How do you react when you see a personalised number plate on a car, van or WAV? Maybe you admire the owner's exhibitionism or the plate makes you smile? Perhaps it gets you thinking about what your personalised plate would say. Our personalised plate (aka private plate) guide covers the full process – from buying one to making sure you stay on the right side of the law.
Personalised number plates have been around for decades now and they're bought for all sorts of reasons. For the most distinctive and desirable plates, this includes their investment potential. According to personalised plate specialist Speedyreg, the number plate 'F1' (bought for £440,625 in 2008) is now listed for sale at £10-£14 million!
According to the RAC, we spend well over £100 million on private plates every year! A personalised number plate is a great way to make your vehicle unique. Maybe you fancy a play on your name, or something subtler that only you and a select circle of family and friends understand.
Alternatively, perhaps you like the idea of raising a smile on other motorists' faces, or you just want to shock as far as the law and available number plates allow! Each, as they say, to their own; the reasons for choosing a private plate are as varied as drivers' personalities.
What's your budget and how much are you willing to pay? You could buy a personalised plate that's unique to you for a couple of hundred pounds on a DVLA approved website.
To get something with a more widely understood meaning will take deeper pockets. You'll probably be looking at thousands of pounds. Plus you'll probably need to go through a broker or deal directly with a current licence plate owner for a private sale.
Once you get into really special plates, the sky is the limit. Visit the website of leading independent private number plates specialist Regtransfers and you'll see the stratospheric prices that plates such as '25 O' (for a classic Ferrari 250 GT) or 'RR 1' command.
Generally, the fewer characters a plate has, the more it will cost. Because of this, unless you're 'squillions rich', and assuming they come up for sale, these plates probably won't be gracing your Skoda or Vauxhall any time soon. But it's fun to dream…
As of 2023, four kinds of personalised number plate are available in the UK: current; prefix; suffix; and dateless.
As the title suggests, current plates are the kind issued for new car registrations now. Their seven-character design has been used since 2001.
Prefix-style plates were issued between 1983 and 2001; the prefix descriptor comes from the fact that the first letter indicates the car's age. For example, an 'F' prefix plate indicates first registration in August 1988.
Going back even further, seven-character suffix-style plates (1963–1983) started with the letter A and end with another letter that signals its age.
Before 1963, plates consisted of any combination of up to four numbers and three letters. An example would be the 913 PHT on an Austin Mini that a colleague remembers from their childhood in the early 1960s. With nothing indicating the vehicle's age, they're very desirable.
So, you fancy a private plate, but where do you start to look for yours? In the UK, there are currently three possibilities: the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA); private brokers; or a private sale, negotiated directly with the plate's owner.
This is a great starting point, where, according to the DVLA, you can access over 50 million registrations in a few seconds. Prices start at £250 (which includes VAT and an £80 assignment fee). If you can find the plate you want here, there's no better way to avoid outlay and intermediaries' costs. The DVLA also runs conventional and online auctions several times a year, where you can bid for dateless, current and other style registrations.
Independent brokers are dealers who specialise in buying and selling personalised number plates. Brokers who have signed up to the DVLA's terms and conditions of trading practices include TopReg, Regtransfers and New Reg.
For some of the rarest – and most expensive – registration plates, try the classified ads in motoring magazines, online owners clubs and forums, and buy directly from the current plate owner.
The DVLA website states that personalised plates are available from as little as £70 at its auctions. Otherwise, their starting prices are the aforementioned £250. Beyond this, prices are market-led, depending on each number plate's rarity and distinctiveness. And how much the buyer wants it!
Personalised plates are just number plates with a special significance for the owner. The same strict laws apply to personalised number plates as any other plate. Here are the legal requirements for private number plates at the time of writing.
As well as not making your car appear newer than it is, its number plates must:
The characters must not be removable or reflective. If fitted after 1 September 2021, they must be a single shade of black.
Your number plates can have 3D (raised) characters, display certain flags, symbols and identifiers, and display a green flash (for a zero-emission vehicle).
For anyone reading this who has an interest in typography, all number plates used in the UK must use a specific font specified by the Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001. That font, which most of us probably see hundreds of times each day, is a sans serif font called Charles Wright 2001. It's the latest version of a typeface originally designed by the Charles Wright company in 1935.
The size of the characters and their positioning on your number plates are also strictly controlled. Clever adjustments of the character spacing to further personalise your number plate are strictly forbidden, except for so-called 'show plates' used off road.
Owners often fit personalised plates to show their sense of humour – sometimes risqué humour! However, that doesn't mean anything goes when you're choosing your private number plate. The DVLA regularly publishes lists of banned combinations that could offend or provoke for sexual, political, religious or other reasons. If you're planning something that might prove controversial, you might want to check the latest list first!
That said, some cheeky private number plates do seem to have crept under the radar. A recent article in the Mirror revealed how plates such as ORG 45M and B19 NOB are legal and, potentially, available – at a price!
What happens if you decide to change cars and want to keep your personalised plate? Whether or not you have a replacement car to put the plate on, the DVLA will transfer it for an £80 fee. You can then put the private plate on the new car when you're ready.
According to the Gov.uk website, the vehicle's original registration number is usually reassigned to it automatically when the private number is removed.
The official Motability Scheme website includes detailed guidance on adding personalised plates to a Motability Scheme vehicle. If you lease a vehicle through the Motability Scheme, here's what you need to know about putting a private plate on your Motability car or Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV).
According to the site, Motability say customers can add personalised number plates to their car or WAV, so long as they follow DVLA criteria and ensure that the plate will not cause offence to others.
The Motability Specialist at the dealership will be able to give you advice and help if you need it.
If you're adding personalised plates at the start of the lease, you'll need to get either a Certificate of Entitlement (V750) or a Retention Certificate (V778) from DVLA. If you're adding personalised plates during a lease, you'll need to request your V5C online from Motability, then follow the DVLA's online instructions to assign your new plates.
Either way, it's advisable to check with Motability before proceeding.
Motability also gives clear advice about what to do when removing plates at the end of a lease. The procedure varies depending on whether you want to put your private plate on another Motability Scheme car, keep them for use on another car or give up your rights to use them. Again, you should talk to Motability, ideally around 4–6 weeks before your lease is due to end.
Whatever your reason for wanting personalised plates, and whether it's a Motability vehicle or not, you should be able to add this most personal of modifications to your car. Every year, millions of motorists find this to be straightforward and enjoy individualising their vehicle. Whether you just want to include your initials, or like the idea of raising a smile with a witty alphanumeric combo, there's sure to be a personal plate out there for you!