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Can You Change the Spacing on a Number Plate?

Ever since the number plate spacing law change on September 1st in 2001 for private number plates, it is mandatory for license plate spacing to be identical on all new vehicles. 

Correctly spaced number plates are essential for a number of reasons. Firstly, it makes the plates easier for people to recognise and remember. Most importantly, however, is how the number plates interact with computer systems. From road tax checking to speed checks, many systems utilise automatic number plate recognition (ANPR). If the number plate spacing is off in any way, a computer system might struggle to correctly recognise the plate. 

What about when a personalised number plate is used? Even in this case, you need to adhere to DVLA number plate spacing rules. If the spacing is changed or the letters are distorted, this is deemed illegal – regardless if it’s a standard or personalised license plate. 


The regulations for number plate spacing

Although current number plate spacing regulations have been set in stone since 2001, British standards have changed over the years. For instance, vehicles registered between January 1st, 1973 and September 1st, 2001 follow different spacing rules. 

For all cars registered since September 1st, 2001, legal number plate spacing dictates the dimensions need to meet the following:

  • Character height: 79mm
  • Character width: 50mm
  • Character stroke: 14mm
  • Space between each character: 11mm
  • Space between the two groups: 33mm
  • Space between vertical lines: 19mm
  • Side, top, and bottom margins (minimum): 11mm

As far as character width and stroke are concerned, there are two exceptions to the usual rule. This is when the letter ‘I’ and number ‘1’ are used within the plate, both of which naturally have smaller dimensions than all other characters.

For clarification, the ‘two groups’ reference the first four-character section of a license plate that’s made up of the vehicle’s area code and age identifier, and the second section, which contains three random letters. 

Yet when it comes to vehicles registered between January 1st, 1973 and September 1st, 2001, the dimensions are altered slightly. In fact, there are two different groups, and a vehicle must fall under one of them:

Group one

  • Character height: 89mm
  • Character width: 64mm
  • Character stroke: 16mm
  • Space between each character: 13mm
  • Space between the two groups: 38mm
  • Space between vertical lines: 19mm
  • Side, top, and bottom margins (minimum): 13mm

Group two

  • Character height: 79mm
  • Character width: 57mm
  • Character stroke: 14mm
  • Space between each character: 11mm
  • Space between the two groups: 33mm
  • Space between vertical lines: 19mm
  • Side, top, and bottom margins (minimum): 11mm

However, what about vehicles registered before January 1st, 1973? Funnily enough, these follow the same current rules with 11mm between each character and 33mm between the two groups.

Despite the dimensions typically being stringent, the depth of the characters is one area you are allowed to change. If you desire, you can turn the number plate characters 3D. 

If a car is imported into the UK, this vehicle may require different spacing between characters. The spacing will typically be 10mm. This depends on two points:

  • If the design/construction of the vehicle fails to accommodate standard number plates. 
  • It doesn’t feature European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval.

What if you change the spacing on a number plate?

If you decide to go against the rules, you are in line to face a fine for number plate spacing alterations. The UK government currently states that if your number plate doesn’t meet guidelines, you might be hit with a fine up to £1,000. 

Do not expect the government to relax number plate spacing regulations. Due to how imperative it is to abide by number plate spacing law, the UK government utilises serious punishments as a deterrent towards customisation. As well as a fine of up to £1,000, your vehicle will also fail its MOT test, if you are caught with incorrect plates.

With that said, there is one instance where number plate spacing relaxed rules are in place. This is with the use of show plates. What are show plates, exactly? These can be utilised during the likes of car shows and conventions. Show plates can be customised in whatever fashion you desire – including spacing – which can assist with enhancing the overall look of your vehicle. There’s just one caveat: show plates are not road legal.

Surprisingly enough, a large number of people will make the mistake of purchasing illegal number plates. The small price of these plates will usually be the selling point, but the potential fines can cause a big headache. Even if you are tempted, illegal spacing on number plates is simply not worth the hassle. 

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