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.

Buying from the DVLA direct

At the time of writing, more than 41 million personalised number plates are available through the DVLA website. Now that sounds like a lot, because it is, but if you buy from here you'll only be able to buy Current, Prefix or Northern Irish style number plates, and you will only have the choice of 'new' number plates that haven't already been registered to a car. So if you're looking for a particular plate, especially one that spells out a name or a word, you may find that this has already been sold and you will then need to look towards a private seller or a dealer. For many personalised number plates however, the DVLA website is a good place to start. Our advice would be to always check that the DVLA doesn't have the plate you want, before purchasing from a dealers or elsewhere, and we will go onto why later...

When you have an idea of the sort of number plate you'd like, check that it's available. On the DVLA website you can do this quickly and easily by entering the characters or digits that you'd like and then clicking 'search'. You'll be presented with a list of options, including your first choice (if it's available) and a handful of variations on the same characters. Prices start from around £250, but expect to pay into the thousands for more desirable plates.

The DVLA will send you a Certificate of Entitlement (V750), which entitles you to put the plate on your car. You won't get sent the actual 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.

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 some 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.

If you're put off by the idea of a tense live auction, you can put in a 'sealed bid'. These are handed to the auctioneer over the course of a couple of weeks and remain invisible to other bidders. When the pre-set deadline arrives, all bids are opened and the number plate is awarded to whoever offered the highest amount.

Buying from a number plate dealer

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 dealers are often just acting as middlemen, advertising number plates on behalf of private sellers (meaning they will be adding a premium onto the price as commission) or even sometimes the DVLA.

Before purchasing a number plate from a dealer, always, always, always (yes we did say that three times!) check that the number plate you are looking to purchase, isn't a number plate that is actually available from the DVLA. Some dealers claim to be 'Cheaper than the DVLA', however, the price they quote doesn't include the £80 transfer fee or the VAT, which they add on top at the time of purchase, whereas with the DVLA, the price you see is an 'all-in' price, which includes VAT and the transfer fee, meaning there is nothing more to pay!

Buying privately

A lot of number plate sellers are now choosing to cut out the middlemen, and bypass dealers, opting to sell their number plate directly so they are not losing money due to commission, so some of the best number plates on the market are currently being advertised privately, on websites like Plate-Trader.

Buying privately often means a better deal for both buyer and seller, as you can deal directly and negotiate on price, and you don't end up paying a number plate dealer a percentage of the price as commission.

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 you have found the number plate you want on Plate-Trader, you can either call or email the seller directly as their details are displayed on our website.

The next step is the negotiation, once you have made contact with the seller, you need to set your budget in your mind and decide the figure which you are willing to pay for the plate. Remember that the number plate market is mainly a buyers market as there are so many millions of combinations available, meaning you can afford to pick and choose the best combination, so don't pay over the odds for your plate! That said, every plate is unique and time is also a factor as the combination you want may not be available for sale again for some time. Strike a balance between these factors and offer the seller what you are willing to pay for the plate, but do be prepared to negotiate.

With the deal then done (hopefully) the seller can arrange to transfer the number plate directly from their vehicle to yours, or, if you don't yet have a car to assign the number plate to, the seller can ask the DVLA to put your name on a Retention Document, or Certificate of Entitlement, which gives you the right to assign the number plate to a vehicle.

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