Private plates reach new heights in the UK

Jaguar F type sports car parked by the roadside with a private registration plate

Private plates have been very popular in recent years, whether you’re a driver who likes personalisation or an investor looking to make a profit.

And it’s astounding how much some individuals are willing to spend for one they truly desire.

The most expensive private plate in the world was recently sold for £13 million in Dubai to an unidentified bidder. The plate? One single “7.”

However, what about in Britain? Let’s take a look at the top ten most costly registrations sold by the DVLA.

Top 10 priciest registrations sold by DVLA in 2023

In the world of private plates, 2023 marked the end of an era, with the final in-person DVLA auction held in October. 

  1. H1 NDU – £112,010
  2. 1 DEO – £106,090
  3. 42 O – £96,670
  4. DEO 1S – £80,010
  5. 5 PS – £73,010
  6. 67 O – £72,910
  7. 82 O – £70,000
  8. 46 O – £58,500
  9. 51 O – £57,000
  10. BSK 1 – £53,010

*prices excluding auction fees and taxes

The DVLA now conducts six sales per year of personalised registration auctions, which are now completely conducted online.

At a DVLA auction, ‘H1 NDU’ secured the top slot for 2023 and sold for £112,010 (fees and taxes excluded). 

Its six-figure price is maybe less unexpected than some of the other items that make up the most costly of last year, but its high sale price needs little explanation.

The ‘O’ trend for private plates dominated the top 10, accounting for half of the priciest private registrations. 

The private plate market of today is moving towards auction standards like these.

Two ‘DEO’ plates were on the most expensive list: ‘DEO 1S’ was brought for £80,010 and ‘1 DEO’ was sold for £106,090. 

According to DVLA historical records, registrations with the initial letter and the number 1 in the sequence usually fetch the highest prices.

There is no definitive answer, but the “God” meaning behind the massive hitters inspired by “DEO” may make them alluring.

For many, the attraction of investing in private plates is the guessing game that goes along with it. 

The most expensive private plates ever sold by DVLA

When comparing 2023 to the previous five years, DVLA registrations didn’t fare all that well. 

Platehunter, a number plate supplier, attributes this to lower-quality stock, according to Jon Kirkbright, director of sales.

He told This is Money: “The best plates were sold when the DVLA started its auctions back in the day. 

“Now you’re looking at an initial plate, but you have three numbers after it because one to 99 have already been released.”

The top 10 from the last five years ranged from £308,253 for ‘DEV 1L’ down to £84,000 for ‘3 XRP’. 

Collectors fought over the plate from Cruella De Vil’s famous car, making “DEV 1L” the third most expensive car plate ever.

Out of the ten, five were valued at more than £112,000; however, only one of these, the most costly ‘H1 NDU’ from the previous year, was sold in 2023.

In contrast, the top 10 all-time sales were all over £150,000 (not including fees and taxes) and date back to 1989, when the company held its first private plate auction.

On November 27, 2014, ’25 O’ became the most expensive DVLA registration ever sold, with a total price of £400,000 (excluding fees and taxes).

It had a significant lead over ‘1 D’, which finished in second place with £285,000. There’s no award for figuring out which boy band the bidder liked.

‘L1 BYA’ was the top lot in the first online auction of 2024, selling for £80,000 (about £103,000 with auction fees and VAT).

CarReg, a UK business that specialises in the purchase and sale of private plates, said: “L1 BYA possibly could end up on a vehicle used by diplomats at the Embassy of Libya London, as similar numbers have done so in the past.”

Where the private plate market stands

Businesses in the industry estimated the value of the British personalised number plate market to be around £2 billion as of 2023.

Last year’s DVLA auctions saw the sale of 17,823 registrations, with bidders spending about £49 million (including fees and taxes).

By the first 17 days of January, Platehunter’s turnover had increased by 25% over the previous year, and the number of valuation requests received each day had increased by 100.

Kirkbright is expecting this year to be the biggest yet: “The second-hand plate market keeps going from strength to strength, and 2024 will be no different.

“People are seeing worse plates sold by the DVLA go for the same price they paid for a better one at an auction years ago, and so they are demanding two or three times the price for their plates now on the second-hand market.”

Five reasons people spend big on private plates

Names, initials and words

The most popular reason for splashing out on personalised registrations is number plates that spell out names, initials, or words. 

Either people want to exhibit their uniqueness and personalities, or investors anticipate that specific phrases will keep becoming more valuable.

The back number plate of King Charles III’s Aston Martin Volante had the moniker ‘JU5T WED’ as the Prince and Princess of Wales drove away from their wedding.

It has been reported that businessman Afzal Khan declined a £10 million offer for the £440k ‘F1’ plate he purchased in 2008.

Investment

The performance of private number plates is luring investors away from traditional investments because they follow money where the returns are high. 

It’s hardly surprising that customised plates are igniting bidding wars, given their larger returns than wine, watches, jewellery, vintage cars, and artwork.

One specialist said a plate can double in value in 12 months.

Plates are immediately replaced by buyers, and there are no storage expenses, in contrast to investments like vehicles or artwork. In fact, your plate won’t lose value if you drive with it on your car!

Covering up a car’s age

Although it is not possible to personalise and show off a plate that makes your car appear newer than it actually is, you can install a private plate that hides the age of your vehicle. 

It’s not required to drive around with a DVLA plate that identifies your age.

Power symbols

There’s inner confidence, and then there’s a need to prove it. 

Using acronyms or short words, drivers with personalised plates that reflect their desired public persona—such as “BO55″—project their status, wealth, or influence.

Sentimentality

Some people are tattooed, while others own a locket containing a photo. However, some drivers feel that the best way to remember and honour significant occasions, events in their lives, or memorials to loved ones is with a private plate.

Furthermore, a lot of people think it’s worthwhile to spend a lot of money on the customised number plate combinations they truly desire because these bring back special memories.

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