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A Guide to Private Number Plates

24th August 2023

Since the DVLA started selling personalised number plates in 1989, the industry has boomed, and is predicted to be worth £2 billion in the UK. If you’re thinking about getting a private number plate, or just want to find out more, our guide will explain how to register a private number plate and the types of personalised number plates you can get. 

Types of personalised number plates

Current style number plates

Current style number plates are the standard number plates and have been in use since 2001. On a non-private number plate, they consist of two letters representing the region, two numbers representing the year the vehicle was issued, followed by three random letters. If you were to buy a private number plate in this style, you can pick your own three letters to replace the random letters.   

Example: AB23 ABC 

Prefix number plates

This style of number plates were issued between 1983 and 2001. And consist of one letter representing the year of issue, followed by between 1-3 letters representing the region, followed by three random numbers. If you want to personalise this type of number plate, you could replace the last three numbers with your own preferred characters.  

Example: P3 FIX 

Suffix style number plates 

Suffix number plates were issued between 1963 and 1982. These number plates start with between one and three letters that represent the region followed by another three numbers, with the last letter representing the year of issue. When personalising this style of number plate, you can select the last three numbers or letter you want to use.  

Example: SUF I23X 

Dateless number plate

Dateless number plates can be used for any vehicle and consist of a combination of personalised numbers and letters which can be used to spell words and names.  

Example: 1 REG 

How to get a private number plate

The most common way of purchasing a private number plate is by either buying a private number plate from the DVLA or buying an existing one from a private dealer or person. 

To find out if the number plate you want is available, you can search for your personalised number plate. 

Once you’ve bought your number plate, you’ll be awarded either a retention document (V778), certificate of entitlement (V750) or online reference number. The best way to transfer a reg plate from one car to another is online, via the DVLA. Once the application has been accepted from the DVLA, you’ll get a confirmation email with a number plate authorisation certificate (eV958).   

Rules and regulation

One of the main rules of purchasing private number plates is that they cannot be used to make an older car appear younger than it is. For example, you can’t put a 2010 private plate on a 2008 car.  

There are other rules about using rude language or swear words on your private number plate and if you pick a rude private number plate it’s likely to be denied by the DVLA. You also can’t have number plates that are political, such as number plates that reference the Ukraine war, Covid or Brexit. Check the full list of plates the DVLA have banned this year. 

To drive a vehicle with a personal number plate, you’ll need to have the right paperwork in place, and your licence plate must; 

  • Be made from reflective material 
  • Have black characters on a white background on the front plate 
  • Have black characters on a yellow background on the back plate 
  • Be free from patterns on the background 
  • Not be in a different font 
  • Not have the spacing altered 

If you display the incorrect number plates at any point, or your number plates are not properly visible, it can cause you to fail your MOT and potentially be fined up to £1,000.  

Here at Merityre, if you fail your MOT, we will undertake a re-test free of charge within 10 working days. To learn more about what happens if you drive without an MOT, read our guide. Or find your nearest Merityre garage to book your next MOT. Alternatively, contact our helpful team to find out more.