How does car registration work?

Everything you need to know about car registration...

One of the topics we get asked about quite a lot at OSV is car registration. How does it work? Who is responsible for it? How do I know if my car is registered?

And all of these questions are completely valid. Out of all the things related to cars, leasing and buying, car registration is a topic that tends to be forgotten or ignored. Until now, of course.

In this article, we’re going to talk you through everything to do with car registration. From how it’s done, what happens if you can’t find it registered, to how to put a private plate on a car.

What does car registration mean?

Firstly, what does it even mean when we talk about car registration?

Every single car from the UK driving on the roads today is in one big database, the DVLA. The DVLA is the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority and contains all the information on all cars in the UK both on road and off road. It also collects points and issues your licence.

Registering your car simply means putting the car onto the DVLA database and that’s it. All cars must be registered on the DVLA database.

Who is responsible for car registration?

So, who registers the cars onto the DVLA database?

Who is responsible for registering a brand new car?

The dealership is the one responsible for registering your car on the DVLA database. No car should leave the dealership without being registered on the DVLA database. Sometimes the dealership will need extra information from you in which case it is your responsibility to provide this otherwise they can’t register it. But, generally, it’s down to the dealership.

family looking at cars in the dealership with man talking to the car salesman

Who is responsible for registering a used car?

When you buy a used car then you have to make sure it is registered to you. This is fairly straightforward, the person selling the car must;

  • Complete section 6 of the V5C registration certificate (or the log book)
  • Sign the declaration in section 8 – you must do this also
  • Fill in section 10 which they will then give to you
  • Send the V5C off to the DVLA

After this, the DVLA will send out a new V5C registration certificate to you. This usually takes 2 to 4 weeks.

It is important to note that we recommend you check that the seller has the V5C before you buy the car. If the seller cannot produce the registration certificate then you should not buy the car. 
So, that’s who is responsible for car registration.

Why isn’t my car showing on the DVLA website?

how does car registration work?

If your car registration isn’t showing on the DVLA website then there are a few things that could have happened.

If you are buying a brand new car then this is very unlikely. However, it does happen so we’re going to talk you through the possible reasons why.

Dealerships are allocated the registration of a car between one and two weeks before it is delivered. But, they will not register it on the DVLA until the day of delivery. They don’t want to register and tax a car only for the order to be cancelled so that’s why they wait until the day of delivery.

So one of the reasons is that it might not be on the DVLA because the car hasn’t been registered yet. Another reason could be that, due to the sheer volume of car registrations the DVLA get daily, it might not have been put up yet.

We would recommend waiting a few days and then checking again to see if it’s been registered. If it is still not there then don’t panic, this can easily be rectified.

You need to contact your vehicle broker or dealer immediately, if the dealership are in the wrong then they will sort it and that will be that. If they have done everything right then you need to contact the DVLA.

If you are leasing the car, it is at this point that you need to contact the finance house as well, as they are the registered keepers (read more on registered keepers here) and will have the log book. It will then be the finance houses job to rectify things with the DVLA.

The only problem that you may encounter is that you may want to get yourself insured on the car before it appears on the DVLA. Many insurance companies now get their quotes via an automated system where you simply put in your registration. But, if you don’t know your registration, how can you get an insurance quote?

We recommend that our customers ring the insurance company and explain the situation. They should then be able to give you an insurance quote using the P11d value and the specification.

However, if you have a used car, then there could be other reasons why your car is not showing on the DVLA website. For example;

  • If the car is a kit car
  • If it has been imported
  • If the vehicle has been rebuilt or altered radically
  • The car is an old or classic vehicle

In which case, you will need to register it yourself. This can be done no problem and we recommend you go to the Government page dedicated to car registration for more information on how this is done.

Car registration and private plates

If you want a private registration plate then we do recommend you go through the DVLA. They do it for £80 plus VAT and you know that they are a trustworthy source.

But what happens when you get your plate?

