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Posted by showplatesexpress
January 16th, 2020 at 2:39 pm


Anyone with a bit of smart eye will have noticed clever and unusual number plates being used on vehicles in certain situations.  These are called show plates and can be put on cars for a variety of different reasons and occasions.

Where can a show plate be used?

Geneva, Switzerland - March 1st, 2016. Show plates being used on show cars at the convention

Show plates are commonly used in car showrooms and at motor shows.  They also appear on television programmes where the car is never destined to leave the studio.

Some classic cars that are never used but simply displayed can also have show plates attached.  They might be exhibited at a competition or within a permanent building such as a museum.

What are the benefits of show plates?

The main benefit is that because they are not legal for road use (although many people do use them on the road) they don’t have to comply with the tight restrictions surrounding font, lettering size and spacing, margin depth and so on.  A show plate can feature any background, a creative or Italic font can be used and spacing can be altered so the plate can create an actual word.  Logos and colours are also available which is what makes show plates so popular to really personalise a vehicle or to link into a business brand identity.

Show plates are not just for cars

Some businesses will use show plates for signage, admittedly this is popular amongst companies connected with the motor trade but American themed diners will often use show plates.  And show plates have always been popular for the petrolhead teenage boy’s bedroom and probably the man he grows into. Motorcycle show plates are also incredibly popular.

What’s the difference between a show plate, a personalised number plate and a private plate?

Show plate on a Bentley Continental

A show plate is basically ‘anything goes’ except it can’t go on the road.  Personalised and private plates are all road legal and are really one in the same thing.  Personalised plates are thought of as plates which feature the name or initials of an individual but in fact, these are all private plates, just as much as a plate which spells out a particular word.  Personalised and private plates must comply with current UK legislation and may be used on the road.

What constitutes off-road use?

Show plates may not be used on the road in the UK.  For legal purposes, the highway has been extended to include private roads and other areas such as car parks which are now classified as public roads.  This all changed as anyone who relied on deserted supermarket car parks and old airfield industrial estates to teach their teenage son or daughter to drive will be aware.  Gone are the days when a teenager could get up to speed on the local airfield without insurance cover.  These are now classified as the public highway and require all the appropriate legal compliance for new drivers and so also extend to the governance of number plates.

What are Gel 3D number plates and are they road legal?

3d show plate on the back of a ford GT

Think of these as more of a showy plate than a show plate.  Gel resin 3D number plates are road legal and are considered to be the premier plate make and style within the motor trade.  Gel plates are popular because of their look and finish; for many enthusiasts, the number plate is the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake and they want the best plate they can have rather than standard issue.  The confusing thing is that this technology can also be used on show plates which are not road legal.

An alternative to show plates

If you want or need to use your car on the road then a 3D or 4D plate can be a very good option.  3D Gel resin plates are subtle yet stylish and are perfectly acceptable within current road traffic legislation and MOT requirements.  Then, along comes 4D which is certainly outside the law as the regulations state that only 3D is permitted?  Seemingly not. Read our 4D Number Plates guide 

What do motor insurers say as they are very hot on modifications?

Insurers need to be told whenever a vehicle has been modified in any way.  Increasing engine capacity or fitting adaptations for a disabled person are obvious trigger points for that phone call but what about your number plate?

If you change your standard plate for a private or personalised plate then your insurer does need to know this although it is a modification that should not affect your premium.  3D or 4D plates are not something the insurer needs to be notified about.

Will my vehicle pass the MOT with show plates on?

Displaying show plates on your car is a definite MOT fail, unfortunately.

When can I use a show plate on my classic car?

cool show plate on back of classic car

Whenever your car is in the backdrop at a family event or celebration, a show plate can be used to enhance the message…21 TODAY or XMAS 19 or BABY1.  The permutations are endless and are only limited by your imagination and the restriction that the car may not go out onto the road.

What is an iPlate?

An i-Plate has no connection with a show plate.  An iPlate is a UK invention devised by a company which uses RFID  – Radio Frequency Identification – technology to link the vehicle seamlessly to other functions.  The iPlate allows much more reliable identification of a vehicle – ANPR is all well and good unless a car has false plates.  An e-plate has a memory chip which can record and store information and the idea is to develop usability to benefit drivers as well.  For now, the UK motorist must content himself with personalised or private plates, 3D Gel plates or 4D Plates and show plates for special occasions so a plate for every day of the week effectively.