Legal and Technical Specifications of your

When you talk about technical specifications of a car, most of the conversation turns to the brake power, what the car does in 0-60 seconds and how the engine is put together. The conversation doesn’t generally come around to an important part of the car – the number plate. Every car in UK & Northern Ireland has to have a number plate. It is a mandatory piece of equipment which comes with it’s own technical and legal specifications.

You could have the fastest car, the greenest car, the car with the most fancy bells and whistles but if your car doesn’t have a legally and technically correct number plate, then that car is going nowhere.

There are strict rules in place regarding the format, dimensions and technical specifications of vehicle registration plates that are displayed on vehicles in UK and Northern Ireland.

The Legalality of Number Plates

Since 1 January 1904, which enacted The Motor Car Act 1903, all motor vehicles were required to be listed on the official vehicle register and to carry number plates.

Within the UK, there are two registration systems – one for the England, Scotland and Wales and one for Northern Ireland. The DVLA (Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency) serves the island of Great Britain while the DVA (Driver & Vehicle Agency) serves Northern Ireland.

Whether a number plate is created by the DVLA, DVA or specialist personalised number plate suppliers such as ourselves, all registration marks must be displayed in accordance with the Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulation 2001.

The Appearance of Number Plates

There are a number of elements to consider in the display of registration marks or number plates.

1. Background of the Number Plate

Since 1 January 1973, all number plates must have a background made of reflex-reflecting material. While the background must be reflex-reflecting, the numbers should not be. At the front of the vehicle, the background must be white while it must be yellow at the back.

2. Number or Letters on the Number Plate

All letters or numbers on a number plate must be black. The British Standard BS AU 145d gives further specification of the physical characteristics. In short, every number plate must conform to exact specifications as to the visibility, strength and reflectivity of the numbers and letters. The typeface or font is universally mandatory and all vehicles must adhere to the same width, height, spacing and margins.

There is an exception to this rule and it relates to imported vehicles. 

3. Size of number plates

There is no specified legal size for a number plate. However, there is an industry standard size of number plates. The front number plate is generally at 520mm × 111mm. The back plate often is the same size as the front but depending on the size of the vehicle; it is subject to two other sizes. These are 285mm × 203mm or 533mm × 152mm.

The British Standard BS AU 145d, as mentioned earlier, does state that the name and postcode of the manufacturer aswell as the supplier of the plate should be included on the plate.

In summary,

  • Every vehicle should have a registration mark displayed at the front and back.
  • Ever number plate should have black lettering which is on a white background for the front and yellow background for the rear of the car.
  • The background, regardless of colour (yellow or white) must be reflex-reflecting.
  • All letters and digits should be of a set size.
  • The letters or numbers on a registration mark must not be misrepresented or rearranged

If your vehicle does not comply with the law regarding number plates, then not only does your car stay grounded for a while but you could be subject to a hefty fine of up to £1,000, your personalised number plate might be withdrawn or your car might fail the MOT test.

So the next time you talk about technical and legal specifications of a car, make sure your often ignored number plate is correct and right.