January 16th, 2020 at 12:56 pm
The desirability of private or personalised number plates seems to be booming like never before. Perhaps it is because of the UK’s locked down legislation on number plates which means that no variation or personalisation is allowed. The only way to get creative is with a private plate.
The market is not just confined to motor enthusiasts and petrolheads, it has a broader appeal to those who simply want to make a statement and businesses keen to put the finishing touch to a prestige vehicle. Enthusiasm can come from many different directions. For example, a football player or keen fan may have little real interest in cars but could be clamouring for the plate that spells out AR53 NAL. The appeal of private plates is becoming ever more universal.
Plate hunters and companies which specialise in acquiring personalised plates are always on the lookout for cherished or unusual numbers both new and old. Because the format of registration plates in the UK has altered over the decades, there are different and distinct categories in which people search:-
- Dateless number plates – these are the oldest issue dating back to the beginning of the 20th century and are amongst the most sought after and consequently, attract the highest price tags. Figures around half a million pounds are not uncommon. These plates feature either two or three letters followed by a number up to a maximum figure of 9999
- Reverse Dateless – the numbers come first and there can be either two letters for which the number range is 1 to 9999 or three letters for which the number range is 1 to 99. These are less valuable than dateless number plates but can still attract significant interest
- Suffix plates – it was all change in 1963 as increasing numbers of cars meant a review of how the characters should appear. The final character on these plates is the letter which represents the year and these carried on all the way through to 1983. Not as expensive as the previous two categories, if the plate can spell out a word, for example, PET 3R which gives the appearance of the name, Peter, then they can command high prices
- Prefix plates – these ran from 1983 to March 2001. The first character is a letter and is the date indicator followed by a number and then three letters. W4 TER is a popular example of a prefix plate
- New Style – these came into force in September 2001 and are set to run for several decades. The first two letters still refer to the geographical area of registration despite the fact that this process is now centralised and mostly performed by dealers online. Next follows two numbers which indicate the year and also whether the plate was a spring or autumn release. After the space, there are three letters which are random although dealerships are issued letters in blocks which may be similar or sequential in some way so canny motorists buying a new car will ask to see whether there is any variation on offer
Sometimes, number plates can just offer gift combinations as has been the case this September when the 2019 plate issue for the age identifier was the number, ‘69’. The autumn registration issue is always the last two digits of the year so in this case, 19’, plus the number ‘50’ which equals, ‘69’. This was avidly awaited by plate hunters and although the DVLA removed, as it always does, what it deemed to be the worst offenders, there were still some eye-opening plates that slipped through the net. The DVLA responded to a Freedom of Information Act request to reveal the registration plates they had removed from public circulation. These included BL69 JOB, GB69 FKD and BU69 GAY but there were plenty quite saucy variations which were allowed through.
The trend for personalised plates has never been stronger. In 2017, the DVLA sold 374, 968 which was an increase of 12% on the year before. The Institute of Registration Agents and Dealers or MIRAD says the market has never been stronger, fuelled in part in their view by the oxygen of self-publicity on social media which means it has never been easier to post pictures of your shiny new car and personalised plate.
Exactly how much bang can you get for your buck?
Mirad says that the sale of plates at around the £250 mark is pretty commonplace. A popular purchase is a personalised plate to go on the new car for the ‘just passed’ teenager. At the opposite end of the spectrum, how about a £518,000 – the final price including fees and auctioneer’s commission – for a plate that reads ’25 O’ which was bought by a classic car dealer in 2014 but then it was going on a Ferrari. ‘250 L’ made £130,000, what’s to choose between the two? Perhaps ’25 O’ had a special significance for the purchaser or maybe there were two people in the room who just had to have it which is what drove the price up.
Industry pundit, Brian Heaton, observes that over the decades, values on cherished plates have done nothing but rise. He states that “the numbers that were selling for £1,000 in 1980 now sell for £150,000.” His view is that the market was fuelled when the DVLA got involved in the 1980s as this seemed to open up the whole marketplace and bring it to a wider audience.
So should you snap up that prestige plate purely as an investment and how much money could you make on it? No-one can really answer that although experienced plate hunters and sellers could give you a ballpark figure. If you are buying purely as an investment rather than because you want a particular plate for your own vehicle, it can be helpful to identify industry trends, what has been popular before and what number plate combinations may be looming in the next few years, such as the eagerly awaited‘69’ plate in the autumn of 2019. It’s rather like buying up domain names which are of no interest but suddenly develop enormous popularity and demand due to a particular event or person. Would that there was a number plate that spelt out the word, TRUMP, or perhaps not!