One way of expressing your individuality on the road is not just with the car you drive, but by having a personalised number plate.

But how much is a personalised number plate, and how do you go about getting one?

Here, we look at what you need to do, what the rules are about what your personalised number plate should look like and how much it’s likely to cost you, all in.

What are Personalised Number Plates?

There are various kinds of personalised plates you can get for your vehicle. What they all have in common is that they’re the kind of number plates car owners buy to replace their original plates.

How much freedom does this give you to choose your own number plate?

Well, there are rules. The plate must already exist in the DVLA database and no one else can own it – unless it’s someone who is selling the number plate on to you.

Also, if you’re thinking in terms of a personalised plate that’s a bit cheeky or even downright rude, you may need to think again.

The DVLA publishes a list twice a year of number plates it has decided are too rude for the road.

Currently, there are four different number plate formats in circulation in the UK. Therefore, whatever you’re looking for to go on your personalised plate, this will have to conform to one of these formats.

The formats are:

  • Dateless number plates – these are pre-1963 plates, consisting of one or more numerals followed by letters
  • Suffix plates – originally issued between 1963 and 1983, they consist of a group of letters then a number sequence with a letter at the end
  • Prefix plates – from 1983 to 2001, consisting of a prefix letter, followed by numbers and letters
  • Current plates – from 2001 onwards, comprising two location code letters, the numbers showing the year of manufacture and finally a random set of digits.

Therefore, how the arrangement of letters and numbers on your personalised plate appears will depend not just on these characters and numerals, but also on the year of the plate. This will determine their sequence.

Essentially, getting a personalised number plate isn’t a case of you devising your own sequence of characters and getting someone to put them on a plate.

Rather, it’s about searching for the sequence that best gives you what you’re looking for.

Where Can I Get a Personalised Number Plate?

There are three main ways of finding a personalised number plate:

You can:

  • Buy a plate directly from the DVLA
  • Buy one from a private dealer
  • Use a broker to find the plate you want and put an offer on it for you.

The DVLA hosts auctions for number plates regularly across the UK as well as online auctions. It lists forthcoming auctions here.

You can search online for personalised registrations that are currently available.

If you choose instead to buy from a private dealer or use a broker to source and buy your personalised number plate, this will take some research.

You’ll need to search for the type of plate you want or compare brokers before choosing which services to use. When you contact any number plate sellers, do check that they are legitimate. They must be working within the DVLA’s rules.

It pays to be cautious. Selling personalised number plates has been the source of various email scams, and there have been reports of legitimate companies selling new plates without checking first that buyers have the right to use these numbers.

How Much is It to Register a Private Number Plate?

When you buy a private number plate, either the dealer who sells it to you will transfer it to your car on your behalf, or you’ll have to do this yourself.

There are two types of documents for doing this:

  • V750 – certificate of entitlement, or
  • V778 – retention document.

The V750 certificate applies when you have a brand new personalised registration. This is a registration that has never been used on a number plate before.

A V778 applies when you have a personalised registration that is not new but has been removed from a vehicle. The document gives you the right to assign it to another vehicle.

Whether a V750 or v778 applies to you, in either case, it will cost you £80 for the necessary documentation.

Both these documents are valid for 10 years, and it is free to extend them.

How to Get a Personalised Number Plate

We’ve already looked at the different ways of obtaining a personalised number plate, but this is a process that you should take step by step.

You can buy number plates privately, but there is no governing body to ensure you’ll get what you’re paying for. If you do decide to buy your plate this way, you must try and make sure you can trust the seller beforehand.

There are other considerations when looking for a private number plate:

  • Budget
  • Options
  • Plate design.

Budget is an important factor. Although the costs of registering a new plate are clear and defined, what you pay for the number plate itself can vary a lot.

You’ll probably find the most affordable options via the DVLA and at the cheaper end of the scale, you can pick up a personalised plate for around £300.

The most expensive private number plate to date in the UK sold for £518,480 in 2014.

However, what you end up paying will depend largely on how individual you want your plate to be.

Some rare plates or character combinations will run to many thousands of pounds. You have to balance what you’re willing to pay against what’s available – ultimately you can’t design your own set of characters, you can only find a sequence that already exists.

This brings us to the second point, your options. You should explore this as much as possible before you choose your number plate.

Remember those four main formats – dateless, suffix, prefix and current – and think about which one is most likely to give you the kind of plate you want.

Typically, the most affordable options will be current plates. But if you’re going to the effort of getting a private plate, you should be looking beyond affordability at something that appeals personally to you.

Can you find letters or numbers that have some significance for you, such as your initials or date of birth?

Finally, there’s the plate design to think about. When you buy a personalised number plate it’s the registration you’re primarily paying for, and once you have that, you can apply it to different plate designs.

These must conform to guidelines and be road legal. However, this still leaves you with plenty of styles to choose from, such as 3D and 4D number plates.

Current legal requirements for number plates are:

  • You must illuminate them at night
  • They must be legible and not obscured by dirt
  • The size of the plate, the font and spacing of characters must all follow Department of Transport (DoT) regulations
  • Your plates must be manufactured to British Standard (BS) specifications
  • Front plate characters must be black on white
  • Rear plate characters must be black on yellow.

How the Rules Apply to Private Number Plates

You must not display a private number plate until it has been officially assigned to your vehicle. You can’t simply swap plates and drive away.

Make sure you pay the relevant DVLA fee, complete the paperwork and get official confirmation of the assignment of your private number plates before you fit them to your car and drive with them.

Also, be careful about how you use your personalised number plates. You cannot make your car look newer than it really is.

The only circumstances where it’s permissible for the number plate to hide the age of the car is where it’s a dateless plate (pre-1963). You should always be aware of the rules surrounding this before you buy a private plate.

The DVLA’s INF104 booklet explains what you need to know about number plates.

What is the Process of Buying a Private Number Plate?

  • Do your research and decide the type of plate you want
  • Decide whether to buy from DVLA, a private dealer or through a broker
  • Search online for available private number plates
  • Purchase your number plate
  • Apply for the relevant paperwork – V750 or V778
  • Complete and submit the paperwork and wait for confirmation of your registration
  • Fix your new number plates to your vehicle.

How Much is a Personalised Number Plate?

Before you commit to buying a number plate from a dealer, check whether they’re adding on VAT. Factor in the DVLA charge for documentation too. Work out your budget and weigh up whether the plate you want is worth it.

The options of how much you spend on a personalised plate can be quite broad, depending on the plate you end up going for.

Relatively speaking, the administrative cost is low, at £80. The certification for your private number plate then runs for 10 years. After this, you can renew it and it won’t cost you anything extra.

The investment in the number plate itself can be a valuable one. You can hand it down to other members of your family, for example, or perhaps sell it on at a higher price.

By choosing a private number plate, you can personalise your car and stamp your own identity onto it. The value of doing this comes down to your own personal tastes and how important your car is to you.

Plus, you’ve got the option of customising the plate as well as the number that’s on it. This can add an extra dimension of uniqueness to your number plate and to your car.

The reward is really in how having the personalised number plate makes you feel once you’re driving with it fixed to your car.

Ultimately, that feeling is priceless.