Although you won’t expect to see them on a modern vehicle here in the UK, a black number plate isn’t something totally unfamiliar to the vast majority of us. Even if you’re not some sort of aficionado, you probably know enough to associate black number plates with older, classic cars, and it’s fair to say they add a touch of authenticity to a classic that you just wouldn’t get with modern yellow rear and white front plates.
If you do think that you’d be correct, but did you know that not every classic vehicle is eligible to use black number plates? Let’s take a closer look at the rules and regulations surrounding black number plates so you can then be sure when you can and when you can’t use these old-school registration plates.
Even though it’s hard to imagine a time when a vehicle didn’t have to have some way of displaying an easily identifiable mark that could trace the vehicle to its owner, it’s actually only been legally required for vehicles to have number plates since 1903.
Over the years there have been several changes to the size, design, style and numbering of registration plates here in the UK, but it was only as recently as 1973 that the change was made to go from black plates with silver characters to the yellow front and white rear plates with black characters we have today.
Can you use a black number plate in the UK?
This could lead you to assume that a vehicle would only be able to use the old black plates today if it was built or registered before the change to modern plates happened in 1973, but that’s not how it works. In fact, it was as recently as 2015 that the DVLA brought in the rule that only vehicles manufactured more than 40 years earlier would still be eligible to use the old-style plates.
To be a little more precise, a vehicle would only be allowed to keep using black number plates if it was manufactured before January 1st, 1975. Although it was decided only vehicles that were 40 years old or older could continue to use black registration plates, it’s not a rolling date.
If you own a vehicle today that’s now 41 years old for example, you won’t be allowed to use black number plates. Let’s say you have a vehicle that was manufactured in February 1979. Although there’s no denying the fact it was built more than 40 years ago, it wouldn’t be able to be driven legally on UK roads with black number plates because it wasn’t built before 1st January 1975.
The history of black number plates
So, we’ve established the 40-year rule isn’t a rolling date as far as black number plates are concerned. However, it is a rolling date rule as far as historical vehicle status is concerned, and that’s why it’s easy for people to get confused about which classic cars can and can’t use the old black number plates.
Historic vehicle status is important to establish if your vehicle does qualify, even if you still might not be able to use black number plates because your classic vehicle isn’t quite old enough for that. Historic vehicle status can be applied for if your vehicle is 40 years old or older, and it’s important because it means you are then exempt from road tax and it can also have a bearing on your insurance costs.
Be careful though, because your vehicle doesn’t simply inherit historic vehicle status just because it’s reached the 40 year age milestone. For your vehicle to have official historic vehicle status you need to inform the authorities by applying for historic vehicle tax from the DVLA or by declaring it as no longer being used on the road by filling in a SORN declaration.
Using black and silver number plates in the UK
Just as your vehicle doesn’t automatically gain historic vehicle tax status because it’s reached 40 years of age, you can’t just display black and silver number plates on your vehicle because it was manufactured before January 1st, 1975. To be able to use black and silver plates in place of modern yellow and black plates, your vehicle must be registered within the historic vehicle class and you have to apply to the DVLA.
Classic car owners who have a vehicle that can display black and silver plates still have to comply with the rules on the size of the plates and the way the characters are displayed. Just like modern plates, you can’t rearrange the letters or numbers or have them made in fancy fonts to try and make them spell something out or to make them difficult to read.
Even though black and silver plates are relatively rare these days and they look very different to today’s plates, that doesn’t mean you can go and make them yourself even if you adhere to the DVLA rules on plate size and font regulations. If your vehicle meets the criteria and is registered with the DVLA as a historic vehicle eligible for black and silver plates, you still have to have the plates made up by a supplier that’s approved and licensed by the DVLA.
The good news is it’s easy to find businesses in your area that are authorised to make and supply number plates for your vehicle. All you have to do is go to the gov.uk website and locate the number plate supplier search tool, enter your postcode, and it will then give you full details of all the businesses in your area that are approved number plate suppliers.
New private plate on a classic car?
Even if your car is eligible and registered for black and silver number plates, it doesn’t mean you can go and buy any private plate you fancy and have it made for your vehicle in black and silver. Remember, you cannot put a number on a car if that number was first registered after the vehicle you want to put it on was first registered.
However, if you want to buy another number that was originally registered before the one you already have on your historic vehicle that was manufactured before January 1st, 1975, then that would be okay.