If you’ve ever seen a car or motorcycle being driven with an odd set of what look like red and white number plates attached to the front and the rear, those are what are known as trade plates. One of the most common uses of trade number plates is to allow motor traders to drive vehicles on the public highway that are not registered to them and not taxed, but there are plenty of other occasions where trade plates are needed and lots of rules surrounding their use.
What are Trade Number Plates?
Trade number plates are number plates that allow those involved in the motor trade to drive a vehicle on public roads without the vehicle having to be taxed or registered to them. Just like regular number plates, trade plates have to be displayed on the front and the rear of the vehicle being driven but they look quite different from regular number plates.
Trade number plates that go on both the front and rear of the vehicle being driven have red characters on a white background with a red border. One of the plates also has a triangle on the top in the same colour scheme that contains the details of the licence associated with that set of plates.
Can Anyone Apply for Trade Plates?
Only those with a valid reason can apply for and use trade number plates and the law looks pretty dimly on their misuse. Anyone in the motor trade and associated industries can apply for a trade number plate licence as long as they have a valid reason and they have the requisite commercial motor insurance.
Motor dealers are probably the most common users of trade plates and they need them for several different reasons. The most common reason dealers need to use trade plates is to be able to legally drive vehicles in their possession on public roads that are not taxed and registered to them, such as during a test drive or when delivering a vehicle from one place to another.
However, trade plates are also required by the likes of motor mechanics, collection and delivery drivers, valeters, and those who fit accessories such as tow bars. If any of these had to go through some process to even temporarily register a vehicle to them to be allowed to drive it on the public highway it would make life almost impossible.
Trade plates are also used by manufacturers vehicles registered to themselves if they kept only for research and development purposes, such as those prototypes and test mules you sometimes see covered up with camouflage to try and stop photographers from getting a good picture of them too early.
How to Apply for Trade Plates
Applying for trade plates is a relatively quick and painless process these days that can all be done online in just a few minutes. Trade licences are allocated by the DVLA and you need to fill in a VTL301 form to apply for your first trade licence. Fees depend on when the first licence starts and how long it’s going to be valid. Licences are usually for six or twelve-month periods, but first-time applicants will get a licence that runs for between seven and eleven months, depending on when it is applied for as licence periods run from January or July. A six-month licence costs £90.75 and a full 12-month licence costs £165, but the bigger expense is likely to be the motor trade insurance required to be able to apply for trade plates.
Once you complete a successful application and pay the relevant fee you can expect your trade plates to arrive within four weeks. Unlike regular number plates, you can’t go to a local shop that supplies number plates to get trade plates made up. Also, your licence and the physical plates will be sent out in separate packages so don’t worry when one turns up without the other.
Trade Number Plate Laws
It’s pretty obvious where and how you have to display normal number plates on a vehicle, but you have to be a lot more careful when using trade plates. If you’re used to seeing trade plates being used if you live near a car dealership, you’ll probably realise they’re not used correctly a lot of the time when you read through the rules that apply to them.
There’s a whole raft of rules and regulations you need to read through and understand if you’re going to use trade plates and they’re clearly stated in the guidance notes on the government website. However, one infringement that might stand out when you look through the guidelines is displaying the trade plates inside the vehicle.
The plates have to be displayed at the front and rear of the vehicle and they must not cover the existing registration plates (unless it’s a motorcycle), but they also must not be displayed inside the vehicle. Another rule states that they must be visible and easily readable from a distance of between 18 and 22 metres, so you can see why it’s not acceptable for them to be inside the vehicle. If you see trade plates being used regularly it’s probably not unusual to see at least the front plate being shoved into the front window on the dashboard, and/or the rear plate in the rear window.
It’s also illegal to display trade plates on a vehicle parked on the public highway, to separate a set of trade plates for use on more than one vehicle, or to allow trade plates to be used by another person. If you display plates for a purpose not permitted under the legislation you could be liable for a maximum fine of £1,000 or five times the rate of duty chargeable, whichever is the greater amount.
There are plenty more rules and regulations that apply to the use of trade number plates and you must familiarise yourself with them if you are going to apply for or use them.