There are many different options available when you come to buy your number plate from high-street retail outlets and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to specialty plate sellers and classified adverts.
From the essential paperwork you’ll need to provide to the different options available depending on your reason for purchase, we’ll investigate the ins and outs of picking up a number plate in the UK.
How to buy number plates
If you’re buying a replacement plate for your car, you need to gather the appropriate supporting documents that prove who you are and your entitlement to the vehicle. You can then buy a new plate from a variety of different sources.
If you’re looking to buy a personalised plate, you can use the search facility on a variety of sites from the DVLA to companies that specialise in number plates to track down one that represents a name, phrase or word of your choosing.
If you want to transfer the plate to a specific vehicle, you’ll need to provide your V5C registration document along with your proof of personal ID. If you aren’t ready to attach it to a car or are buying it as a gift this can be carried out later.
Where to buy number plates
Number plates can be bought from several different sources. Only registered suppliers can make and sell new plates to car buyer, but privately-owned plates can be sold at auctions online, through specialist brokers and even in classified ads in your local paper.
For an inexpensive and easy option, high street auto-retailers like Halfords offer a simple service that’s easy to use and is affordable. If you’re looking for a specific plate number or one that represents something personal to you, first check the DVLA’s offering before looking at private sales.
What do I need to buy a number plate?
Aside from the finances to acquire one, you’ll often need some supporting documentation when purchasing a new plate. Whether you’re buying a number plate for yourself or as a gift for a friend or family member, you’ll need to supply proof of identification that includes your photo and states where you live. If you want to attach the number plate to a vehicle, you’ll need to show entitlement to that vehicle with a V5C registration document.
If you buy a registration plate as a gift, you won’t need vehicle paperwork until the plate is transferred to a car. This can be done later by the recipient of the gifted plate.
If you’re buying a rare plate through a broker, either they or the plate owner may want to ask for additional forms of verification from you.
Where can I buy personalised number plates?
Personal plates are commonly purchased by three different methods. You can buy your personalised plate directly from the DVLA for a fixed price or at one of its periodic auctions. You can also buy your plates from specialist brokers and companies trading in plates and finally, personalised plates can be bought in a private sale.
Purchasing directly from the DVLA is commonly thought to be your first port of call, especially if cost is a concern as it will avoid you needing to pay any mark-up added on by the middleman. Online you’ll discover the DVLA site has a highly efficient search engine. It’ll allow you to input various criteria to help narrow your search and deliver you results to browse that fit or come close to fitting the plate you’re searching for. The results will consist of plates of the current style used today, which means two letters, then two numbers with a further three letters following. The DVLA will also show plates that were issued before 2001 in the search results. Often referred to as prefix plates these registrations will consist of a single letter, followed by between one to three numbers and then finishing with three letters.
Occasionally, you’ll sometimes see number plates sold at auctions held by the DVLA. These can either be timed auctions or physical auctions where you’re able to bid in real time, either at the auction in person or remotely online. Timed auctions are similar to auction-style sites, such as eBay, where you must set your maximum bid stating the highest price you’re willing to buy the plate for. This price remains unseen by other bidders. The system will then bid automatically for you, until it reaches your stated limit. If you’re the highest bidder by the end of the auction, just as with an auction house, you’ll win the auction and the number plate will be yours.
A higher-priced option to purchase a number plate than via the DVLA is buying through a broker as this will include a markup in price. The number plate broker will usually have bought the plate from the DVLA to sell it on and you’ll pay for that cost too. However, a broker can be a worthy option when you’re hunting a plate you can’t find anywhere else. Do remember though, you will pay extra for it.
Your last choice is buying your registration plate in a private sale. You’ll see advertisements in auto magazines as well as online via car sites with various number plates being sold off by their owners privately. They can be priced in the advert or sometimes welcome offers, but always make certain before any transaction takes place that a number plate fully conforms to the DVLA's regulations. All number plates must comply to specific size heights and widths when it comes to characters and must contain at least one number. All characters must also be of equal height with one and other. It’s well worth remembering that it’s illegal to use a new number plate on an older vehicle to make it appear younger than its age.
What documents do I need to buy a number plate?
Whether you’re purchasing a personalised number plate for your car from an online supplier, or replacing a damaged registration plate at an auto store like Halfords, you’ll often need certain documentation to complete the transaction.
Number plate suppliers are required by law to keep a record of any sales of number plates in order for the authorities to be able to trace who they sold them to. For this reason, you’ll typically be asked for proof of your identity when purchasing.
As outlined by the DVLA, the current law states that you’ll have to provide both proof of your identity and official proof of entitlement to the plate registration you require if you want to purchase a replacement plate. No plates will be made before your documents have been verified.
For proof of your identity, you’ll be required to supply both photographic ID, such as passport or your driving licence, and a form of dated documentation with your address on it, such as a bank statement or household utility bill - these must be no older than six months. Other forms of identification considered acceptable include your debit card issued by your bank or an armed forces identity card or police warrant card.
For proof of entitlement you should supply a vehicle registration certificate known as a V5C or logbook or the tear off part from V5C known as section 10. Alternatively, you may have a V778 Cherished Transfer Retention Certificate, a V379 temporary Registration Certificate or a V11 Vehicle Licence Renewal Certificate.
Can I buy number plates online?
It’s perfectly possible to buy number plates online and even have them arrive at your home by post. You can buy number plates directly through the DVLA or via one of their online auctions, which happen periodically. Car.co.uk also specialise in supplying registration plates and offer advice on the different kinds of plates.
Where to buy replacement number plates
It’s a legal requirement here in the UK that number plates must always be legible. Over time car number plates can become faded or even suffer damage causing them to be obscured. To avoid paying an unnecessary fine, it’s a smart move to get them replaced as soon as you can.
Damaged plates that have been cracked or become difficult to read can be replaced cost effectively at auto stores, and for a small additional fee they’ll usually fit them as well, although it’s a good idea to book this request in advance. They often offer an efficient service that allows you to wait while they make them up, which can be more convenient when you need plates fast.