Aluminium is a smooth, shiny metal with good aesthetical properties, but are aluminium number plates legal?
The legal requirements for vehicle number plates vary according to age. Any vehicle registered in 1973 or later must comply with the current standards that apply to number plates. Cars made in 1972 or earlier are permitted to use black pressed aluminium plates, as long as they conform to the exact requirements outlined by the DVLA. These govern the type, size and spacing of the characters. Letters and numbers must be white, grey or silver on a black background, and this background can be made of aluminium if desired.
Why aluminium cannot be used on modern cars
It’s not that the DVLA states that aluminium is not a suitable substance from which to make modern number plates. Rather, it’s the authority’s stipulations about certain qualities the number plate material must possess that make aluminium an unsuitable choice for number plate manufacture.
The rules very clearly state that the material from which number plates are made must be reflective. Aluminium number plates can be reflective, but it’s how this reflective quality has been achieved that matters. Metal can be made reflective after production by treating with the right substance, but this would not satisfy the stringent rules. The law states that number plates should be made from a “reflective material”, and by this they mean something that was reflective to start with, not because a reflective coating has been added post-production.
A number plate must also be constructed from a material that is flexible. This type of material is capable of springing back into place after being bent if required, such as following a minor road collision. This means there is less chance of breakage, and subsequently less chance of a vehicle having to travel without a clearly visible number plate.
It is therefore not aluminium itself that’s the problem, but the qualities of the metal that fail to meet strict DVLA and British Standard rules.
What other legal number plate requirements exist?
The DVLA have laid down the law when it comes to car number plates. Not only that, but a specific British Standard also applies to them.
To obtain a number plate, you must use a registered supplier approved by the DVLA - they provide a list of these for all parts of the UK. The plates must also be stamped with the appropriate British Standard code, as well as the maker’s mark and supplier address details.
A good reason for obtaining your plates from registered supplier – besides complying with that particular law – is that a bona fide supplier will produce number plates that comply with the very strict regulations regarding the size of the characters, the spacing between the letters and numbers and the font required. Numbers and letters can be three dimensional, but they must not be in italics. It is also illegal to space the characters differently, such as to spell a certain word, or to put a number plate on a car or van that is newer than the vehicle itself.
In addition, number plates must not have a background pattern. A front plate should be made from material that is white, while rear plates must be yellow. For both, the characters must be in black, as well as adhering to the acceptable font, size, style and spacing rules.