An overview of the private number plate industry

The private plate number industry might seem like small change, but in fact, it’s a very valuable industry for the UK. Between 2015-2016, a record 334,818 registrations were sold by the DVLA. And since the DVLA began selling “vanity plates” to the public, over 4.5 million have been sold, raising over £2.3bn for the Treasury.

Private plates can range from as low as £25 from the DVLA, to as high as £300,000 for the more relatively rare ones in private deals and auctions. For example, a Ferrari dealer in 2014 purchased the number plate ‘25 0’ for a whopping £518,000. This plate was once owned by Eric Clapton and attached to his Ferrari 250SWB.

Private plates as an investment

There exists a solid market in the private plate industry for brokers and investors. Not all rare or desirable plates are registered to cars. Many are purchased up for resale, and it’s been said that number plates in perfect condition hold their value even better than other investments, even in times of recession.

Various companies specialise in brokering sales of desirable plate numbers, and make it easy to pick your personal car registration plate. In many cases, going through a plate broker is easier than the DVLA, as plates can be delivered in around 7 working days, compared to waiting 4 – 6 weeks for the DVLA.

What makes private plates attractive as an investment is that their value doesn’t decrease with use. For example, gold, jewelry, even collectable football cards must be kept in absolutely pristine condition for them to have a high resale value. A scratch on that rare 1992 Zidane Royal Crown Rookie sports card is going to knock a few thousand pounds off the value.

Number plates retain their value, regardless of how many millions of miles of road they’ve seen. Even if they’re a bit dusty and scratched up, number plates are very easily restored to nearly perfect condition. You can drive around with your vintage plates all you want, without worrying about them losing value.

What boosts the value of private plates?

A combination of things can send a plate number’s value soaring, such as previously being owned by a celebrity, but there are a number of factors that increase a plate number’s value.

Dateless number plates are some of the most expensive. This typically refers to the earliest plate number format, which only contained one letter and number, such as ‘A 1’, ‘S 2’, etc. These plates go all the way back to the early 19th century, and hold high historical value, as well as the possibility of being passed through famous owners over time.

Plates that reference popular phrases, sports clubs, and names can also be highly valuable. The license plate “VIP 1” is worth an estimated £285,000, while “M417 UTD” (Manchester United) sold for £17,835.

Overall, the age and novelty of a number plate is generally what dictates its value. However, you don’t need to invest in plates worth six digits to make a profit, as there’s money to be made in modern plates that contain popular initials or unique words, like “IG0 F4ST” could be worth several tens of thousands of pounds, or a name plate like “SUE 546” could be worth a couple thousand.

Things to be aware of

We’ve talked a lot about how plates can be highly valuable, but let’s also talk about how some plates can get you in legal trouble.

You could be subject to a fine of up to £1,000 for plates that have been altered in any way, such as the spacing and letters. The DVLA also maintains a huge list (around 42 pages) of “banned” plates, which typically contain rude or offensive messages (like ‘BL0 M33’).

Also, make sure the seller has a genuine V750 certificate of entitlement or V778 retention document. Only the people named on one of these documents can assign the number plate to their car.

Both buyer and seller must also complete a V317. If you do not plan on using the number plate on your car, you must pay to retain the registration number.

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