Personalised number plates – looking good for your money?

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Personalised number plates, otherwise known as vanity plates, are a great way to make a splash while you’re driving around town.

If you’re a celebrity, of course, a vanity plate is almost obligatory. Jimmy Tarbuck had COM 1C while Paul Daniels’ plate of choice was MAG 1C. (For our younger viewers, Jimmy is a comedian and Paul is a magician. You can see what they did, there.) But not everyone buys a vanity plate to boost their street cred or confirm their celebrity status. Some investors snap up registrations that they think could become more valuable at auction on the Driver Vehicle & Licensing Agency (DVLA) website, which lists millions of possible combinations that often cost under £500. At the time of writing, the reserve price on a plate reading MAX 1ON, for example, is £400, while the more highly sought-after 111 ASB has a reserve of £1,800. They then offer them for sale via private companies at a profitable price when they think the time is right.

Load of bull?

Owners of number plates that celebrate the return of the bull stock market are currently on sale for tens of thousands of pounds. With the FTSE 100 index of Britain’s biggest companies heading towards new peaks (and investment bankers’ bonuses being paid in the coming weeks), financial news service Bloomberg is listing the number plate BU11 MKT for sale at £25,000, while BU11 ESH is also on there, at £15,000. That’s not a bad return if the sellers managed to buy them for £500 or less!

Letters of the law

Regardless of whether you buy a personalised number plate as a status symbol or an investment, there are rules to follow if you do not want to fall foul of the law.

Personalised registration numbers must be used on a vehicle registered (or about to be registered), taxed and used in the UK. In other words, you can’t just buy a personalised plate and stick it on a shelf in your garage in the hope that its value will increase. For obvious reasons, you also can’t use a personalised plate to make a vehicle appear newer than it actually is. Putting an “07” registration number onto a 2003 registered vehicle is out of bounds as a result. The DVLA also bans the use of certain words that are offensive in any widely used language – although previously banned combinations such as SEX have become available in recent years. And you risk being pulled over and fined if you do not stick to the approved font (Charles Wright, first introduced in 2001), size and spacing. I’ve seen some sharp practice, such as people putting rivets into a plate to make II into H. But, hey, maybe the police have bigger fish to fry.

Registering your interest

What’s more, there are further restrictions when it comes to selling the plates, or transferring them from one vehicle to another. You will, for example, have to fill in a form (V317) to transfer the registration from your old car to your new one. The same applies if the plate is going onto a car owned by somebody else. There is also a charge of £80. The buyer will also have to fill in the same form if the plate is changing hands.

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