The news that the DVLA is to allow unaccompanied test drives on dealers’ trade plates will no doubt go a small way to helping dealers start to sell cars again while observing social distancing rules.
But not every dealer has a set, or they will need to apply for another pair in order to fulfil test drive requirements on top of day-to-day business.
Here’s how you get hold of them.
Where do I apply for trade plates?
In order to get trade plates, you need to have a Trade Licence from the DVLA, which all sounds a bit complicated but in reality is pretty straightforward.
You apply for the licence at the same time as you apply for your first set of plates, or if you simply want a second set of plates then you apply for them with the trade license number that applies to your original set.
The DVLA will want to check your application is genuine and that you are eligible for a trade licence before issuing them but you can download all of the application documents online from the DVLA portal, here.
You’ll need to apply in a more traditional way, though, by sending paper documents to the DVLA as it will insist on seeing a hard copy of your insurance certificate, which is ironic as these are mostly sent electronically these days anyway, so you’ll need to print it out and attach it to your application.
Who can apply for trade plates?
You can apply for a Trade Licence if you’re either a motor trader or if you test other people’s vehicles on public roads.
A ‘motor trader’ is a much broader definition than a car dealer, as it can also relate to a vehicle repairer, a modifier, a manufacturer of parts or truck bodies or a recovery company.
If you test or drive other people’s cars on public roads then the licence also covers vehicle convertors, motoring journalists and delivery drivers.
As a general rule, DVLA will want to see ‘proof of trading’ in the form of business receipts, or alternatively a copy of your motor trade insurance policy before issuing a license.
What do trade plates cost?
There is a fixed annual cost for a Trade License of £165 or £91 if your business only covers motorcycles and tricycles.
However, unlike road tax, which is renewed for six months or a year at the time of its expiry, all Trade Licenses start and expire in January, so if you apply at any other time in the year you’ll pay a pro-rata amount for your first year based on the number of months remaining until January.
For example, if you apply in May then your first year’s license (for cars, vans and trucks) will cost £121 and will expire on December 31st.
How do I display them?
The vast majority of traders actually get this wrong, as the rules around displaying trade plates are generally quite strict (if rarely enforced).
The plate needs to be displayed on the exterior of the vehicle and should not prevent the original number plate from being obscured.
Covering the car’s actual registration number or displaying the plates ‘behind glass’, such as in the back window or inside the windscreen is really illegal, even though most traders display them this way!
What are the rules around using trade plates?
The Trade Licence covered by the plates is essentially a replacement for Vehicle Excise Duty, or road tax.
This means the car can be driven on the road with no tax, but only for motor trade purposes defined as repair, demonstration or movement between locations.
Using them as a replacement for road tax is a big no-no and there are strict regulations to stop you doing this.
For example, if driving a car on trade plates you should only drive it directly from one location to another, without stopping or parking.
There’s an element of sensibility in this. For example, stopping for the loo at motorway services is fair enough, but stopping off at Tesco on your way home to do the weekly shop isn’t.
Can I lend trade plates to another trader so they can do unaccompanied tests?
In a word, no.
Before the DVLA relaxed the rules to allow unaccompanied test drives, trade plates could only be used by or in the company of a direct employee of the license holder.
Lending them to someone else to use, be it a trader or a private individual who has a car to move, is strictly against the rules and can result in your Trade License being revoked, along with a fine of up to £5,000.
Can trade plates be used on my private car as well?
No – trade plates can only be used for trade purposes.
While your motor trade insurance policy may well allow you to drive your own private vehicle on cover with the same policy, the same does not apply to trade plates.
If you have a car that is used by you or your spouse for social, domestic, pleasure or commuting purposes, it must have road tax in the same way as anyone else’s car.