All you need to know about personalised number plates

Having a personalised number plate is enormously popular. And it’s not just the rich and famous who buy them – though they do have some of the most memorable ones.

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Everyone smiled when they saw Prince William and new bride Kate driving off in Prince Charles’ DB6 Volante with a plate reading JU5T WED on their wedding day. It was clearly just Dad’s joke, as the number plate on the front was quite different. Radio presenter Chris Evans is more serious, being an avid collector. He started with FAB 1 and 1 FAB – “because they’re the coolest” - and has FER 1 on one of his collection of Ferraris.

Sportsmen love them. Bad boy footballer Vinnie Jones has 100 VJ, cricketer Phil Tuffnel’s is BE57 CAT (he was known as ‘The Cat’) and Ian Botham’s reads B33 FYS (that’s Beefy’s).  On Chelsea embankment in London a Jaguar and a Bentley have similar plates – 2 B and NOT 2 B – no doubt owned by lovers of Shakespeare.

A personalised number plate is a birthday or Christmas present that goes on giving. Every time that special someone gets in their car, they’ll think of you. Last year the DVLA, which issues all UK number plates, made £67 million from the sale of these special licence numbers. The money raised by auctioning off desirable plates goes to the Treasury.

Their most lucrative time was in 2011, when the 11 plates came out, as they can make so many names like A11ce or PH1 1IP. The DVLA raised £16 million on the first day in March when they were issued.

The highest price paid for a vanity plate was by a driver in the United Arab Emirates in February 2008 who paid £7.25 million. The plate simply read 1. In the same year, a dealer in the UK sold F1 for £440,625.

The DVLA’s top score was from 1 D in March 2009 which went for £352,000. It was bought by a tycoon not a member of the boy band One Direction. However, 1 HRH only made £113,000 in January 2009 while 51 NGH went for £254,000 in 2006.

The most popular ones – and therefore the ones that’ll cost you the most – are single numbers, especially if they are linked with initials, those that spell a common name like SM1 TH or J4 NE and those that mimic the marque of a posh car such as LAM for Lamborghini or SP1 DER.

Collectors think they are an investment but whether you’ll be able to make money out of them is a gamble. Retired businessman Robert Harverson, from Surrey, paid almost £250,000 for the registration 1 RH in November 2008. He currently owns six private plates and told the BBC last month that they used to be good value, but he’s not so sure anymore. "They were an investment, like property, 30 years ago. You'd buy sought-after ones for a few hundred pounds. But in the last 10 years it's become a fad."

To see what’s on offer and to buy your own private plate go to the DVLA website. There are more than 30 million number plates available at the moment with prices starting from £250. The price includes an £80 “assignment fee” and VAT, so there are no extras to pay beyond what you’re quoted.

You can enter your initials or the word you’re looking for and a list will come up showing the current and prefix styles or those that will come up for sale at auction.

The DVLA holds six auctions a year where they sell around 1,500 of the best ones. These have a reserve price next to them based on how sought-after the DVLA team think they are. The reserve price is only a guide – if someone else wants your chosen number you may have to pay far more.

Whether you buy online or at auction you will be sent a Certificate of Entitlement within two weeks of your purchase. Keep it safe as it’s your proof that the special number is owned by you.

Don’t forget to tell your motor insurer and you may wish to take out “cherished number plate” insurance too in case it is stolen.

The DVLA started holding back personalised plates to sell separately 30 years ago. Some numbers are dateless. These have up to four numbers and three letters and are the most desirable as they disguise the vehicle’s age and are only sold at auction.

Those that refer to the year, such as 13 or 63 for 2013, can only be used on motors released in that year or later years. You can take your plate with you when you sell the car and put it on a new vehicle provided you register it with the DVLA.  But you can’t keep it if the car is scrapped and you can’t alter the number plate by moving the letters and numbers closer together or reordering them.

There are also a number of dealers who specialise in selling number plates they have bought from the DVLA.

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