What’s the Difference Between Showplates and Road Legal Number Plates?

Show Plates

Show number plates are not permissible for road use under UK law, despite this fact there remains a legitimate market for them. Many people use show plates on their vehicle when they enter it into a custom or classic car competition.

Show Number PlateShow plates are also used by classic car collectors who just want to display a personalized number plate on their vehicle without having to go through the expense of actually buying the registration number that they want to display. Since the cars are kept in a garage, and not driven on the road, they do not need a road legal registration, and no paperwork is required to buy showplates.

One of the main benefits of show number plates is the fact that you can get creative and use fonts, badges, and retro reflective backgrounds that would not normally be allowed on road legal plates. Since the plates are not for road use, you can also choose the character spacing and change the grouping of your letters.

Another use for showplates is for signage. For example, a pub might order a showplate with the text ‘Billiards’ to go on the door of their snooker room. Or a Go-Karting centre might order a showplate with the text ‘Podium’ to show the way to their winners’ enclosure.

Road Legal Car Number Plates

UK car number plates must meet specific design, durability, and retro-reflective requirements in order to be considered road legal. Durability and retro-reflective compliance is indicated by the presence of a British Standards number in the lower right hand corner of your plates. If your number plates do not display “BS AU 145d” then they are not road legal.

Road Legal Car Number Plate

There are also specific rules with regards to the height, width, stroke (thickness) and spacing of character on road legal car number plates. The rules are as follows:

Character Height: 79mm
Character Width: 50mm
Character Stroke: 14mm
Space Between Character Groups: 33mm
Space Between Characters: 11mm
Space Between Characters And Top, Bottom & Side Border: 11mm

Coloured borders are permissible, but they must not be retro-reflective, and can be no thicker than 6mm. Your number plate manufacturer’s name and postcode must also be shown, and should be be printed dead centre at the bottom of the plate.

If you have a border on your plate, the manufacturer’s name and postcode will normally be printed in a gap in the centre of the bottom border. The manufacturer’s name must also be shown in the lower right portion of the numberplate next to the British Standards number. This allows the manufacturer to be easily traced by the police in the case of any compliance issues.

Road Legal Motorcycle Number Plates

The requirements for road legal motorcycle number plates do differ from those that apply to car registration plates, the most glaringly obvious difference being the fact that bikers are not legally required to display a plate on the front of their vehicle due to safety issues. In addition, there are also different character and spacing requirements for road legal bike plates due to their difference in size.

Road Legal Bike Number Plate

Character Height: 64mm
Character Width: 44mm
Character Stroke: 10mm
Space Between Character Groups: 30mm
Space Between Characters: 13mm
Space Between Characters And Top, Bottom & Side Border: 11mm

National Identifiers

National identifiers (country flags) can be legally displayed on both car and motorbike number plates, but manufacturer badges are not permissible. If you choose to display the European version of your national identifier flag, then you are not required to display a GB sticker if you use your vehicle on the continent. If, on the other hand you choose to display your country’s flag as your national identifier, then a GB sticker (or your geographic equivalent) will be required if you drive your vehicle in Europe outside the UK.

Author bio

By Nick Davison

This article was written by GB Showplates, the UK’s Showplate and road legal motorcycle number plate specialist. For more info on number plates and how to fit them, check out our website.

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