How to transfer a number plate from one car to another

Need to know how to transfer a number plate between vehicles? Our step-by-step guide breaks it down

MINI number plate change

For a great many drivers, a personalised number plate is the finishing touch to their pride and joy. If you’ve got a car registration with fewer letters and numbers than the norm - or you’ve got one that means something personal to you - that can be a great way to show people you care about your car.

The most expensive number plates can fetch six-figure sums in some cases, and it’s such a lucrative business that some thousands of drivers are caught each year trying to beat the system.

If you’ve splashed out on a personalised number plate of your own, you won’t want to wave goodbye to it if you end up selling the vehicle it’s attached to. In this instance you’ll want to transfer a number plate from one car to another. Here’s how it works.

How to transfer a number plate

As is the case with licensing and car tax, vehicle registration is overseen by the DVLA. If you want to transfer a number plate between cars, you’ll need to fill in a V317 form.

Using this form, there are two methods: the first is to move a number plate from your old car to your new one, while the second is to keep hold of the registration using something called a retention document. The latter allows you to keep the registration from up to 10 years, so you don’t have to affix it to a new car right away.

You can fill out a paper version of the form or complete the process online, but before you begin there’s a list of requirements you need to meet.

First, the new vehicle needs to exist. You might think this goes without saying, you can’t change the number plate on a car the DVLA has no record of.

V5 document

In addition, the vehicle must be available for inspection when needed by the DVLA and be capable of passing a roadworthiness test (an MOT, for example). Finally, the registration you are adding cannot make the vehicle appear younger than it is. That means you can't put year-specific plates on a car built before the year in question. This is designed primarily to stop unscrupulous used car dealers from making a quick buck by fitting plates to old cars to make them look newer and sell them for an inflated value.

If these aspects are all met, then you're good to go. Simply fill out form V317 with the registration, make, model and VIN number of the car you want to remove the plate from, add your contact details in case there are any issues arising from the transfer, then fill in the details of the vehicle you want to put the registration on. And remember you need the V5C documents for both vehicles if you are transferring the number plate between one vehicle and another. You don't necessarily have to own the vehicle you want to change the number plate onto either.

How to retain a number plate

If you're retaining a number plate, then you need to fill out another part of the form. This still asks for the registration, make, model and VIN number, and your details, but then you need to fill out the details of the person who is retaining the registration. If this part isn't filled, then the registered keeper of the vehicle will automatically receive the retention document. This is DVLA form V778, and you use this form to transfer the registration to a new car when you're ready.

Number plates

Whether you transfer or retain the registration, you'll also need to stump up £80 to get it processed.

Once your application has been submitted, it will take around two weeks for the transfer to process, although it may take longer if the DVLA want to inspect the vehicles involved. Once completed, you will receive a new V5C registration for the vehicle that had its registration removed. Here you will see that the vehicle has reverted to its previous registration (if it had one) or it will have a new age-related plate assigned to it. The new V5C for the car with the personal plate will also come through at around the same time.

The small print 

There's plenty of small print that goes with the transfer of a number plate. The vehicle must have been taxed (or had a SORN declaration) continually for five years, and if it has been SORNed for more than five years, then it will need to be taxed. If you're thinking of transferring a number plate with a Q or QNI prefix, then stop, because these can't be transferred. 

If the vehicle is sold before you apply to retain the personal plate, then you don't have the right to retain it. Also, if you don't remove the number before confirming the car's destruction to the DVLA, then you lose all rights to the plate as well. 

In the unfortunate instance of the vehicle being stolen, then you can apply to keep the personal plate immediately to safeguard it, but you won't have the ability to transfer it to a new car or have a V778 issued until 6 months after the date of the theft, or once the vehicle has been recovered. You won't get a reminder from the DVLA about this, you'll need to remember to do it yourself.

And of course, any personal number plates that you have made for your car must be standard issue and clearly legible. So that means no non-standard fonts, correct spacing of the letters and numbers and not making numbers look like letters, and vice versa (5 and S, 8 and B, etc). It sounds obvious but legal details are also a requirement, so when speccing your plate make sure it has those ticked. If you've adhered to the above then you can fit your shiny new plate to your new car.

Now you’ve dealt with your personalised plate, read about the registrations that were banned for being too rude and if you're looking for a new car, take a look at our sister site Buyacar...

Senior test editor

Dean has been part of the Auto Express team for more than 20 years, and has worked across nearly all departments, starting on magazine production, then moving to road tests and reviews. He's our resident van expert, but covers everything from scooters and motorbikes to supercars and consumer products.

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