The difference between “Show Plates” and “Legal Plates”

show plates number plates

When buying a new number plate for your car, motorbike, caravan, van or other vehicle, you may find references to ‘show plates’ online. It can look like an appealing offer, but do you know the difference between so-called ‘show plates’ and ‘legal plates’, for use on the road?

What are show plates?

Show plates are number plates that are not legal to be used on the road under UK law. Despite this, there is a thriving market for show plates, which are often used on vehicles for custom car or classic car competitions or rallies.

Classic cars that are collected (and stored without being used) can also sport show plates.

What are the benefits of show plates?

Because show plates are not regulated in the same way as legal plates are, they can be made in a range of ways that don’t have to follow legal requirements surrounding fonts and backgrounds. For instance, there are rules about how reflective the background of a legal plate can be (so that it does not distort the view of the number plate on a speed camera, for example), whereas on a show plate, the buyer can choose whatever background they prefer.

Similarly, creative fonts and spacing can be applied, so characters can be spaced to make a number plate look like it spells a certain word, or so that the letters and numbers are grouped together in an unusual way. Italic fonts can also be chosen, to change the overall appearance of the show plate.

Colours, logos and images can even be added to a show plate, so they really can be personalised to an incredible degree to show the personality and character of a vehicle and its owner.

What are show plates used for?

In most cases, individuals buy show plates for use when they are at a car show or competition. Whether it is for a custom-built car or a classic car, show plates can add an extra element of pizzazz to the appearance of a car and creative spacing, lettering and fonts can really add to the unique personality of a vehicle.

Car show rooms might also choose to use show plates to demonstrate what a number plate could look like, without needing to legally register it.

However, show plates are – perhaps surprisingly – not limited to use on cars: sometimes, businesses will buy show plates to use as signage. Because they can be produced with words on them, they can be an effective and attractive way of labelling a brand, a room or a department.

The cost of show plates

No paperwork is needed for people who want to buy show plates, so they are certainly a cost-effective option. However, using show plates on the road in the UK is illegal, and drivers must bear this in mind when they are making a purchase. However cheap a set of show plates may be, it is not worth the risk if you are planning to use them on a vehicle that goes on the road.

What are legal car number plates?

Legal plates are car number plates that can legally be used on British roads. There are strict rules about the design, reflective background and also the durability of the plates, and the size and style of the font and characters are carefully regulated.

The rules of road legal car number plates include:

·         Characters must be black, in a set font

·         A minimum top, bottom and side margin (around the registration number) of 11mm minimum

·         A character height of 79mm (for the registration number)

·         A character width of 50mm (for the registration number)

·         A character stroke of 14mm (for the registration number)

·         The space between characters must be 11mm

·         The space between the two groupings of numbers must be 33mm

·         British standards number (BS AU 145d) and manufacturer name must be in the bottom right hand corner of the plate

·         The border around a number plate must not be retro reflective. It can be coloured and should be no thicker than 6mm

·         The name of the manufacturer of the number plate, and the manufacturer’s postcode, must be displayed on a road legal plate, at the centre of the lower section.

No image other than a national identifier (read on for details) can be included on a road legal number plate.

It is vital that any car, van or other vehicle that uses UK roads complies with those rules, and buying your road legal number plate from a reputable manufacturer will help to ensure that your plates are safe and legitimate to use when you’re driving around. Always choose a trustworthy manufacturer, like RegPlates.com, as responsible and experienced manufacturers will already know all of the above rules and the plates they produce will comply with UK law so you will not face any problems.

What are road legal motorcycle number plates?

If you are a motorbike rider, the rules for your road legal number plates vary a little from the guidelines set for cars. For instance, motorcycle riders are not obliged under the law to display a number plate on the front of their bike.

Other differences are reflected in the rules about size and character spacing, due to the different sizes of cars and motorbikes. Motorbike road number plates must meet the following characteristics:

·         A minimum top, bottom and side margin (around the registration number) of 11mm minimum

·         A character height of 64mm (for the registration number)

·         A character width of 44mm (for the registration number)

·         A character stroke of 10mm (for the registration number)

·         The space between characters must be 13mm

·         The space between the two groupings of numbers must be 30mm

·         British standards number (BS AU 145d) and manufacturer name must be in the bottom right hand corner of the plate

·         The border around a number plate must not be retro reflective. It can be coloured and should be no thicker than 6mm

·         The name of the manufacturer of the number plate, and the manufacturer’s postcode, must be displayed on a road legal plate, at the centre of the lower section.

Can road legal number plates display a national flag?

It is legal for number plates to display a national identifier (i.e. a country’s flag). If you opt for the European version of the flag, you won’t be required to display a ‘GB’ sticker if you drive in the rest of Europe.

Legal consequences

Using show plates on the road puts you at risk of a £1,000 fine. They will also cause you to fail your MOT, so always make sure you use road legal plates, even if you are driving directly to a car show where you’ll put your show plates back on again.

Email this to someoneShare on RedditShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on PinterestDigg thisTweet about this on TwitterShare on Tumblr