Number plates are one of the more simple components of a modern vehicle on UK roads but you might be surprised at how easily they can make you fall foul of the law. If your number plates aren’t up to scratch they could result in a range of sanctions from a costly and inconvenient MOT failure to a fine or worse from the law. Most of us know about the major rules concerned with having a vehicle on the road, such as having proper insurance, having a current MOT, driving within the speed limit or not driving when under the influence, but do you know the rules surrounding number plates?
What is there to know about number plates?
Number plates are simple, right? You have one on the front and another on the back of your vehicle, and as long as they have the right number on them and they match then what’s the problem? In fact, there are quite a few potential issues with number plates and almost all of us are probably guilty of either not knowing them or just neglecting them.
Let’s face it; when was the last time you checked or even thought about your number plates? When you buy a new or used car from a dealer you know the number plates will be okay, don’t you? Well, they probably are at the time of the sale but they might not be later on unless you pay a little attention.
Realistically, your registration plates could cause you problems in quite a few different ways. You might be the sort of attentive motorist who checks your number plates and other obvious items with your vehicle before it goes in for its MOT, but if you’re like most of us, you probably don’t. You could also be the type of responsible driver who cleans their number plates with something if the roads have been filthy and dirt could have obscured your registration number, but you’re probably not. Are you someone who sometimes tows a trailer or a caravan for some reason, and do you know the rules concerned with towing and displaying registration plates and are you conforming to them?
It’s easy to take your number plates for granted, but let’s take a look at some of the potential pitfalls if you do neglect your number plates.
Failing an MOT test isn’t the end of life as we know it for most of us, but it can be time-consuming, costly and irritating so it’s best avoided if at all possible. While there are plenty of reasons your vehicle might fail an MOT test that you might not be reasonably expected to anticipate, there’s no excuse for allowing your vehicle to fail due to an issue with the number plates.
To begin with, do you have the correct plates displayed appropriately on the front and rear of the vehicle? I had a brand new motorcycle delivered a little while ago and if I didn’t have a background in the motor industry I could easily have been riding around with completely the wrong number plates on. The dealer had supplied the correct bike, but the service department had got my plates mixed up with another bike going out at the same time. Trust me, it would be easy for most people to not have noticed, and the only reason my attention was drawn to it was because the bike looked bigger in the trailer than I expected it to be and I was suspicious they’d delivered completely the wrong bike.
I’ve also lost count of the number of times when I was working in dealerships and was about to hand over a vehicle and noticed the registration number on the front didn’t match with the one on the back, especially on the day of a new registration launch.
A cracked or damaged number plate can also result in an MOT failure, so if you have an accident and a number plate is damaged in any way, getting it replaced is quicker, easier and cheaper than having to deal with the fallout of a failed test.
It’s not just the number plate itself either. You know that tiny bulb that illuminates your rear number plate at night or in other low visibility conditions? Failing to have your rear number plate illuminated is also considered a major defect on an MOT, so that’s another thing to check before entering your vehicle in for its MOT test.
Are your plates even legal?
If you’ve actually had your plates made up yourself, perhaps because you’ve bought a private number if they were made up by an approved supplier they should be perfectly legal. They should be the right material, colour, size and shape and the characters should be the right font and size and the spacing should be okay. If your plates look “different” there’s a good chance they don’t conform to UK standards, so if you’ve had them made up to look as though they spell out something other than the official number, don’t say you weren’t warned!
Towing and number plates
The rules concerning number plates and towing a trailer couldn’t be much simpler or more straightforward. The government’s website simply states, “Your trailer must display the same number plate as the vehicle you’re towing it with. If you’re towing more than one trailer, the number plate must be fixed to the trailer at the back.”
Just to be clear, it isn’t okay to tow a trailer on the road without a registration plate or with the wrong plate just because you’re only taking your boat to the garage to fill it up with fuel. It’s also not okay to tow a trailer or caravan with a hand-written number on a piece of cardboard. It’s also not acceptable to tow a trailer with a correctly made number plate that just happens to completely different from the registration number of the vehicle doing the towing. And to be completely pedantic; it’s not even okay to tow a trailer or caravan with the correct plates but without a working form of illumination for low visibility driving conditions.
There are a lot of rules to adhere to with number plates here in the UK, but it only takes a tiny amount of care and consideration to stay on the right side of the rules and the law. Always get your plates made by an approved supplier, always display plates when and where required, and always keep them in good condition and easily legible.