Private number plates have long been a topic of fascination for auto hobbyists and the general population alike. They are personalised auto plates that have anything other than the default plates that the government provides an auto buyer during registration. Some people even bid on expensive private plates that were purchased long ago and are being resold. For example, the Great Britain plate that just had “KINGS” on it sold in 1993 for a whopping £231,000! Similarly, a plate with just the characters “ELVIS,” honouring the late American rock star, went for over £75,000. There are two ways to acquire a personalised number plate; you can find one that has not been claimed yet and purchase it, or you can peruse private plate reselling sites and purchase one from someone who currently is in possession of a coveted plate.
History of Private Plates
The history of private plates in the United Kingdom is fairly simple. The Motor Car Act of 1903 was the government’s first attempt at universally regulating all cars on the road. This required motorists to affix licence plates that could be traced back to them personally. The idea was not popular at the time, but some early investors took the opportunity to get some unique personalised number plates. The very first one was purchased by Earl Russell of London; his plate simply reads “A1”. From 1903 through 1963, these licence plates had no date information, so there was no way to tell when they had been issued. These pre-1963 private plates are in high market demand because they are dateless. The formatting of the plates changed four times from 1903 to now in order to accommodate the ever-increasing number of registered vehicles. Until the Road Act of 1920, cars and motorcycles were in two separate registration pools, making it so that the same plate could be assigned once to a car and also once to a motorcycle. In 1963, the government finally decided to revamp the record-keeping system, making it easier for police to pull a driver’s record on the spot.
The most significant plate design chance happened in 1973, when plates that had previously just been silver lettering on a white plate. Now, all new plates had to be reflective, and back plates had to be yellow, making pre-1973 plates also worth more currently. From 1974 to present, the plates went through various prefix and suffix changes. The government constantly underestimated the number of new vehicles that would be registered, so new systems had to continually be devised, leading to confusion in the meantime.
Uses of Private Plates
Private reg plates are used for a few different purposes. First, people use it to convey a unique identity. Some drivers view it as a fun novelty, and some drivers want a unique appearance on the road. These plates sometimes give a nod to a certain era, celebrity, car model, or anything else of popular interest. Another common usage of private plates is for investments. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency raised 67 million pounds in just one year from selling these. Obviously, not everyone purchases these plates just to show off on their vehicles. Many people find these at auctions for sizable prices. Sometimes, these plates are able to be “flipped”, or sold for a higher price than the investor paid. There are even entire car number plates investment agencies who spend their time sifting through listings and auctions while speculating on the future value of certain custom plates.
Some people use these plates as decorations in their homes or businesses. While this use is not encouraged by the government, it’s not illegal, either, with a few caveats. See the “cost” section below for more details on this.
Private number plates’ cost can vary depending on several factors. Since they are often affixed to cars driven by rich and powerful people, sometimes the cost may be overestimated. The flat cost for the plate can be very low (around 100 pounds, perhaps). If it’s an exceedingly rare or desired plate, this can skyrocket. However, the cost to simply purchase the plate does not cover the entire ownership fee. Technically, any private number plate belongs to the original vehicle to which it was registered. If you purchase a plate and put it directly onto your vehicle, there should be no annual ownership fees. Because the government has paid to produce the tag, they expect it to be used as they wish. Sometimes number plates owners wish to hang it up in their house or use it as a decoration elsewhere. This is legal, but these people will need to pay a “retention certificate” fee. The initial cost is 105 pounds, and it’s currently renewable annually at about 25 pounds.
In short some cherished number plates can be very cheap. There may be transfer fees depending on the circumstances, but there are almost no fees if you plan on affixing it on your vehicle as soon as you purchase it.
How to Buy
There are many private agencies that promise expedient delivery of DVLA number plates. You’ll need to do independent research on these before contracting them, as some of them are more scrupulous than others. If you choose to purchase it from a private retailer, ensure that you get either the V750 Certificate of Entitlement or the V778 Certificate of Retention (depending on whether it was taken directly from a vehicle or not).
The UK government also directly allows citizens to buy personalised registration numbers on their website at https://www.gov.uk/buy-a-personalised-registration-number. You can search through their site to find which ones are currently being auctioned as well as see if one that you want has not been claimed yet. When you purchase one from the government, you are simply purchasing the right to use it on your car or give or sell it to someone else.
There are some rules that must be strictly followed in regards to DVLA reg plates. You cannot use it to fabricate details of your vehicle. For example, it’s illegal to put a plate that indicates a vehicle is a 2015 model when it is older than that. It is also illegal to purchase one that is not going to be put onto a vehicle that is taxed and licenced within the UK (with some exceptions, such as if you have a current retention certificate).