Brit Dopers - what's the deal with personalized license plates?

In the current issue of car magazine, there’s a full page ad by “Personalised Regsitrations” where they encourage you to “search for your ideal “54” plate” at their website.

There’s a guy holding a “54” plate that has his initials - GC54 GDC. Just under his picture is the line, “Price of plate shown is £499.” There’s also another line that says, “Don’t forget prefix numbers (e.g. J4 DVL) can still be purchased from £250 with no other charges.”

Are people willing to pay this much money for a personalized plate?

Don’t ask me why, but yes, people pay a fortune for vanity plates. I can’t quite see the significance of ‘54’, but people do get quite creative with using numbers as letters 733t-style, non-standard spacing and so on. So the number ‘B408 DY’ would be quite valuable, because with judicious positioning of letters and a bit of imagination, you can make it look like ‘BAD BOY’ (exactly the sort of phrase that appeals to vanity plate owners). If you think that’s a stretch, many of them are harder to decipher than that.

Frankly, I and a lot of people think that the only appropriate personalised plate would be P1LL 0CK*, but they are popular and a small industry has grown up to supply the demand. Even the vehicle licensing agency has latched on to this and now makes a bit of money on the side selling ‘interesting’ numbers.

  • Pillock n. - idiot (chiefly British)

I did a little more research and found some plates going for as much as £225,000!!!

We Yanks definitely have it better in this respect. A vanity plate (in GA, at least) is $50 plus the taxes. You are limited to 7 numbers/letters and some combinations (e.g. dirty words) are not available.

That might be it – I don’t think you can just choose any old sequence of letters and numbers. I think you have to use the ones that have been thrown up by the various formats we have used over the years. Currently its “two letters - two numbers - three letters”, but there have been several other schemes. So I guess there’s a more limited supply of supposedly cool number plates, hence the higher prices and the creative interpretations.

All plates are issued by the DVLA. A few years ago, they (and the government) realised there was money to be made from ‘desirable’ plates, which would otherwise be issued to the next person buying a car. There’s regular auctions held by the DVLA in which such plates, with desirable characteristics, are sold.

The trade in antique plates is very different, although legally similar. Essentially, an antique plate cannot be reissued without the original owners permission - so somebody acquiring a car which is unregistered will either have to pay the market rate for an ‘old’ registration, or suffer the indignity of a ‘Q’ reg (the letter used for all registrations that cannot be assigned a year).

The thing is; messing about with your licence plate like that (changing the spacing, creative placement of screw heads, fancy fonts, etc) is illegal. Fine up to 1000 pounds and your vehicle can fail its MOT on it. Yet you can’t drive down a road these days without seeing some pillock who’s done it to their car. It seems that the traffic police don’t care that a sizable percentage of licence numbers on display have been doctored one way or another or are practically illegible.


  • Make an 8 look like an e by placing a coloured screwhead on the lower loop.
  • Make a 1 look like an i by placing the screwhead 1/4 of the way down the stroke.
  • Make a 6 look like a G by … (you get the idea)
  • Make a plate look like anything you damn well like by printing it in CrAZy FoNT anD SiZes.

Of course the Govt are to blame. The day they started selling personalised numbers to make an easy buck was the day they said it was OK, and licences plate’s function ceased to be what they were supposed to be; uniquely identifying vehicles for law enforcement.

So when they specifically outlawed any of the new-style plates (XY12 ABC) being doctored in any way (as opposed to general legislation about ‘misleading’ plates), and when they required all new plate printings to be documented, they didn’t care?

Wait… in Britain you can’t request a vanity-plate number/letter combination from a range outside the regularly-issued plate numbers? The vanity-plates are taken from the regularly-issued series?

Here in Ontario, the Ministry of Transport assigns regular plates from series containing letters and numbers. We are now issuing plates in the series LLLL###, ##LL##, ####LL, and LL####. (L represents a letter A-Z, # a number 0-9. 0 and O are treated as identical.) Older series included LLL### and ###LLL.

We can request a plate that has up to eight characters (L or #), that isn’t already used, and isn’t on the list of naughty words*.

*Must be interesting making that list.

Given the number of languages spoken in Toronto, are there people at the Ministry saying things like “Wait! ‘Fekajxo’ means ‘turd’ in Esperanto and ‘scumsucker’ in Muyeng-dynasty South Chinese! We can’t allow that! On the forbidden list it goes!” “Did you check the incoming requests against Egyptian and Old Church Slavonic yet?” “No sir. We’re still upgrading our database to handle Tagalog, Inuktitut and Tokipona…”

I’m sorry, this is Britain, not the Wild West. We can’t have people running around choosing their own number plates, that would be anarchy. Rest assured that there is a very good reason indeed for our rigid number plate format, one that our guardians in the Home Office have thought long and hard about. I don’t personally know what it is, but I am confident that it is very good indeed.

As far as I remember the first person to have vanity number plates in the UK was Gerald Nabarro. I could well be wrong but his is an interesting story of politics and scandal in any case.

Nabarro was what we like to call a “flamboyant politician” which usually merans an eccentric publicity seeker with views likely to embarrass his own party. It was the sixties, he was a Tory, sported a handlebar moustache and supported Enoch Powell. He owned not one, not two but a fleet of at least seven cars with numbeplates NAB1, NAB2, NAB3 and so on. he may have got up to NAB9 but I’m relying on childhood memory here.

He was a good candidate for Usram’s suggestion of P1LL 0CK as a more appropiate plate.

This is a rather small photo of him and this is a recent guardian article on the scandal that was the end of him. I must say the Hamilton connection is priceless.

54 is the date code. All new numbers issued between Sep 04 and Feb 05 will have ‘54’ as the third & fourth characters.

Wasn’t it Fiona Richmond who had the UK number plate FU2 ?

I always thought that would be a good one to have.

No they’re not.

What I mean is, please keep in mind personalized plates are unbelievably rare compared to the US (where they seem to be every other car these days :rolleyes: ). And pretty much confined to the group Usram mentioned.

There’s also a refreshing dearth of bumperstickers over here. (god I’m going to misss this place :frowning: )

There’s no point in legislating a law if you don’t enforce it. My observations conclude it isn’t enforced, otherwise all these people with doctored plates wouldn’t make it down the street without getting pulled over and the garages that install them would be telling people not to bother, it’ll just end up in a fine.

And the same goes for the ‘anti-speed-camera’ plates that you see openly advertised. Totally illegal, but no-one seems to be bothered.

And, of course, Lady Penelope had the plate FAB 1. :slight_smile:

True, the law isn’t properly enforced. But no reputable garage produces doctored plates anyway - it’s the same dodgy backstreet guys who will sell you a stolen blue badge and screw you in your MOT.

It’s perfectly legal to sell them - it’s only when you put them on your car that they’re illegal. A stupid loophole, yes - but a loophole nonetheless.

Jimmy Tarbuck used to have the number plate COM 1 C. I wonder If we could prosecute him under the Trade’s Description Act ? :slight_smile: