A Guide to UK Number Plate Laws

Number Plates

When you’re buying a new car, there’s a lot to consider. From making sure it’s mechanically sound to checking the specifications are as listed – it’s easy to forget one crucial thing: the number plate.

Many drivers assume that if a car is listed on a reputable site, its existing number plate must be legal, but there are a surprising number of rules and restrictions on license plates in the UK.

How can you tell if your number plates are legal?

We teamed up with top motoring law expert Anton Balkitis from Rothera Sharp to produce the guide below, so you can make sure your car abides by UK number plate restrictions. Here’s what you need to know:

Check Your Country Badges

In the UK, you can have one of four different flags (plus identifying letters) on the left-hand side of your license plate. These flags include the Union Jack, Cross of St George, the Cross of St Andrew or the Welsh Red Dragon.

ENG SCO CYM Number Plates

When you’re travelling with your car in Europe, the number plate laws change slightly again. If your plate has a Union Jack with a GB identifier on it, you don’t need to do anything. However, if your plate has a Euro symbol; the national flag of Scotland, Wales or England; or no flag at all – you’ll need to add a GB sticker to your rear license plate before your trip.

Find the British Standard Mark

Before you buy a car, check that the British Standard Mark is present on the bottom right corner of the license plate. This mark must be included on every legal number plate, and should currently appear like this:

BS AU 145d

Every UK license plate is also required to include the trading name of the manufacturer, or the name of the dealership. 

Keep It Clean & Legible

If you’re spotted with an illegible number plate – either due to obstruction or dirt – you can get caught with a fine of up to £1,000. Make sure your number plate is clean and readable, so that every letter and number is easy to make out from a distance.

Damaged number plates can be easily replaced – you’ll just need to produce a valid form of personal ID and a copy of the vehicle log book (V5) when you request a new one.

Stick To Authorised Plate Providers

Make sure whoever supplied your registration plate is authorised to do so by the DVLA. Every supplier is required to keep a record of all legal number plate sales or transactions – and this information is then made available to both the DVLA and the police. These records are designed to make it harder for criminals to use fake or stolen number plates.

Private Number Plates, Beware

Every standard issue number plate is made up of the same components. These consist of 2 letters, which indicate the region where your car was first registered; 2 numbers, which signify its age; followed by 3 letters chosen at random. Private plates are not obliged to follow this format – but it’s worth noting that there are still some specific customised plate rules. These are as follows:

  • The front plate must contain black characters on a white background
  • The rear plate must contain black characters on a yellow background 
  • Both plates must be made of a reflective material
  • No patterned backgrounds
  • No alternative fonts
  • No numbers which signify a false age
  • All characters must be exactly 79mm tall and 14mm thick, with a space of 11mm between them

You’ll also need to check that your personalised license plate isn’t deemed “offensive” by the authorities. The DVLA releases a list of banned plates twice a year, but it’s inevitable that some slip through the net and end up in circulation on the market. If an offensive number plate is caught and withdrawn, you’ll receive no financial compensation for this.

For more tips and advice from industry experts, take a look at some of our other articles, and remember you can find over 130,000 quality components here at Euro Car Parts – including products for every make and model.