Personalised Registration Plates

Often the butt of jokes, personal registrations are nevertheless very popular and big business. Bought right, they even make excellent investments. So what's the deal, what do they cost and which ones should you buy? We've got all the answers here…

What is a personal vehicle registration and why have one?

It's a registration chosen and purchased for its combination of letters and numbers that spell, for example, a name, a slogan or a word, which displays the driver's initials or has some other personal or, ideally, popular significance. For most people it's a bit of fun that makes their car distinctive and which will also disguise its age, although it's not possible to assign a registration number to a car that would make it appear newer than it is.

Another reason to have a personal registration is for its investment potential, which is more than you can say for the majority of cars they're applied to. So-called 'cherished' numberplates, a term that describes older, private plates with ageless combinations, make particularly good investments. For example, 1 BNK sold in 2014 for £8900 but was then resold in 2021 for £75,000. One major broker claims personal registrations easily outperform popular investments including watches, wine and classic cars.

Where do you buy personal registrations?

The DVLA, which issues all new registrations, is the only source of new numbers. It has around 60 million combinations for sale, which you can explore using its search tool. Most are in the current style, although older styles are available. It also sells more valuable and sought-after combinations via regular online auctions. It used to hold physical auctions, too, but with fewer people attending held its final one in October 2023. On that occasion, 84 people attended over the sale's three days but 15,000 registered to vote online. During the three-day sale it sold 1000 registrations for a total of £3.4 million. Income, minus costs, from its auctions goes to the Treasury. Since it started marketing registrations in 1989, the DVLA has sold more than 285,000.
Brokers sell 'used' or previously assigned registration numbers. Most specialise in valuable and in-demand numbers and are a good source of advice about what to buy. Private sellers often choose to sell through brokers.

What combinations are best?

Determining the value and appeal of a personal registration is no science and one person's dream combination can be another's rich source of mockery. At its simplest, it depends what you're looking to achieve and how much money you want to spend. If you have a small budget, then a combination featuring your initials is a good place to start. It's unlikely to have any investment potential, especially if the initials don't also spell a name or a word and the supporting numbers and letters aren't eye-catching but it'll personalise your car and disguise its age, which might be important to you.

Registration numbers that spell a memorable word, phrase or name, perhaps your own or of your business, are more expensive, while the most popular have real investment potential. On that point, dateless, so-called cherished plates often comprising just two or three letters and a number are among the most desirable and, therefore, most expensive.

Why don't I understand most personal registration combinations?

Unless it's obviously spelling a word or phrase, it's probably because you're taking the numbers and letters too literally. Take SA15 EVA, for example. Aside from the letters 'EVA', it doesn't look too distinctive but read '15' as the letter B and it spells SABEVA, a popular name, at least in Bulgaria, which is perhaps why it's being offered for £14,000.

Meanwhile, some combinations are like a code, albeit one that is understood and prized by enough people to make it worth a lot of money. For example, COY 1X recently sold at auction for £12,200. Why? Because to West Ham football fans it stands for 'Come on you Irons'; Iron and the letter 'X', which denotes crossed hammers, being the Club's nicknames. However, some apparently promising combinations can be spoiled and devalued by irrelevant letters or numbers. An example is VR11 00M, which recently sold at auction for a modest £1800.

How much do private registrations cost from the DVLA?

We've seen how expensive personal registrations can be but for those with shallower pockets, the DVLA's website is a good hunting ground with prices starting at just £200, while 80% of the combinations cost no more than £399. At time of writing it was selling JON 183S for £250 and AA21 JON for £999 – a memorable 21st birthday present for someone. Registrations can be searched by creating your own combination, by style including dateless registrations and by price range.

The most expensive combinations on the DVLA website cost £4000 but are rarely offered since they're likely to fetch a higher price at one of the five auctions it holds every year. At one recent sale, 812 A sold for £38,000, making it the most expensive registration of the three-day sale. A1 BUM fetched £5200, CUR 3D made £3300 and DAD 50S, £1500. GOL 2F sold for £3200, LAU 69H for £1100, ONE 51E for £1800 but TUR 30S for £9600.

How much do they cost from brokers?

Like the DVLA, prices for registrations start from as little as a few hundred pounds but rise well into six figures. For example, one broker is asking £750 for KR15 EVA which, if my name were Kris and I was desperate enough, I might consider. At the other extreme, it is asking £350,000 for IT 1. The best brokers make their databases searchable in many more ways than the DVLA. For example, one lets you search by subjects including sports teams (M1 UTD costs £11,795), interests (F1 NUT, £55,000) and cars (BMW 125D, £4895). One of the most expensive private registrations ever sold – 25 O – went for £518,000 in 2014.

What other costs are there?

The DVLA's prices include the £80 fee that you must pay to have a new plate assigned to a car. The price was set back in 1983, when it went up from £50. It also costs £80 to take a number off a car. You also need to have registration plates made up by an authorised supplier at a cost of around £10.

What are the main rules governing personal registrations?

You can't apply a registration to a car that would make it look newer than it is. The car to which you're assigning the number must either be taxed or SORN'd. You can retain use of a number for up to 10 years (less if the number was purchased before 2015), after which you must renew the retention (it's free to do so) or lose title to it. Don't forget to tell your insurer you have changed your car's registration number.

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