Personalised number plates were once seen as the reserve of posers and the ultra-wealthy.
But such is the recent rise in their popularity that the private plate market is now worth around £2billion – and has turned the most desirable plates into lucrative investment opportunities.
Specialists are now plunging hundreds of thousands of pounds into the personalised plate market to get their hands on the most valuable combinations – often those featuring two initials and a number, which experts say are ‘booming’ right now.
In fact, one expert tells us they are delivering higher returns than traditional investments like watches, jewellery and classic cars.
Are personalised number plates the investment opportunity you’ve overlooked? Specialist private plate traders say they are providing bigger returns than classic cars and jewellery
Jon Kirkbright, 45, founder of Plate Hunter, says the value of private plates have rocketed in recent years.
The Staffordshire-based personalised plate trader previously worked in car sales, and then sold car insurance.
He started out listing a few number plates he found on eBay on his website 11 years ago.
Today, he hosts 60 million plates on his site, including registrations released by the DVLA where he acts as a broker.
And he says he ‘can’t keep up’ with demand from well-heeled investors right now.
Jon Kirkbright, 45, is the founder of Plate Hunter
One plate Jon sold with a short, catchy name went for £20,000 in 2020.
But within 12 months the value had doubled, with it being sold on again in 2021 for £40,000.
Number plates with two letters and one digit are becoming incredibly valuable, he says.
In the nineties, these plates tended to go for between £2,000 and £10,000.
But due to a recent rise in popularity, the same plates can today fetch up to £45,000, according to Jon and based on data from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).
Jon said: ‘We’re seeing investors come out from the fine art markets and wine investors becoming interested in number plates – because it is proven to deliver returns.
‘People who get into it make money quickly, and it becomes very addictive.’
Number plates with two letters and one digit are becoming incredibly valuable, Jon says
In the nineties, plates similar to this would sell for between £2,000-£10,000. Today, they can fetch up to £45,000, according to Jon and based on data from the DVLA
Jon said he recently sold personalised number plates to an England and Arsenal player – and another unique plate was bought by a client for a whopping £140,000.
The DVLA releases new registration plates twice every year, on the 1 March and 1 September.
There’s also a thriving trade in vintage personalised plates, Jon said, with investors often buying and reselling rapidly.
He added: ‘There’s lots of ones which started in 2007 and 2010 for three, four grand.
‘By five years ago they were 10 grand and now we sell them for 20 grand. It’s just supply and demand. There are people who pay and that’s the thing.’
Unique number plates can fetch even higher sums with ‘F1’ – for Formula 1 – having sold for £440,000 in 2008, and ‘1D’ – for One Direction – having sold for £285,000 in 2009.
The ‘F1’ number plate belongs to businessman Afzal Khan, who has reportedly refused offers of more than £10million for it.
Yet, even if he did agree a sale price of £10million for ‘F1’, it still wouldn’t see it break the current world record for a private vehicle plate.
That was set in April when a driver splashed an astonishing £12million on a ‘7’ plate at a Dubai auction.
London-based businessman, Afzal Khan, is the owner of the ‘F1’ number plate bought in 208 for £440,000. He claims to have turned down offers of up to £10m for it
Even hard-up councils are selling off desirable plates
One of the things driving the boom is cash-strapped councils selling personalised number plates which used to be used for senior local government officials.
‘In the past decade or so, there’ve been a lot of councils selling their personalised plates which were gifted to them in the past,’ said Jon.
‘The councils are selling them to make money after being gifted the registrations back in the day.’
This has meant that a lot of desirable numbers have come onto the market – with East Renfrewshire Council in Scotland selling the rare ‘HS 0’ number plate, and saying they hoped Harry Styles would buy it.
‘People want number plates that are their initials, or their girlfriend’s or their daughters – ideally with a ‘1’ on the end,’ said Jon.
The DVLA’s roadblock on ‘rude’ plates
Jon went on to explain that sometimes people feel inclined to try to buy ‘rude’ plates made up of a sequence of letters and numbers that combine to create offensive words or meanings.
However, this can have unintended consequences.
One buyer, who had a number plate with an extremely offensive word with a ‘1’ in the middle, bragged about his purchase online.
Jon said that the buyer appears to have been contacted by the DVLA, as the social media posts rapidly vanished and the registration is no longer on the road.
In fact, with the arrival of new number plates biannually, the DVLA has a team of experts who sit down to identify and remove as many offensive number and letter combos ahead of them becoming available in March and September.
Personalised plate market estimated at around £2bn
The UK’s personalised number plate market’s recent huge increase means the industry is now worth an estimated £2billion, according to businesses operating in the sector.
British motorists are spending millions of pounds on them every year and the Treasury has cashed in on billions from private plate sales since their inception.
How can I find out how much is my private plate is worth?
The incredible growth of the personalised number plate market in recent years means there’s now a plethora of businesses offering to buy and sell private plates.
For those already with a private plate, it is difficult to get a quick valuation without providing further details to these companies.
In fact, we couldn’t find any specialist websites in the UK that would provide a valuation without entering the owner’s contact details.
However, you can get a rough idea of how much your plate could be worth by entering the digits into the DVLA’s registrations website.
This will give similar examples to the one you have and tell you what the sale value is currently.
Jon estimates that one in three cars in the UK has customised plates – with people often buying plates to make their car look newer, or older, if they don’t want neighbours to know they bought a brand-new vehicle.
‘Back when I launched this website, my mum said that wouldn’t get any clients, because personalised number plates were only for the rich,’ Jon said.
‘Now when I look at cars on the road it seems to be one in three.’
He says there has even been a rise in instances of divorcing couples sometimes buying new personalised plates so their former ‘other halves’ can’t keep track of them.
Jon said that while there are bargains out there, sellers should watch out for unscrupulous dealers promising high prices which people won’t pay for.
He said: ‘Some of the bigger dealers will hoodwink you and say it’s worth more just to get you on the books.’
‘There’s no set price. I’ll usually have a conversation with sellers about what’s sold or what’s available at that price – and what the plates originally sell for, to give the customer the idea.
‘Then the customer said ‘Yes, this is the price I want.
‘Then we advertise it on the site – it’s all about having the right price. You can’t just pluck figures out of the sky; you need to look into each one.’
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.