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Posted by Sean Cooper

We all know there are lots and lots of laws governing us when we’re on the road in any type of vehicle that requires registration, and penalties for not observing them can range from relatively minor to extremely severe. The big things the majority of us will always adhere to include having current and appropriate insurance, up-to-date road tax, sticking to speed limits and not driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But have you ever given much thought to whether your number plate could be leaving on the wrong side of the law and potentially liable to sanction?

When did you last check your number plate?

Even in those few examples, you see a range of severity of potential sanction if you were to fall foul of any of those laws, but there are all sorts of other regulations you have to stick to that might not be anywhere near as obvious that you probably don’t give much thought to. Although you probably never give them any serious thought, do you even realise how your vehicle’s number plates could be letting you down and leaving you open to falling foul of the law?

When did you last take a look at your number plates, and do you even know the rules and regulations that apply to them? Most people who buy a new or used vehicle just assume the seller or dealer has fitted the right plates in the right way and that all is well, and that’s if they even think about the number plates.

Let’s face it, there are more important things to worry about with staying on the right side of the law when you’re taking a vehicle on the road, aren’t there? However, your number plates could be letting you down in several different ways and potentially leaving you open to a variety of issues. You might check your number plates before you go in for an MOT, but if you’re honest you probably don’t. You might take a moment to clean your number plates if your vehicle is filthy and the muck might be obscuring your registration number, but you probably don’t. Do you ever tow a trailer or a caravan, and do you know the rules regarding towing and displaying plates?

MOT failure

Failing an MOT isn’t the end of the world for most of us, but it is an annoying and time-consuming event that we can all probably do without. There are lots of ways your vehicle can fail an MOT that you might not be expected to be aware of, such as brake issues or a problem with the chassis. But did you know you can fail your MOT because of your number plates?

The first thing to think of is do you actually have the appropriate number plate on the front and rear of your vehicle? It might sound like a bit of a daft question but we do see vehicles driving around with a rear plate missing, and no, writing the registration number on a piece of cardboard and sticking it in the back window won’t suffice.

Even if you have number plates on the front and rear of your vehicle, if either number plate is obscured, damaged or has any features that could affect or change the appearance and legibility of those all-important characters then it can still result in a failed MOT test. Wiping your plates with a damp cloth and checking for any problems will only take a moment and it could save you time, money and hassle.

If your plate has been damaged in an accident and becomes cracked or smashed, it could mean failing your MOT if you haven’t replaced it before the vehicle goes in for its test. Number plates don’t cost a lot to have made up, and even if an MOT test isn’t imminent, replacing a cracked or smashed plate can still avoid unnecessary attention from the police.

The tiny bulb that illuminates your rear number plate when visibility is low such as at night or in foggy conditions might not appear to be a big deal, but this is another way you can fail an MOT if it’s not working. Not having your rear plate illuminated is considered a major defect, so make sure you check it before you submit your vehicle to testing.

Is your plate legal?

You may or may not be aware of the fact, but your number plates have to conform to some pretty strict rules about sizes, shapes, colours and characters. If you always go to a reputable plate supplier for your plates you’ll be okay, but don’t be tempted to go to someone who’ll play around with fonts, the spacing of characters or anything else that could make your plates illegal. If you see a number plate that looks significantly different to what you’re used to seeing there’s every chance it doesn’t conform to UK standards and is therefore leaving the driver open to unwanted scrutiny or worse.

Number plates and towing

All the government website says about number plates when towing a trailer is “Your trailer must display the same number plate as the vehicle you’re towing it with. If you’re towing more than one trailer, the number plate must be fixed to the trailer at the back.”

That’s pretty simple and straightforward, but it appears it’s not clear and simple enough for some people. Anyone who spends a lot of time on the road will probably be able to reel off any number of stories about people towing trailers or caravans and quite obviously not following those simple and straightforward rules.

Just because you’re only going to the garage to refuel your jet ski doesn’t mean you can get away without having an appropriate number plate on the back of the trailer, and that ubiquitous piece of cardboard with your registration number written on it with a black magic marker pen isn’t an acceptable substitute for a proper number plate.

A white number plate on the trailer won’t cut it either, and don’t get me started about the number of times I’ve seen a caravan or trailer with a number plate on it that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the registration number of the actual towing vehicle!

Number plates are not rocket science and getting them made up isn’t expensive, so there’s no excuse for not sticking to the rules. And if you have a question about a potential number plate issue not covered here, make sure you speak to your local garage or an approved number plate supplier.