Private plates

how to avoid falling foul of the law

Private or personalised number plates are a popular way for vehicle owners to add a personal touch to their favourite cars. This can help them stand out from the crowd, making them more quickly recognisable to family and friends, and help disguise the age of a cherished car. However, there are certain rules and regulations you will need to follow to ensure you don’t fall foul of the law when driving with a private plate. Here are some guidelines to help you avoid any legal issues:

DVLA approval

Ensure that the private number plate you wish to use is officially issued and approved by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Avoid purchasing number plates from unauthorised sellers or those that don’t comply with DVLA regulations. 

While it’s unlikely a reputable website specialising in private plates would sell unofficial plates, be especially wary if buying from an online marketplace or vehicle accessories shop, and be vigilant to keep an eye out for any small print stipulating that they are for ‘show purposes only’, indicating they aren’t legal for use on the road. Be even more careful about buying plates that could have been stolen or cloned without the permission of the owner – only use a reputable dealer or buy directly from the DVLA.

Correct format

Personalised number plates must follow the correct format, which includes specific combinations of letters and numbers. The DVLA has strict guidelines regarding what is acceptable. For example, you can’t alter the spacing, use unusual fonts, or add additional characters. Illegal plates can cause a vehicle to fail its MOT and result in a fine of up to £1,000. Altering the format of private plates can be considered an attempt to evade speed cameras and those used to police areas including the ULEZ around London.

Number plates must be reflective, and the characters must be a set font, size, and distance apart, with no italics and while a 3D-effect font is permitted, so-called 4D plates with raised characters are not. Certain characters, like “I,” “O,” “Q,” and “Z,” may not be used on some number plates to avoid confusion with other letters or numbers. A Union flag, Cross of St George, Cross of Saltire, or Red Dragon of Wales can also sit in a band on the left of a private plate, so long as it’s no wider than 50mm.

No misleading information

Avoid using personalised number plates that may be considered offensive, misleading, or inappropriate. The DVLA has the authority to revoke the use of any number plate it deems unsuitable, and with each new release of plates a list of banned plates is also issued. Your number plate should not alter the vehicle’s identity. For instance, you can’t use a private plate to make your car appear younger than it actually is.

Taxes, transfer fees and paperwork

When purchasing a private number plate, you must follow the correct procedures for transfer and ensure that any applicable taxes and fees are paid to the DVLA. Make sure that your private plate is properly declared to your insurance company and is also included in your vehicle’s MOT records.


Ensure that your number plates are properly attached to your vehicle and are in good condition. Illegible, damaged, or incorrectly displayed number plates can lead to fines. To have new private plates made up by a reputable maker, you will need to provide proof of your identity and proof of entitlement, usually in the form of the V5 logbook document for where the vehicle it is registered to.

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