Whether you have a standard or private number plate, the rules are the same and what you can and can’t do with your car’s plates can sometimes be confusing. With this in mind, we’ve put together the main points you need to be aware of before you consider altering or customising them in any way.

Number plates (aka vehicle licence plates) must show your registration number correctly. It may sound obvious but just to be clear, you can’t rearrange letters or numbers, or alter them so that they’re hard to read. You should also be aware that you could face a fine of up to £1,000 and your vehicle will fail its MOT test if you drive with incorrectly displayed number plates.

The current vehicle registration number format was introduced in 2001. It consists of:

  1. 2 letters (these refer to the region in the country where your vehicle was first registered)
  2. 2 numbers (these tell you when it was issued)
  3. 3 letters chosen at random

You can get theft-resistant number plates which make it harder for someone to remove them from your vehicle so that they can reuse them.

Number plate rules

The number plates on your vehicle must:

  • be made from a reflective material
  • display black characters on a white background (front plate)
  • display black characters on a yellow background (rear plate)
  • not have a background pattern

(The characters on a number plate can be 3D).

If you ride a motorcycle (or motor tricycle)

Motorcycles and motor tricycles registered on or after 1 September 2001 must only display a number plate at the rear of the vehicle. If you ride a motorbike or motor tricycle registered before 1 September 2001 you can also display a number plate at the front, but you don’t have to. Motorcycle and motor tricycle number plate numbers should be on 2 lines.

Towing a trailer

Your trailer must display the same number plate as the vehicle you’re towing it with. If you’re towing more than one trailer, the number plate must be fixed to the trailer at the back.

Taking commercial or heavy trailers abroad

If your trailer needs to be registered to go abroad, you need to fix the trailer registration plate to the back, as well as the towing vehicle’s number plate.

Fix the trailer registration plate as far away as possible from the towing vehicle’s number plate.

If you cannot fix the trailer registration plate on the back of your trailer, fix it to both sides instead. Make sure they’re clearly visible.

Letter spacing, size and style

The characters on a number plate need to be a certain height and size.

Read leaflet INF104: vehicle registration numbers and number plates – height and size measurement, for more information.

If you have a trailer, read leaflet INF291: trailer registration numbers and number plates.

Getting number plates made up

You can only get a number plate made up from a registered number plate supplier.

The supplier will need to see original documents that:

  • prove your name and address
  • show you’re allowed to use the registration number

Identity documents

You can use the following to confirm your name and address:

  • driving licence
  • utility, Council Tax or rates bill from the last 6 months
  • bank or building society statement from the last 6 months
  • national identity card

The following will confirm your name only:

  • passport – does not have to be issued in the UK
  • bank or building society debit or credit card
  • police warrant card
  • armed forces identity card

Proving you can use the registration number

You must bring one of the following to show you’re allowed to display the registration number:

  • vehicle registration certificate (V5C or V5CNI)
  • green ‘new keeper’ slip from the V5C or V5CNI
  • certificate of entitlement (V750 or V750NI) to the number
  • retention document (V778)
  • a renewal reminder for vehicle tax or SORN (V11 or V11NI)
  • temporary registration certificate (V379 or V379NI)
  • a number plate authorisation certificate (V948) with an official stamp from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
  • an electronic number plate authorisation certificate (eV948 or eV948/2)
  • a letter of authorisation from a fleet operator (including lease or hire company) quoting the document reference number from the registration certificate
  • if your fleet is in the new V5C on demand scheme (also called ‘V5C suppression’), a PDF of the vehicle’s details from the view vehicle record service
  • UK trailer registration certificate (VTRC)

Flags, symbols and identifiers

Flags and national identifying letters

You can display one of the following flags with identifying letters on the left-hand side of the number plate:

  • Union Flag
  • Cross of St George
  • Cross of St Andrew – also known as the Saltire
  • Red Dragon of Wales

The letters, or national identifiers, you can have are:

  • GREAT BRITAIN, Great Britain or GB
  • UNITED KINGDOM, United Kingdom or UK
  • CYMRU, Cymru, CYM or Cym
  • ENGLAND, England, ENG, Eng
  • SCOTLAND, Scotland, SCO or Sco
  • WALES or Wales

You’ll still need a GB sticker when travelling in Europe if you display one of these national flags and identifiers.

The flag must be above the identifier. You cannot have the flag or letters on the number plate margin, and neither can be more than 50 millimetres wide.

Euro symbol

If you display the Euro symbol and Great Britain (GB) national identifier on your number plate, then you will not need a separate GB sticker when travelling within the European Union.

The Euro symbol must:

  • be a minimum height of 98mm
  • have a width between 40 and 50mm
  • have a reflective blue background with 12 reflecting yellow stars at the top
  • show the member state (GB) in reflecting white or yellow

We hope you’ve found this post useful. The information above was correct at the time of publishing but you should check here to see if anything has changed. This post contains information from the Gov.uk website and contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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