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Posted by showplatesexpress
March 2nd, 2021 at 8:56 am

It is against the law in the UK if a motor vehicle does not display a registration or number plate on the front and rear of the car.  It also constitutes an offence if the plates are not clearly legible and finally, any alterations or adaptations which fall outside of the tightly defined regulations relating to the actual display of number plates will also make the plate illegal.

Accidental transgressions

Dirty car covering up number plates which is illegal.

It is easily done, dirt and muck from the road on a long journey, spray from a wet or slushy road and rock salt used to grit in icy conditions can easily coat the number plate with a misty white layer and mean it is obscured.  If it is very bad, you run the risk of being stopped by a Road Traffic Policing Unit.  Mud can have the same effect.

If you live in a rural area, then you are probably well used to dirty roads in the depths of winter but urban motorists can get caught out in a jaunt to the country or on a long-distance journey where you may not even be aware how dirty the vehicle is until you stop.  Your number plates must be visible at all times.

A crack or a chip, a split, break or just fading could all mean you have fallen foul of the law.  A piece missing is definitely going to bring you up on the police radar.  It’s not costly to have a new plate made but sometimes people are just not aware of the problem.  Remember to always walk around your vehicle and make a visual check of both number plates,  Damaged plates could also constitute an MOT failure.

Deliberate rule bending


Make a set of rules and someone somewhere will want to break them.  Just a bit of a deviation or minor misdemeanour would not be viewed as serious by many, just a few small visual adjustments to the number plate, surely no-one will notice…?  Here are some favourite alterations:-

  • Changing the designated spacing between the two different groups of characters, this is a popular method used to create a word or the appearance of a word
  • Adding a pattern to the yellow or white background
  • Changing the colour from black and white and black and yellow
  • Altering the font, a particular font is designated and there is no room for manoeuvre on this
  • Using screw heads to insert a point or stop in a location on the plate that is designed to help create a word
  • Trying to disguise the age of a vehicle
  • Using a tiny plate often called ‘a baby plate’
Number plate spacing and tampering on a Bentley

The fact of the matter is that the police have plenty to do and number plate tweakers are not always top of their priority list.  But having the plate supplier’s postcode at the bottom of the plate in small print is designed to put off platemakers from conspiring with the wishes of motorists when it comes to bending or breaking the rules.

Your plate is illegal if it doesn’t comply with the DVLA regulations and these govern every aspect of the appearance of the number plate.  A reputable platemaker will be familiar with all of these:-

  • Characters must be 79mm tall
  • Numbers and letters should be 50mm wide
  • The depth or thickness of the letters and numbers called ‘the stroke’ must be 14mm
  • The space between each character is permitted to be 11mm
  • The central space the age identifier numbers and the three random letters should be 33mm
  • The margins, top, bottom and at the side of the plate must be 11mm

In addition, the front plate on the vehicle must be white with black characters and the rear plate black characters on a yellow background and both plates made from a reflective material.  Anything that doesn’t comply with these regulations would be deemed to be illegal.

Personalised or private plates

private number plate that is legal on a mercedes benz

These are perfectly legal providing their makeup and appearance follows the standard regulations and their paperwork is in order with the DVLA.  A private plate does not have to be allocated to any one specific vehicle and it can be used on more than one vehicle.  This has to be registered with the DVLA so the law enforcement agencies can identify the registered keeper of the car.  A private plate will not have an age identifier – one of the many reasons they are so popular – or a DVLA memory tag but it doesn’t matter as the vehicle can still be identified by the law enforcement agencies on the DVLA database.

Show Plates

These are definitely not legal for road use as they are neither a standard nor a private plate and essentially do not follow any of the rules in terms of their size and appearance.  Show plates are popular for numerous reasons:-

  • On display at car shows and rallies
  • Used in the motor trade by car showrooms for prestige sales or display vehicles and as themed decoration and ornamentation in offices and reception areas
  • As a finishing touch on a chauffeur-driven car at a promotional event or a wedding
  • On 4x4s for off-roading adventure days
  • As the finishing touch on a child’s battery or pedal car

Show plates are usually stick on and can be added pretty quickly to a vehicle.  Using a number plate surround it would be feasible to drive the bride to her reception using a standard plate and then swap the plate with a wedding-themed alternative to leave on the car for display purposes and for the photographs. 

There is always that one motorist who can’t resist using a baby plate on the road or who tinkers around with the spacing to create a word and effectively the appearance of a private plate.  But with ANPR cameras growing in number, you can be picked up much more quickly than a few years ago.  The potential fine is £1,000 and a traffic officer will judge a deliberate transgression much more harshly than someone who is perhaps not aware that their plate is cracked, chipped or too dirty to read.