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Posted by Sean Cooper
March 2nd, 2021 at 8:58 am

In my time in the retail motor industry I never understood why people had such trouble understanding the current system of number plates for newly registered vehicles.

I could possibly get my head around the fact they may not grasp the fact the first two letters indicated the geographical area where the car was registered, but why they found it so difficult to work out when a vehicle was registered by the third and fourth numbers always escaped me.

To be fair, I was probably being a little unkind because I worked with registering cars every single day of the week. Most people only bother about what the latest plate is when it comes time to buy a new car, and even then, a lot of buyers still don’t get it. All they know is what the new plate is in March or September or whenever it is they’re buying a new car, and that they want the latest one, whatever it is.

When it comes to used cars, understanding the plate is a lot more important, but you’d be amazed at how many buyers still had no idea when a 57, a 60, or any other plate that isn’t the same number as the year was issued.

In case you’re not aware, the new licence plate in the UK from March 1st 2020 is a 20. So, if buy a new car and it’s registered in East Yorkshire for example, your new plate will start with YY20 or YX20. When we get to September 1st 2020, the new plates will then change to 70. It’s just like the last time we entered a new decade. In 2009 the license plate was 09 from March 1st to August 31st and 59 from September 1st 2009. It’s not too difficult once you get your head around it, but some people will simply never get it.

Good bye and good riddance to 69 plates

Some new car dealers will have been pleased to see the end of the September 1st 2019 to February 29th 2020 period for registrations because they’ll be hoping for better sales. Some in the UK auto industry have conducted research that reveals a considerable number of buyers may have been put off buying a new car because they saw the “69” number plate as a little too suggestive for their liking.

The DVLA usually withholds any numbers that could be considered overtly suggestive or rude, so some were a little surprised when the 69 plate was issued without a stir. Of course, some people really like the idea of a rude or suggestive number plate, and some have been known to even risk a brush with the law by manipulating the fonts used on their plates to make the characters look ruder than they actually are.

Even so, research by Carwow suggests as many as a quarter of potential buyers were put off by the 69 plate, and would rather wait until the more family-friendly 20 plate came out before buying their new car.

However, despite the fact Carwow found a quarter of drivers were put off by the 69 registration plates, around a third of drivers would actively like to purchase a number plate that was rude or suggestive. A third asked during the survey said they would be even more inclined to buy a vehicle if a rude or suggestive number plate was visible.

2020 sales surge

Although it’s not easy to see what words can be created using the new 20 number plate that was introduced on March 1st, it hasn’t stopped something of a sales surge, according to some sellers. In the first 24 hours of the new plate being made available, it’s claimed that more than 5,000 were snapped up by eager buyers.

In fact, the real reason why so many of the 2020 number plates have been sold is probably more to do with a change of system for the retail sale of these plates, rather than the overactive imagination of those buying the plates. For the first time, the 2020 plate was available to buy before the first date of registration. This has meant people have been able to buy 20 plates since as long ago November 2019, although they wouldn’t have been able to display them on a vehicle on the road until it was a new vehicle registered from March 1st this year.

It’s estimated that around 5.8million number plates will have been made available for dealers to use as default plates on new vehicles for those not bothered about having anything special, but plenty of personalised designs are also available to purchase through retailers or directly from the DVLA.

If you find a 20 plate for sale that appeals to you, they start from as little as £250. However, if you want something that means something, or at least appears to, prices can rise considerably.

This year’s “must-have” plates?

Even though 20 might not be as conducive to creating naughty words as some other two-number designations, it hasn’t stopped some people snapping up plates that mean something to them. One such person is a man called Shaun Craigie, who had the foresight to order the plate UK2020 OUT to mark the UK’s exit from the EU.

Upon reading about the potential demand for similar plates, Shaun decided to snap up the plate when he found out it could be purchased for just £400. Speaking to the Daily Express, he said, “The number plate is historic – it is the only time to mark this time in history. It speaks for itself really.”

He went on to add, “It was something in the newspapers about other plates that got me thinking. I thought what about ‘UK20 OUT’ and it was there for £400. I think I can get more than £4,000 for it at auction. “

Of course, Shaun’s idea isn’t unique, and there are other Brexit-related number plates out there looking for a home. The number EU20 BYE is up for sale, and Brexiteers can also purchase the likes of “EU20 POO” and “EU20 GON” if they miss out on Shaun’s plate when it goes to auction. It’s obviously a limited market, but appealing to potentially 52% or more of UK voters isn’t too limited to make it a viable proposition.

Even if you’re not buying a new vehicle yet, you can still buy a plate that takes your fancy and hang on to the certificate until you do want to put it on a vehicle, give it as a gift, or even try and sell it for a profit at some point.

The losing side is not left out with the 2020 plate either though. If you’re a committed fan of the EU you might want to invest in something like “EU20 FAN” or “EU20 SAD.” Other like “EU20 LUV” and “EU20 GBR” are also available, but those seem to be getting a little obscure.

Generally speaking, the fewer character there are on a license plate, the more expensive it will be. One of the most expensive plates ever sold by the DVLA was the plate “IG 1,” which was bought by businessman Ian Guest for $222,000 to go on his equally expensive Bentley Continental GT Speed.

It’s therefore no surprise that the plate “1 D” was even more expensive than Ian Guest’s plate, and was the second most expensive sold by the DVLA back in 2009 for a price of £285,000.

How did they slip though?

Even though the numbers issued for each new license period are edited by the DVLA and the ones deemed to be too rude or suggestive are prevented from going on sale, the process of deciding what is and what isn’t going to be allowed can be a little arbitrary at times.

It probably comes down to an individual’s mind or imagination, but you can sometimes wonder why some are banned but others are allowed to be sold. For example, a gentleman by the name of Darren Street paid out more £1,500 to buy four of those “controversial” 69 number plates available for the period from September 2019 to February 29th this year.

Darren bought the numbers “BJ69XXI,” “BJ69 GOB,” “BJ69 BLW” and “BJ69 SEK” for £399 each, but selling them on is proving to be considerably more difficult than he imagined it would be.

He told his local Newport Country Press newspaper, “It was a Saturday night and I tried this thing called gin and tonic. We had some friends over and half a bottle went. I’m always thinking of money-making ideas and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I ended up spending nearly £1,600.”

Darren thought he’d have no trouble selling the plates on for a profit on social media or through number plate selling websites, but he’s now considering wrapping them up and giving them away as presents after failing to sell them.

That was back in November 2019, and a quick check of all four numbers on the gov.uk website reveals that none of the four numbers have yet been registered to a vehicle. Bad luck Darren.