Your Guide to Removing a Private Number Plate

All change!

When you want to remove a private number plate to sell or use on another vehicle, there are a few boxes to check before you reach for your tools. 

There’s a bit of paperwork to complete, a fee to pay, and sometimes a short wait before the number plates transfer, but it’s generally an easy process that happens every day.

Here, we’ll take you through the steps for removing a private or personalised number plate. Then, your first port of call for the forms you need to fill out is the vehicle registration section of the website

How easy is it to remove a number plate?

These days, removing a number plate from a car is a simple matter of filling in a few forms online.

The situation isn’t unusual. 

  • Sometimes, people buy a new car and want to keep a personalised number plate they bought because it was meaningful to them. 
  • Sometimes, they buy or inherit a car with a personalised plate that doesn’t have any sentimental value to them as the new owner. 
  • Sometimes, they decide to sell the number plate because it has increased in value. Shorter or older number plates tend to be worth more than newer plates that more closely resemble a standard-issue number plate with seven characters. 

Whatever the reason behind your decision, here’s what you need to do.

How do you remove a personalised number plate from a vehicle? 

Before you take off the physical number plate, you need to remove it from your car’s registration documents. You need three things to do this: 

  • The VC5 form, which you might also know as your car’s logbook. This is a copy of the DVLA’s information on the vehicle—including its colour, the size of its engine, its make, and its registration number.  
  • A valid MOT certificate if your car is more than three years old.
  • £80 to cover the cost of updating the registration.

Before you start, check that you can remove the personalised plate and transfer it to another vehicle. The answer is usually yes, but there are some cases where a number plate can’t be transferred to another car or where you don’t have free rein over the reg number your car carries. 

If the plate starts with Q, or NIQ in Northern Ireland, you can’t use it on any other car. This is because the Q stands for ‘questionable’. It means that the DVLA can’t determine the exact age of the vehicle. This might be because it’s been radically altered or customised, because it was previously stolen or written off, or because the owner built it themselves (for example, a kit car). For safety reasons, that vehicle has to keep its Q plate, and it also wouldn’t make sense to transfer a Q plate to a car where you knew its complete history. 

If you’re not sure if you’re allowed to change the registration plate on your car, check the VC5 logbook form for more details. 

But if the number plate starts with anything other than Q or NIQ, you’re probably free to change it. In that case, you’ll have to go through the following steps. 

1. First, check the car is in your name

The VC5 will tell you whose name the car is in. You’ll get a VC5 when you buy a new car, or you’ll apply for a new one in your name if you buy a second-hand car. By the way, VC5 forms have been red since 2012. If you still have a blue one, the DVLA recommends that you apply for an updated version. This is free to do. 

If you want to change the number plate on a car you just bought, you might have to wait for your new VC5 form to be delivered before you start applying to use your private plate.  

It is possible to add a personalised number plate to a car that’s in someone else’s name (for example, if you’re buying the plate as a gift). However, the process takes a lot longer than it does online, and you have to do it by post. 

2. Then, find or get your MOT certificate

If you want to change your car’s number plate, you’ll also have to reassure the DVLA that it’s roadworthy. For cars over three years old, this means presenting a current MOT certificate. 

This rule goes for classic cars as well. Although some classic cars are exempt from a yearly MOT, you have to show a valid certificate if you want to change the vehicle’s registration. 

3. Next, transfer £80

It costs £80 to remove the old registration number from a vehicle. You can pay the fee online when you make your application. 

4. Confirm whether you need a vehicle inspection 

Sometimes, you might need a vehicle inspection before you can take a private plate off a car. This is quite unusual.  Inspections are done when there are questions about the safety of the vehicle, especially if the owner has made a lot of modifications. 

5. Finally, wait for confirmation of the updated registration 

Once you’ve applied online or received confirmation of your car’s new reg number in the post, you’ll have to swap the plates before you take the car out on the road. 

Depending on the age of your car and how much the number plate needs to curve to fit the bumper, this involves either screws or sticky pads. If you’re not sure how to swap the number plates at home, your local garage will be able to help. 

What happens when you remove a private number plate?

When you remove a personalised number plate, you can either swap to a different personalised plate that you own, or the car will get its original registration back.

Whenever you change the registration number, you’ll get an updated VC5 form to show the new number plate for the vehicle. If you’re removing a private plate from a car, you’ll also be issued a V778 form, which is also known as the certificate of retention. This form is valid for 10 years and means that you can use the same private number plate on another vehicle in the future. 

If you need to replace a personalised number plate with the car’s original registration, you can check on the website for a list of local garages that supply replacement number plates. Just note that not all garages will be able to make all kinds of number plates. 

And if you’re removing a private plate and you want to change the number plate back to the original, you have to notify the DVLA and pay the £80 even if you still have the original plate at home. 

Do you have to pay to take a private plate off retention?

Imagine you’ve been storing your personalised plate for a few years, and you want to reattach it to your vehicle. This is called taking a private plate off retention. 

The V778 form that gives you the right to retain the plate lasts for 10 years, and you can renew the certificate for free as many times as you want as long as you don’t let it expire. It’s also technically free to take a number plate off retention, since the £80 covers removing a plate, not attaching it. If you’re taking off the old registration to add the private one, you’ll pay £80 for the removal, but you won’t have to pay a second time when you attach the new plate. 

It’s also free to give up your right to a number plate, for example, if you decide that you don’t want it any more or if you want to sell it. 

How long does it take to take a private plate off a car?

As long as the car is in your name and you already have your MOT certificate, you can go through the process of taking a personalised number plate off a car online in a few minutes. Once you’ve got online confirmation, you can head to your driveway and swap the plates.

If you’re doing it by post, it’ll take 2–4 weeks before the DVLA updates their records and sends you confirmation of the new registration. 

Don’t forget, you’ll have a couple of other tasks to complete before you’re allowed to take the vehicle out on the road. 

  • You have to tell your car insurer about the change to your registration number. If you don’t, your insurance might not be valid if you have an accident. 
  • You have to update your profiles in any place where you have an account to pay tolls automatically. This is because the charge for driving in places like the London Ultra Low Emission Zone, the Dartford Crossing, or the Tyne Tunnel is monitored with automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras. 

Removing a Private Number Plate: final thoughts

Once you know your VC5 from your V778, removing a private number plate is a quick and easy process that can be done online. 

Just be sure to keep your records up to date wherever a service needs to know your number plate. It’ll help you avoid potential problems with your insurance and tolls, and it means you keep the option to use your personalised plates again in the future. 

Also read:
Your Guide to Number Plate Retention 
L plates and P plates – the rules 
New Driving Laws in The UK 2023-2024 (Full Guide)