Buying a 'cherished' number plate

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Many people try to personalise their cars with a special number plate which reflects their name or date of birth, etc. These plates look great and add a touch of individuality to your prized motor car. They can also disguise the age of the vehicle if you're sensitive about such things! It is easy to retain such plates when getting a new vehicle, and can mean you'll never forget your registration number again  Bear in mind, though, that the vanity of having a 'private plate' also makes your car stand out, and instantly recognisable in the local area at least. This is a minor point for an Aston Martin or Lamborghini owner, but more important for a Mondeo or Vectra!

There are many private companies in the 'cherished numbers' market, and some advertise regularly on Ebay. Remember you can also search for and buy individualised numbers from the DVLA. (see final paragraph) 

Personalising your registration plates can be perfectly legal, but there are sellers and dealers who will encourage the unwary to break the law. There is very clear guidance on the DVLA website.

The law is very clear:

1. The font must conform to the DVLA standard format. 

2. Letters and numbers must be clear, and conform to the standard font.

3. There must be no manipulation of spacing between groups of letters/numbers to suggest words/phrases.

4. Use of bolts to make letters (eg between two letter Is to make H) is not legal.

5. The number plate must contain the name and postcode of the supplier if supplied (or replaced) after 2001.


Failure to observe these may result in these penalties:

1. £1000 fine

2. MOT test failure

3. Permanent withdrawal of the registration number.

You may notice now that some sellers are putting small print at the bottom of the advert saying these plates are 'display only'. One current Ebay seller actually shows photographs of illegal, mis-spaced plates (see the adverts to the right of this screen), and then points out that this is illegal in the small print underneath! There is also a group on the web now proposing photographing illegally spaced/scripted plates and emailing them to the DVLA. Whether this has official backing is somewhat unclear. Some buyers prepared to take the risk swap to the 'legal' plates when their cars go in for MOTs. New regulations on the DVLA's 'MOT' site clearly state that number plate legibility, letter spacing and legal fonts are part of the MOT test and a vehicle may be failed due to a breach of this law. I have heard of MOT centres which have lost their status for failing to act on illegal plates.

My recent research with a number of police forces shows that they are increasingly issuing rectification notices to motorists with illegal plates, and such plates can be a justification for being stopped. Once you are stopped, of course, other checks may well be carried out - tyres, lights, documents, etc. which can be time consuming. Some insurance companies say that having illegal plates on a car may invalidate any insurance claim. Is it really worth the risk?

In February 2008, police forces are launching a national campaign to remove illegal plates from the roads. This has become necessary because of the increasing use of number plate recognition cameras in static locations and on mobile units. These cameras may not recognise illegal spacings, fonts and manipulation of letters, so invalidate checks on whether a vehicle is insured and taxed, as well as the identity of the vehicle's keeper. If you don't want to be recognised, then use illegal plates, but expect to be pulled over!

By now, November 2008, the software for number plate recognition cameras has improved and a senior police spokesman this week told me that they now recognise italic fonts, mis-spacings, wrong sized letters and thousands of other illegal variations. He told me of a recent successful prosecution of a driver with small, italic letters on his plates which had triggered the camera. Automatic checks then found the vehicle had no tax, insurance or MOT, the driver had no licence, and the ANPR photograph showed him using his mobile 'phone whilst driving! He was fined, disqualified and his car seized.

Remember, if you want plates for display purposes only, and for use off the public road, you can have any number/letter combination you want made up in a high street shop for a few pounds. You don't have to 'own' the number officially.

If you do want a special number/letter combination, you can search for available legal ones on the DVLA website. The charges quoted there are all inclusive of transfer fees, etc. Remember that private dealers have to make their profit, so may conceal their fees in quoted prices. It is worth comparing DVLA and dealer prices. Sometimes, dealers ask for offers on the numbers available. DVLA retain numbers they think are particularly saleable and put them into auctions - details on the DVLA site.

Hope this may help someone from being sold a useless number in all innocence, or, worse still, losing their licence or even their car.

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