In an era when we’re all supposed to be flaunting our individuality, the trend for personalised car number plates has apparently never been higher. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which sells new and never-issued registrations, sold 374,968 last year, an increase of 12%.
Among private dealers, who sell pre-owned plates, business is just as good. James Saperia, who runs Simply Registrations and is chair of the trade body The Institute of Registration Agents and Dealers, says: “For the past five years, [the market has] been steadily rising.” It is thought one reason is a personalised plate makes the age of the car less obvious. But he also says social media has played a huge part. “It’s, ‘Hey, everybody, look at me’,” he says. People post pictures of their new cars on Instagram, and adding a private plate “seems to be something that people can use to boost their social media reach”.
At the entry-level end of the market, “registrations that start at £250, on average there are 800 of those sold every day.” He says one fairly common customer is the parent who buys a personalised plate for their child on passing their driving test, to go with a new car. “My typical client would be someone in their 40s or 50s, they’ve got a bit of money sitting about and always fancied a personalised number plate.”
At the extreme end, plates can fetch more than £500,000. In 2014, one classic-car dealer bought a “25 O” plate, reportedly for his Ferrari 250 GTO, for £400,000 (the final price, including fees, was £518,000) and a “250 L” for £130,000.
Dealer and “autonumerologist” Brian Heaton has been in the personalised number plate business for several decades and has seen values go up – he has one reading J6 SUS on sale at £99,995. “The numbers that were selling for £1,000 in 1980 now sell for £150,000. What probably changed it was in the late 80s, when the government started to sell numberplates. We in the trade all thought it would devalue the numbers, but it didn’t, it just got more people interested.”
A personalised plate is “a prestigious thing. There’s a little bit of vanity about it,” says Saperia. As for those of us who believe it’s the mark of a bit of a berk, Saperia points out that the DVLA’s sale of personalised plates “bring more than £100m every year to the treasury”.
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