Private registration numbers can be a lot cheaper than many people might think, but they can also cost an astronomical amount of money too. It’s not always easy to explain why one private registration plate has cost someone more than another that might appear more desirable, but in that situation, it all comes down to the economic law of supply and demand.
It’s easy to find out exactly how much an available number will cost by entering that combination into the DVLA website’s search tool, but if it’s not available or someone already owns it then you’re then at the mercy of market forces.
Aren’t all Private Plates Unique?
If rarity was the only factor in deciding how much a registration number is worth then they’d all cost the same as every single one is unique. After all, the fact each registration plate is a one-off that’s registered to a particular vehicle is the whole point of number plates. Private plates may be big business these days, but they were never intended to be a commodity that’s traded like antiques or action figures and they were only invented as a way of the authorities being able to identify a vehicle and its owner.
Go to a car dealer today and buy a new car and you’ll get issued with a unique registration number that will be allocated to that car, but even though that number will be unique, it won’t be worth as much as other more desirable and sought-after numbers.
All Registration Numbers are not Created Equal
In terms of them being unique, all registration numbers are equally individual. However, several factors can make some private plates worth more than others. There is an element of rarity involved with private registration plates when it comes to the formats. The whole reason why we’ve been through several different numbering systems is the early ones were not created with enough potential combinations to meet the eventual demand for new registration numbers.
If we forget for the moment about the actual numbers and letters themselves, it’s obvious that if you want a private plate with one letter and one number there will only be a very small number of plates that fit those criteria.
All the single letters (except Q, Z and I) were used, such as A for London, P for Surrey, V for Lanarkshire and H for Middlesex, and over the years most two-letter combinations have been used too. Z was originally allocated to Dublin before the Republic of Ireland was formed in 1922, but now Z is only used as part of two-letter identifiers for Northern Ireland regions such as MZ for Belfast and KZ for Antrim.
You don’t need to be a Professor of Mathematics to realise that if you want a number plate with one letter followed by one number you will only have nine possibilities for each letter. Therefore, any plate of that format will be rare, regardless of any other significance associated with it such as F1 being synonymous with Formula One and that sort of thing.
The fewer characters there are on a private plate the more expensive it will be, but that’s only the start of what determines the value of any particular number.
The biggest factor contributing to the value or cost of a private plate is desirability. If a plate spells out (or sort-of spells out) a word it will be desirable, but what is and isn’t desirable to someone depends on the individual. As long as more than one person wants a certain private reg number the sky is the limit as far as the price is concerned. This leads to some longer numbers being sold for a lot more other shorter numbers which you might expect to have been more valuable than the longer ones.
For example, you might have expected a three-character plate to be more expensive than a two-character private plate, but 51 NGH last sold for £254,000 in April 2006 while 1 O went for just £170,000 in January 2009. Likewise, while 1D was sold for £352,000 in March 2009, 25 O went for a whopping £518,000 in November 2014.
The reason 25 O went for so much money is it was sold to a classic Ferrari to go on a Ferrari 250 GTO. There are any number of other reasons why 250 could be a significant number to other people, but on that day that particular person was determined to buy that particular plate and that’s why it went for so much. If a dealer had been estimating the price of 25 O before that sale it would have been estimated to fetch less than numbers like M1 or 2 O, but due to one person’s desire and determination, 25 O is now the most expensive private plate ever sold at auction in the UK.
Are Any Private Plates Cheap?
The good news about desirability is that what you consider desirable might not be desirable to anyone else, and that could allow you to get the private plate you want for not a lot of money. If you are lucky (unlucky?) enough to have unusual initials such as EVH you could have a plate such as K27 EVH for less than £200. However, if your initials are JC you’re going to have to pay a whole lot more than a couple of hundred pounds unless you opt for a plate using the current system such as JC55 AGC.
You can use the search feature on the DVLA website to discover if a private number you fancy is available because it has never been issued, and if it is available you’ll be told how much it will cost. Of course, even the numbers not yet issued that are considered to be especially desirable are held back by the DVLA and sold at auction.
If you want a number that has already been issued and is owned by a dealer or private individual, it will cost as much as they want to ask for it or what you are prepared to part with to own it.