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What are Q plates?

Just as a fingerprint is a unique identifier to any one person, a registration plate is a unique identifier for a single vehicle. Without performing a full search on a vehicle registration (maybe to find the tax rate or MOT history), a simple glance at a new or used car registration plate can provide you with a certain amount of information.

Q-platesFor example, whilst out and about on the roads you may well have noticed trade plates and drawn the conclusion the vehicle is being used by someone in the motor trade. The traditional number plate, which can determine the year and place of the vehicle registration, foreign plates will tell you the country the vehicle has come from, and a custom plate can tell you a little something about the 0wner.

However, there is another type of registration plate out there: The Q plate.

The very purpose of the Q plate is to identify the fact that the vehicle is a mystery. When there are gaps in the history of a vehicle, or its origins or workings are unknown, it gets slapped with a Q plate like a giant question mark. People have often speculated the Q stands for “queried”, “questionable”, or even “quite dodgy”.

So, what kind of factors can cause a car to receive a Q plate rating?

One of the best examples is a kit car, the self-build vehicles that some motor enthusiasts drive. Vehicles which have been self-imported, previously written-off, and radically altered vehicles are all subject to the Q plate status. In fact, any car without a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), such as a car that was once subject to theft, is subject to Q plate status.

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But the implications of Q plates are not as limiting as they used to be. Previously, it was a damning label which could create all sorts of problems and raise suspicion about the integrity of a vehicle. Nowadays the motor trade is better equipped to tackle the problem.

Since 1997, the SVA (Single Vehicle Approval) test had been used to better understand unique and specialist vehicles. Back in 2009 this test was improved, and now the IVA (Individual Vehicle Approval) process makes detailed checks to legitimise unusual vehicles wherever possible. Test centres are scattered across the UK, and once a Q plate has been issued it remains for the life of that vehicle.

It’s not easy to get an insurance policy for a Q plated car, because it’s very hard to calculate risk when the vehicle is not standardised. However, it is possible, and most insurers will speak directly to vehicle owners with a Q plate as the details will be too specific to do a simple quote online.