, you should always shop around and we’d also recommend trying to negotiate too. Maybe play the dealers off against each other and see if they’ll beat each others prices - a dealer may be willing to accept a smaller commission, therefore reducing the amount you pay, to secure a sale.
Also, read the next section before committing to a purchase.
OPTION 4 - Buying privately
As well as searching multiple dealer sites, it’s definitely worth checking across various selling sites for a plate too, as many private sellers are now choosing to cut out the middlemen and bypass dealers, selling their number plates directly to avoid paying/losing hefty commissions.
For this reason, you can now find some of the best private number plates on the market currently being advertised privately, on websites such as eBay and of course Plate-Trader.
Buying privately often means a better deal for both buyer and seller, as you can deal directly and negotiate on price, and neither party pays more or receives less than the other party. Sellers get to keep 100% of the selling price, not receiving less than the buyer has actually paid. Buyers don’t pay a penny more than the selling price, not paying an amount inflated by dealer commission.
Buying privately though is a bit more involved than buying from a dealer or the DVLA, as you’ll need to handle the monetary side of things as well as transferring ownership of the registration. For that reason, we will detail the end-to-end process below.
Before we do though, the first step with buying privately, is finding a number plate you like. Using keyword searching and other great features that Plate-Trader offers; finding your ideal number plate is not as difficult as you may think, however, do bear in mind that although it is where you will find some of the best plates the private market is quite a lot smaller than buying direct DVLA so you will often get less results when searching.
If using a site like eBay, you can of course use the buy it now or bidding functions to make a purchase, however, if you have found a number plate you want on another selling site such as Plate-Trader, you can get in touch with the seller directly using the contact form on our website.
Once you have agreed a price, you now need to complete the sale.
Although the internet is generally the best place to find a plate, once you have agreed to purchase, we would suggest completing the deal in person wherever possible, particularly for higher end, more expensive registrations.
If you do proceed to complete your purchase remotely, that’s fine too, just exercise caution - particularly for extremely valuable registrations - as unfortunately, although they’re few and far between, there are scammers out there.
As long as you follow the advice below, you will be absolutely fine, in fact, it makes it almost impossible to be scammed.
Regardless of whether you’re completing the deal face to face or online, the first step is to make the payment for the registration.
Before you do so, you should ask for some reassurance that the seller actually own the registration they’re advertising. For your peace of mind, you may want to ask them for a copy (or photograph, if proceeding remotely) of their logbook (V5C), Retention Document (V750) or Certificate of Entitlement (V778) to prove that they own the rights to the registration, along with some photo identification, before making payment.
For the actual payment, we recommend using a secure service such as Paypal which provides peace of mind and protection to both parties. If using PayPal, be sure to send the payment under the category of goods and services to ensure both parties are protected. Also, be sure to wait until you have received cleared funds before proceeding any further.
With the payment completed, you now need to transfer the registration.
If it's currently on a vehicle then you the seller should apply to take it off and put it on to a retention certificate. They can do this using the DVLA's new online service here (please note this service is only available between the hours of 7am and 7pm) or if they prefer the old fashioned route you can complete a V317 application form available here. It costs £80 to remove a plate from a vehicle, however, do bear in mind that this includes the Assignment Fee, meaning that you don't have to pay any further fees to put the plate on to your vehicle.
Once the number plate is off the vehicle and 'on retention' it can be transferred to you.
The easiest way to do this is for the seller to give you the Certificate Number and for you to visit the DVLA website here (please note this service is only available between the hours of 7am and 7pm). This will allow you to assign the registration to your vehicle instantly online and in doing so, will transfer rights/ownership of the registration to you. Alternatively, if you’d prefer the postal method, then the seller just needs to sign & date in Sections 1 & 6 or your Retention Document and post it to the you using a trackable postal service. This also allows you to assign the registration to your vehicle and transfers rights/ownership of the registration to you.
That's all there is to it!
We hope that this guide has given you some useful information about where to buy from and how to complete the purchase.
If you learned anything from this guide at all, even if it's something really small, we want to hear from you. We love hearing how we've helped our readers, so please get in touch and let us know!