The Perfect Present: a Personalized Number Plate

    The attraction of a personalized registration number or number plate just doesn’t’ seem to fade.  They remain as eye-catching as ever and it’s hard not to admire a funny or rude plate or wonder about one that seems to have meaning relevant only to the owner with just a little sneaking admiration.  So, for the petrolhead in your life, what could be better than a personalized plate as a gift for a significant event or occasion?

    How do you buy a personalized number plate?

    All number plates in the UK are controlled by the DVLA.  You don’t have to own a car to buy a personalized registration or own the car that the plate is currently attached to or the car it is intended for – this is something quite a few people get confused about.

    When you buy a personalized plate, you buy the number and the right to assign it to a vehicle that you may own or which someone else owns; this will probably be someone that you know likely a family member of a friend rather than a complete stranger.  This person is called ‘the nominee’ and this would typically be the scenario if you are buying the plate as a gift for a loved one to go on their car.   

    If the plate is just a gift to yourself (and why not) then you can still assign the number plate to a car you own or you may have several cars and you can use the plate on whichever ones you choose providing the DVLA knows about it and this can be at the same time or sequentially.

    How do you buy from the DVLA?

    There are two ways to purchase personalized plates from the DVLA:

    DVLA Auctions – these are held several times a year with a range of plates for sale with numbers varying from the high hundreds up to around 2,000 plates.  There are two types of auction.  The first is described as what would be a traditional auction so it is an actual auction that you can attend in person.  These are held across the UK.  If you can’t be there in person then you can bid online or by phone.  The other type of auction is more like the model used by platforms like eBay so it is a virtual auction just set with a time limit.  Bidders bid but unlike eBay, your fellow bidders can’t see what you have bid and so this is similar to the sealed bids process which sometimes occurs with property sales.  There is usually a reserve price that you can use as a sensible guide and unlike sealed bids, the system will let other bidders know if their bid has been surpassed by someone else but not by how much.  The plate goes to the highest bidder when the auction closes. 

    If you are after an unusual plate or something high value, then these tend to appear at the traditional auctions – the timed auctions mainly sell the lower value plates.  If you want to know more about how the DVLA auctions work then there is some useful online guidance.

    What other ways can you buy a personalized number plate?

    Keep an eye on the DVLA website  – there are plenty of plates put up for sale that don’t go to auction; what you are looking for might be quite specific and personal to you and have little value to other motorists.  The auctions tend to fill with plates which have universal appeal in that they form a common and recognizable word or a popular name or even something a bit saucy.  

    You can also go to a specialist number plate dealer who can search for you.  They can help you decide on what you want the letters and numbers on the plate to read.  You might already have an idea but some popular suggestions might include:-

    • Incorporating the date of the special occasion into the registration for an 18th or 21st birthday or a wedding anniversary and, for the hopeless romantics, Valentine’s Day
    • Using the recipient’s name or their profession – ‘VET 1’ or their business if they are self-employed
    • Pick their nickname or a pet name, providing it’s not too embarrassing, remember, they have to drive around with this plate on their car

    A good number plate dealer can advise you on what’s possible and keep you inside the law, for example, you can’t choose a registration plate that makes the car appear newer than it actually is.

    And if you are after a plate that’s a little risque?

    The DVLA does censor number plates which it thinks are too rude and would be deemed offensive although there have been some notable examples recently which have slipped through the net – ‘BJ69’ comes to mind!  The DVLA routinely remove any plates which spell or could be construed as presenting a sex act, a swear word or a racist term.

    Some recent research from Carwow found out that a rude or saucy number plate was pretty quite high on people’s wish lists.  It is not unusual for plates in this category to hit four or five figures.  CUM 2 was up for sale for £8,700 and PEN I55S at slightly less, £7,900.  However, these two were knocked out of the park by ORG4SM which was on the market for a cool £150,000.  Saucy plates are big business and plate hunters will snap up these registrations because they know they will be big earners so expect to have some competition.  

    It is rather remarkable that the DVLA has passed BJ69 HED, ME69 GAG and BG69 WLY after last autumn’s new age identifier of 69.  But what is gold dust to one driver is tacky and unpleasant to another which is probably why the new owner of BJ69 was distinctly underwhelmed when presented with the reg on his new 4×4 and wanted to reject the vehicle when he went to pick it up.

    If you buy a registration and don’t put it on a vehicle or gift it immediately – perhaps you saw something and are planning for a special event in a few years – then you can keep it ‘on certificate’.  This means that you own the plate and the right to assign it to a car at a date in the future.


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