If you buy a personalised plate online through their website, you will receive an email confirmation within 24 hours. Within two weeks, you will receive a Certificate of Entitlement (V750) in the post to the address you gave. This is your proof of entitlement and will contain the application form you must use to assign the personalised registration to the vehicle.

Numberplate - NEW

Then, you have to apply to the DVLA to assign the registration number to the car. You can’t put the registration number on the vehicle until you have received a Registration Certificate (V5C) in the new registration number.

Unfortunately, you cannot put a registration number onto a ‘Q’ registered vehicle, nor can you make a vehicle look newer than it is. There are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to private registration plates, so for more information you can read about it here. 

Car registration and private plates on a lease car

If you have a private plate that you want to put on a lease car then here is what you do;

When you take the plate of the existing vehicle you should get a retention document. This will show the owner of the plate as the grantee. There will be a ‘nominee’ section of the document where the owner of the plate can nominate the registration plate to go on a car registered by someone else or a company. You need to fill this document out and send it to the DVLA. They will then amend the retention and put the name of the finance house.

This is a DVLA process and it should take between 6 to 8 weeks but during busy periods such as March and September, it can take longer. If you are in doubt about this, we recommend you ring your leasing company.

So hopefully that has cleared a few things up about car registration. It might seem a bit overwhelming, particularly if you have to register your car yourself but we can assure that it’s not. If you are in doubt, however, you can ring us on 01903 538835 and one of our team will be happy to talk it through with you. 

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Rachel Richardson
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  • Tony Jensen| 18th September 2020 at 10:52 pm Reply

    I have bought a brand new motorhome that was made in Germany, from a dealer. The vehicle was fully paid for on 22 August 2020 and collected on 01 September 2020. Apparently they had the registration rejected on 03 September by the DVLA due to the the certificate of conformity being filled out incorrectly and returned to the dealer. This effectively meant that my vehicle had not been registered. The dealer did not inform me of this situation, but sent a further registration at a date they say they can’t recall back to the DVLA. This effectively means that my vehicle, of which I am now in possession of is still unregistered, as of today’s date 18 September 2020. I called the DVLA to find out why my registration was not appearing on their database and they then told me of the reason. They also stated that I am un der no circumstances to use the vehicle until it is registered and taxed. This leaves me with a very expensive motorhome sitting on my drive that I cannot use. What should I do next

    • Rachel Richardson| 23rd September 2020 at 11:08 am Reply

      Hi Tony,

      The registration of the vehicle is something that the dealership is responsible for. If it is yet to appear on the DVLA database and the dealership has no record of submitting it then we would recommend you speak with them and stress the importance of the situation. If the vehicle were used then you would be able to register this yourself.

  • Loren| 11th August 2020 at 6:38 pm Reply


    If i buy a new car in August which has to be made from the factory, and is not ready until the end of September, will I get the benefit of the new September plates or August plate?

    • Rachel Richardson| 12th August 2020 at 4:19 pm Reply

      Hi Loren,

      Thank you for your comment. It depends upon the dealership, whether it’s a pre-registered vehicle or not, this is something the dealership would be able to answer. If the dealer has told you that the vehicle needs to be registered and delivered in August or early September then it will be on an August plate. However, if it isn’t registered until September and delivery happens afterwards, then it will be on a new plate.

      If you are still in the process of looking, please contact our offices on 01903 223391 and we would be happy to help you find a new vehicle.

  • Gillian| 1st June 2020 at 9:40 pm Reply

    Hi we left a deposit on a car before lockdown which was unregistered we were told it was a 2019 model by the dealer
    We gave now been in contact with the dealer who is in the process of registering the car .I have contacted our insurance company who have adviced at the moment they wont insure the car .we were told the car is a 2019 model but not registered yet ,but how so we find out exactly how old the car is for all we know the car could be 2018 model ,its is being delivered from ssyongsang uk anytime now to the dealers .is there a time limit that a car has to be registered. Our insurance co are getting in touch with the underwriters .at this moment we dont know why they wont insure it .if they decide to insure it will there be a problem getting parts for a car that maybe a 2019 model but registered in 2020

    • Rachel Richardson| 3rd June 2020 at 10:36 am Reply

      Hi Gillian,

      There shouldn’t be any problem getting parts on a 2019/2020 model of a vehicle. You can still obtain parts for older models of most vehicles available for purchase new or used.

  • Paul Anthony Osborne| 16th August 2019 at 1:39 pm Reply

    I an waiting to pick up my disability car from Vauxhall, we ordered it on Friday 19th August 2019. We keep being told that there waiting for the car to be registered as it only came from France on the 18th August 2019. Is there any advice you can give me please.

    • Lisa Rees| 19th August 2019 at 11:28 am Reply

      This is very interesting. We were due to pick up our motability vehicle today (19th August, 2019) from vauxhall, however I got a phone call from them yesterday stating that they were having an issue registering the car. I was told that head office have said that there is a computer software problem and they can’t register certain vehicles until the issue was solved, however, I am not buying this excuse as I am unable to find anything online about this.

      • Rachel Richardson| 19th August 2019 at 2:47 pm Reply

        Hi Lisa,
        Unfortunately, as mentioned in a previous post, we do not work with Motability. As the issue is with them at the present time we would recommend you contact them for further updates if you have not heard anything.

    • Rachel Richardson| 16th August 2019 at 3:14 pm Reply

      Hi Paul,
      Thank you for your question. We don’t actually deal with motability vehicles. However, I can advise that cars are generally registered the day before, or on the day of, delivery. So, I can only assume that the vehicle is currently goinjg through a process with motability which is holding it up.

      We hope that this helps.

  • Ben Green| 28th May 2019 at 9:31 pm Reply

    Hi, please can you help. I have ordered a new lease car and stated it was to be a 69 plate and delivered in September. They have just told me the number plate already and it is a 19plate! Can I insist the dealer changes the plate and registers it after September or is it too late? Thank you

    • Rachel Richardson| 29th May 2019 at 11:11 am Reply

      Hi Ben,
      Thank you for your question. If the vehicle has been registered, it cannot be de-registered easily. However, it sounds like the supplier may have gained additional discount on the condition the vehicle was registered with a 19 plate. But they should have informed you of that at the point of order. If they did not, then you are within your rights to cancel the vehicle and obtain a full refund as they have failed under their CRA 2015 obligations. If we can help you out with an alternative vehicle please call Amanda on 01903 223391. I hope that this is helpful to you.

      • Ben| 30th May 2019 at 8:51 pm Reply

        Thank you Rachel for your quick reply. I have spoken to them today and they insist I must take the car and can not cancel. I paid £300 initially (£50 finance fee and £250 processing fee). I also signed an initial agreement for the car that stated the monthly cost. It is only now when they have sent me the finance paperwork and VW dealership order sheet that they have put the monthly contract cost up (albeit only by just over £2 per month) but again this is another difference to their original quote which I based my order on. They have told me today that I have no right for my £300 money back. It could now start getting messy. What would I need to do to enforce the CRA 2015 obligations? Again, would the increase in the monthly payment from time of order to them now issuing the financial agreement constitute a failure on their part under this CRA 2015 obligations? Thank you again Ben

        • Rachel Richardson| 31st May 2019 at 9:14 am Reply

          Hi Ben,
          Thank you for the update. If you signed an order form with the dealer/broker and what you are receiving is different to what was agreed, in law they are not fulfilling their committments and therefore they are in breach of contract.

          It is important to note that we are not a legal advisory service and you should seek your own independent legal resource via Citizen’s Advice (or other legal services).

          Without seeing the order you have signed, it is hard for us to provide much additional advice, but if you are not receiving what you have ordered, that is a breach of agreement, and therefore, they should refund you all your monies.

          I would like to take this offline and email you directly, please confirm that you are happy for us to do this.

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