In this age of mobility, owning more than one car is a relatively common practice. While some people, and families in particular, use two or more cars on an ongoing basis, in many cases one car sits in a garage or private parking space while the other hits the road.
Motor enthusiasts may keep one or more performance vehicles for weekend use. Campers often park their RV for much of the year and only drive it occasionally. Parents often use an economical car to commute on weekdays and a larger family car to get around with their kids on weekends. Motorcyclists may own more than one motorcycle but only drive one bike at a time.
In many countries, all vehicles must be licensed individually. But Swiss traffic laws make life easier for car owners by giving them the option of using interchangeable license plates.
What are transferable license plates?
Interchangeable license plates are vehicle license plates which can be used on multiple vehicles. The license plates must be physically removed from one vehicle and attached to the other. Only the vehicle which bears the set of license plates is licensed to use public roads.
The sharing of interchangeable license plates is limited to vehicles in the same category (two light passenger vehicles, two motorcycles). In Switzerland, interchangeable license plates can be used for a maximum of two normal vehicles. There is no limit on the number of trailers, utility vehicles and classic cars that can share a single set of interchangeable license plates. The prime requisite is that the plates are used entirely for a specific category of vehicles.
For example, you can share a single pair of interchangeable plates across your entire classic car collection. But a set of interchangeable plates used for a light passenger vehicle cannot be shared with a classic car, trailer or motorcycle. It can only be shared with one other light passenger vehicle.
How does one apply for transferable license plates?
Applications must be made at your local cantonal road traffic office. Traffic offices will, by default, issue single-car license plates for each car that you register. If you want to add another car to your existing license plates, making them interchangeable, you will have to specifically request this.
You will have to provide both the original vehicle ownership papers and proof of insurance when you apply. It is important that you communicate to your insurer that you plan to use transferable license plates when you take out insurance for a second car. Besides the fact that interchangeable plates affect your insurance premiums (more on this below), the information will also be included in your proof of insurance and you will not be eligible for interchangeable license plates without it.
If you lease your car, you may be required to submit the original application for your “change of owner prohibited” notice which is included in the vehicle ownership papers (German: Halterwechsel verboten, French: Changement de détenteur interdit).
What are the advantages of interchangeable license plates?
The benefits of using interchangeable license plates are purely financial and impact the road taxes and liability car insurance premiums you pay for your vehicles.
Firstly, when you register two cars under a single set of license plates, you only pay road tax on the car which commands higher taxes. This is a major benefit as you only pay road taxes for one of your cars instead of both because only one of your cars can use public roads at any given time.
Secondly, when you use interchangeable license plates you are only obligated to pay premiums for one compulsory liability car insurance policy instead of two. You are still required to insure both cars, but you will only pay for the policy which commands the higher premiums. In Switzerland liability car insurance applies on a per-car, rather than on a per-driver basis. Because you can only drive one of your cars on public roads at a time, there is no need for both cars to be covered by liability insurance simultaneously.
When you deregister one of your cars, your insurance premiums and road taxes will be adjusted to match the remaining car.
How much money can one save by using interchangeable license plates?
Depending on where you live and what type of cars you drive, the road tax and insurance savings attached to using interchangeable license plates can save you up to 1000 Swiss francs or more every year compared to getting separate license plates.
Road taxes vary between cantons, and where you live also affects the insurance premiums you pay. As a general rule, the size of your vehicle’s engine has a major impact on both the road taxes and the insurance premiums you pay.
Because you pay road tax and insurance premiums based on the car which commands the highest payments, you benefit most from interchangeable license plates if both cars have similar or identical road taxes and insurance premiums. But even saving the insurance premiums and road taxes on a small car while paying for those of a larger car can help keep hundreds of francs in your wallet every year.
What are the disadvantages of using interchangeable license plates?
The obvious disadvantage of interchangeable license plates is that they can only be used for one car at any given time. That makes them unsuitable for drivers which use both of their cars regularly. For example, a family in which both parents drive and which uses two cars simultaneously will not find interchangeable license plates to be a practical option.
Another obvious disadvantage is that the license plates must be removed from one car and placed on another every time you want to switch cars. But it is worth noting that a number of specialized license plate holders are available in Switzerland which are designed specifically for the fast and easy exchange of interchangeable license plates.
Interchangeable license plates provide an easy way for drivers who own multiple vehicles – but only use one of them at a time – to save significant amounts of money.
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