Car Culture: Vanity Plates

A weekly look at all that sucks in the automotive industry, and some good bits


The rich and vain wasting money like this ought to be jailed. Plate: £1.25 million

If I was a dictator I’d close down the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency. (DVLA.)

Recently I’ve had two spats with the agency that saw me lose both and fork out £250. The agency sent letters to the wrong address, all without signature or name attached, never took the blame for anything, and beat me with its phone answering service that makes the maze of the human brain seem like a simple journey in an elevator.

When you finally manage to get a human at the other end of line, having given up three times and redialled, you meet a lovely Welsh accent – Swansea based – who listens to your woes and gently directs you to register with their website to process your problem there. If the British state ever decided to block the Internet, society will grind to a halt.

It was Thatcher who demanded that the DVLA paid for itself, whereupon it altered from a public-owned service into a hard-nosed commercial company. Later, David Cameron spotted Scotland had its own version and promptly closed it down. Removal of important institutions is the colonial invader’s classic method of undermining independence.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity

For all his loaded opinion, automobile hack Jeremy Clarkson coined one good phrase: “Show me the man who paid to own a vanity plate, and I’ll show you a fool”.

Vanity plates are one of the DVLA’s biggest earners. The most sought after are sold at auction. K1 NGS  going for tens of thousands. I knew the woman owner of S1, the singular plate attached many years to both ends of a modest VW Golf, a plate handed down through generations of her family. She eventually gave in to temptation and sold it for over £100,000. Had she held onto it until now, the auction value will start at £500,000.

F1 or FU?

When people have too much money they squander it on stupid things. The number plate “F1” was bought for an astonishing £10 million – six years after it was bought for a mere £440,000. Trading plates is now hyper-big business. The seller was a Yorkshire-based car-tuning tycoon Afzal Kahn, who had it registered on his Bugatti Veyron hypercar, worth around £1 million on its own, a car he cannot drive on any road at its full 250mph top speed in Britain because of the 70mph limit.

In California you can buy a vanity plate from the DMV for $100, or make-up your own so long as no one else has the same configuration. I see a lot of variation on the MUMS CAR theme. The wittiest seen was HUBRIS on an Aston Martin.

Adam Griffiths, personalised registrations manager for the DVLA, says: ‘A lot of people contact us hoping to buy an old plate that was once used on a family car many years ago – but unfortunately even if the vehicle has been scrapped the plate number cannot be reissued. We only sell plates never issued before.” Ah, exclusivity.

Admission time, I own two vanity plates, bought for bottom dollar. Stultus sum. I have no capacity to memorise registration numbers, same as telephone numbers; the brain will not compute. Both plates cost small change but I can reel off numbers and letters when asked. And I should get the same price if I ever sell them.

Plates you will never see

The DVLA keeps a beady eye on potentially insulting and offensive number plates, but has the good humour to release a list of the plates it deems too rude for our amusement. BE19 END, BU19 GER and DO19 POO – are all censored, banned. So too are BL68 JOB, BA68 TRD, OR19 ASM, EA19 DKS and AS19 OL, so don’t go looking for them.

Banned number plates are nothing new, the DVLA has used its red pen since alphanumeric plates became mandatory in 1903. Below are some other previously banned plates that remain unfit for use on UK cars. Cover your eyes, readers!

***2 LUT DO67 SHT PR15 SON
FU2 PEW NA12 ZEE FA61 ***
AS62 OLE PE12 VRT NO13 ***

A DVLA spokesperson – yes, the DVLA is so much of a predatory capitalist agency it has its own spokesperson – explained that “the vast majority of registration numbers are made available”, but that “any combinations that may cause offence, embarrassment or are in poor taste” are not for sale. Well, somebody was taking a toilet break when plate VA61 ANA slipped through the net. It’s out there somewhere.

50 million remain available to purchase, from as little as £250. For the past dozen years the DVLA has made over £160 million from vanity plates alone. A nice wee earner if you can do it officially. I wonder where the money goes – not to fill in pot holes, that’s certain.


Wasting time in traffic 

UK drivers lost £7.9 billion because of traffic jams in 2018. Top of the list is as you’d expect, motorists in London. They lost 227 hours to congestion over the course of the year. Glaswegians lost 99 hours. My home city, Edinburgh, the city that hates cars, was second with 130 hours of life lost fuming at the driver seven cars in front at the lights who takes off too slowly, that’s £1,219 of earning vanished. Traffic jams cost UK motorists £7.9 billion last year – an average of £1,317 per driver. Analysis comes from the traffic boffins at Inrix, who calculated time lost in congestion by employing peak, off-peak and free flow data from different times of day. Edinburgh vies with London as the slowest city for traffic in the UK. We travel in both places at an average of 7mph. [Inrix uses technical innovation to understand the movement of people and help make urban mobility more intelligent.]

Look, no hands

Nearly half a million motorists were observed using a mobile phone without a hands-free device in 2017, a 0.5 per cent decline over the previous three years, according to new Government figures. However, there’s concern that the declining figures don’t reflect what law-abiding motorists “see on a daily basis”. In fact, there’s been a steep rise in accidents caused by drivers fiddling with in-car electronics. This calls into question the use of computer screens as sole driver aid. You have to take one hand off the steering wheel to work the thing, and both eyes off the road ahead to see what is on the screen. Motorists aged between 17 and 29-years-old were the worst offenders, male and female equally, caught using a phone. My pet hate is the driver texting as he waits at the lights and doesn’t see they’ve turned green.

Cheaper by the dozen  

Electric cars are already cheaper to own and run than petrol or diesel alternatives in five European countries. Those are the countries the UK is leaving. Phew, cheap to run cars, what a nightmare. A study examined the purchase, fuel and tax costs of Europe’s bestselling car, the VW golf, in its battery electric, hybrid, petrol and diesel versions. Over four years, the pure electric version was the cheapest in all places – UK, Germany, France, Netherlands and Norway. The reason? – a combination of lower taxes, fuel costs and subsidies on the purchase price. Come on, Scotland, get yer charging points out.



This entry was posted in Transportation. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Car Culture: Vanity Plates

  1. greig12 says:

    Taking a screaming temper tantrum at your hands free voice activated system can also be dangerous. The one in my Subaru constantly wants to dial my cousin Gary in Canada or my friend Rodger who I rarely phone. The blind raging fury that this system causes to rear up unbidden from the deepest darkest corners of my psyche must be experienced to be believed. It brings to mind the Burnistoun lift sketch.

    The economy of electric cars will be short lived because eager to capitalise, some money grabber will invent alternative means to claw the cash back from the innocent motorist. It may be using some form of taxation or possibly different tariffs for car charging. Regardless of the method of draining your bank account they finally employ they’ll wait till most people are electric before pouncing.

    It’ll be just like the early diesel cars all over again.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s