If you’ve ever thought about getting a registration number for your vehicle that doesn’t give the age of your vehicle away or one that means something particular to you or your circumstances, it’s easy to get confused by the different terms you’ll come across. You’ll often see registration numbers referred to as private plates, but you may also come across terms like personalised plates, cherished numbers, prestige plates, private reg numbers or even vanity plates.

While there are certainly plates in the UK that conform to different numbering systems that can look quite different from one another, most of these terms are just different ways of referring to the same thing.

Registration plate vs number

In some ways, any registration plate could be considered to be a personal number plate, but let’s start off by separating the plate from the number. The registration number and the registration plate are really two very separate things but they often get confused as being one and the same.

The registration plate is just a physical means of displaying a registration number on a vehicle that has to conform to a strict set of design standards to be considered legal. You can get a registration plate made up with anything you like on it, but you can only drive a vehicle on UK roads legally if the number on the registration plate is the correct number that’s assigned to that vehicle and registered with the DVLA.

When people refer to personalised plates, private plates or cherished numbers it’s the registration number itself they really mean. You can get a registration plate made for a tenner, but a private registration number will cost you anything from a couple of hundred pounds to many, many tens of thousands of pounds, or even more sometimes.

Someone can steal the registration plates from the front and rear of your vehicle but they don’t get the number because it remains registered to you. They may put the plates on another car to hide the vehicle’s true identity for some nefarious reason, which is called cloning, but all you have to do is have a new set of plates made up for your vehicle with your number on because it remains registered to you and issued to your vehicle.

What are show plates?

You’ll often see references online to “show plates,” which are exactly what the name suggests they are. Show plates can say anything on them you like and be any font, size or design you want as they’re designed to be used for shows and displays. You do not need to own the number or to have it registered with the DVLA, but show plates shouldn’t be confused in any way with the personalised plates we’re talking about here.

What is a personalised registration number?

Okay, so we’ve made the distinction between the plate itself and the registration number, but what separates a private number from a regular registration number? I’m afraid the answer is that any registration number can be a personalised number if it means something to you.

In reality, most of the time when people talk about private plates or personalised registration numbers they are talking about numbers from older numbering systems that don’t give away the age of the vehicle they’re on. However, private plates can even be from the very latest registration period if the letters and number look to spell out a certain word or phrase or even if they just mean something to the individual.

Most people would think of a private plate being something like AB 123, F1 or MAR 1E, but a private plate could also be something as new as YY21 JBS if your name is John Brian Smith or something else appropriate to those initials.

Cherished numbers

Generally speaking, although it’s not an official definition, when someone refers to a “cherished number” they usually mean a number issued before 1963 that doesn’t have a date element to it.  There are loads of different combinations that fall into this category from several numbering systems of the past, but it has to be said these are often also quite expensive to buy.

At the most expensive end of the pricing spectrum, we have one number and one letter or the reverse with one letter followed by a number such as A1 or 1A. These plates can have one, two or three letters and numbers from 1 to 999, and the fewer character there are the more expensive they tend to be. However, some combinations of five or six characters can sometimes be more expensive if the number is particularly desirable.

For example, BMW 850 or 850 BMW could be a lot more expensive than a shorter registration number because a BMW 850 is an expensive sports coupe from the famous Bavarian automaker and it’s the perfect plate to have if you own one. The same would go for 911 POR which is currently registered to a yellow Porsche 911.

Dated or not dated?

In February 1963, the UK introduced its first registration number system that had a date element to it with combinations that had a suffix letter at the end to represent the year of registration. The first one was an “A” suffix in 1963, in 1964 it was a “B” and so on. Once the system got through to a “Y” in 1983 the suffix was then swapped to a prefix so the new plates then started with an “A.”

Although these plates do have a date identifier, the last year of the prefix system 2001 so these plates can now just about be considered dateless too. Let’s face it; if you own a four-year-old Ford Focus and you put an A suffix registration number on it nobody is going to seriously think your Focus was built and registered in 1963, are they?

So there you have it; any registration number you buy and put on your vehicle is effectively a private plate, private reg, cherished number, personalised plate, or whatever you want to call it. All that matters is that you own it, you like it and it means something to you. Oh yes, and if you actually have the plates made up and put your private number on your vehicle, just make sure you’ve properly assigned it to your vehicle with the DVLA before you take it onto the road.