Do you need a front number plate in the UK?

Do you need a front number plate in the UK?

Driving on the roads in the UK, you’ll probably see a number of different types of number plates, with all different types of combinations of numbers and letters, including: 3 numbers and 3 letters, 3 letters, 2 numbers and another letter, 1 letter and 1 number, and any number of custom designs with flags, symbols and other identifiers.

What you should always see though, is a front number plate; it’s illegal in the UK to not have a front plate unless you’re driving specific types of motorcycles.


Is it illegal to have no front number plate? What’s the penalty?

Yes driving on public roads without a front number plate on a car is illegal in nearly all instances. If caught, you’ll likely be fined. You could be fined up to £1,000 and your car will probably fail its MOT test.


What if my number plates were stolen or cloned?

If you don’t have number plates on your car because they were stolen, you’ll probably want to report this to the police. If you had a private registration number and would like to keep it, you’d want to tell the DVLA as soon as possible — the absolute latest you could apply to keep the number would be 2 years and 9 months after reporting the car stolen with the DVLA.

To be able to keep your private number, you’d also want to:

  • Report the theft to the police
  • Confirm the car had a valid MOT when it was stolen
  • Confirm the car had up-to-date road tax when it was stolen

You can currently only apply by post, where you’d need to send the DVLA:

  • The £80 transfer fee
  • A V317 transfer form
  • The car’s logbook

If you don’t get your stolen car back after 6 months you can apply by post to transfer your private registration to a new car.

When getting your number plates made, you can also get theft-resistant number plates. There are a few ways these work — sometimes the bolts can only be removed with a specialist tool and are made to take longer than 3 minutes to take off, sometimes they’re designed to break once they’re removed, and sometimes it’s all of the above.


What if my number plates are faded?

If your number plates are faded enough that you can’t read them from across the road in broad daylight, you may need to look into getting them replaced. While there aren’t currently any laws about faded plates (unless you’ve got a trade licence), the legislation does specify that the plates of a car should be distinguishable enough to be photographed. So it’s probably best to be safe and get your number plates replaced regularly if they fade or are damaged.

To order replacement number plates, you want to go through the same process as getting new number plates made up, which involves finding a registered number plate supplier. You’ll also want to bring documents that:

  • Prove your name and address, for example, licence
  • Show you’re allowed to use the registration number, for example your logbook

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What are the design requirements for a front number plate?

For front number plates specifically, the background should be white, with black text. For your rear plates it’s yellow. Other requirements for front number plates include:

  • Being reflective
  • Having a solid background
  • Being marked by their supplier
  • Use of the standard font
  • Meeting character spacing, size, and style requirements
  • Being marked with a British Standard number: ‘BS AU 145e’ for plates fitted after 1 September 2021
  • Text a on the plate should be a single shade of black if fitted after 1 Sep 2021

Can I display my plate in the front window instead?

It’s probably not the best idea to display your plate in your front window for a few reasons. For one, unless you securely fasten it somehow, it’s probably difficult to keep it in one place and visible the whole time you’re driving, and could be dangerous to those inside.

Secondly, and something that is much less in your control — the nature of the windscreen glass on cars means you’ll probably have glare. And glare can make taking a readable photograph of your licence plate rather difficult, and that could be illegal.


A few final thoughts…

While it may be a bit of a bummer to put a bright black and white number plate on the front of your flashy new car, it is the law. It’s written that way for the safety of everyone on the road and is a bit of public insurance.

Maybe see your front number plate instead as a badge of honour — your new car is roadworthy and ready to drive. It’s a chance to take off on new adventures and make memories for years to come.

Urban Jungle is not a financial advisor and information in this article should not be taken as advice or recommendation.