Import Cars - Know the score with the plates!
Why is it that so little is know about this type of plate? Even the average boys in blue are unsure of what consitutes a legal plate, with may of you guys complaining you have been stopped and fined for displaying smaller plates; your argument that your vehicle is an Import falling on deaf ears. You only have to log on to the major import forums to find thread after thread of this very such thing happening.
If you go onto the DVLA website you will find the following information: "All number plates must meet standard size for lettering and style (with the exception of imported cars that were not designed for UK plates and have a functional reason for not using standard size plates). Certain imported vehicles may be permitted to display number plates with smaller characters if: The vehicle does not have European Community Whole Type Approval AND the vehicle's construction/design cannot accommodate standard size number plates."
Is it any wonder the police don't know what vehicles can and cannot have smaller plates when this is so vague. What constitutes a functional reason? Obviously if you have no area to fix a plate on the front that's a pretty good reason, but what about obstruction of the air intake grill? Or a modded car with a front mounted intercooler which you have added to the vehicle but was not standard on it at point of origin?
Sadly we can't stop you being unfairly pulled but we can advise you on the best way to get the smallest legal plate which will come with the BSAU145d in the bottom righthand corner. Surely this should be enough to stop any roadside tussels with the boys in blue?
DVLA do not specify the size of plate your vehicle must display but do specify the font you must use, the height of this font, minimum margin size, gap between lines (if a two line plate) etc. If you qualify as an Imported vehicle and can satisfy the above criteria then you can legally display a plate with bike font at bike height (64mm) rather than the standard UK Car font (NCW) at car height (79mm). Please note some number plate manufacturers use car font scaled down to 64mm but this will NOT give you the correct width of 44mm - see Statutory Instrument 2001 for the font style and measurement charts. There are also different layout measurements for imports too - see Statutory Instrument 2002
Rear plates on Import cars tend to always be 'square' shaped. USA import plates are 12" x 6" ninety-nine percent of the time and these plates can be one line registrations if you have a very short registration number but are normally split over two lines. Badges fit easily on this shape plate and run from top to bottom. But a 6" high plate does NOT have any room for a border - do the maths 5mm + 64mm + 5mm + 64mm + 13mm = 151mm which is 1mm off from 6"!!
If you have a plate frame which obscures part of the plate you are best to send the frame into us, or a template of your frame as there is a huge possibility that your registration will be cut off top and bottom! There is nothing worse than seeing a beautiful car, complete with an expensive metal frame driving around with the registration cut off a the top and bottom - it's also an offensive to obscure your reg and subject to £60 fine!
Japanese Import rears are in the main 13" wide but the height varies - 6", 6.5", 6.75", 7" & 8". Note the 8" plate height will be printed with NCW car font as it will fit so must be used. You can choose whatever height you like based on what will look best on your vehicle depending on whether you have a plate mount that your plate has to fit into or have a body kit that reduces plate space!
Front plates are the ones though that seem to be causing all the trouble. A standard UK car size oblong is massive. How on earth can you fit that on your fibre-glass nose cone? OK it won't hang down like a square but it looks ridiculous! Sadly looks do not count as a good enough reason to use an import size plate, you have to have a valid functional reason for displaying a smaller size plate too.
A lot of you guys opto for a 12 x 3" plate as it is small and will fit but it's non-compliant as you just cannot get your registration on it at road legal import height, thus you run the risk of getting pulled by the police, a £60 fine and failing your MOT.
Others opt for the standard UK car size self adhesive number plate that sticks directly onto the bonnet/paintwork etc but did you know this type plate if non-compliant too no matter how it is made. DVLA banned them all. We've written this page because we want to inform import owners that there is another choice. If you have a good functional reason to display a smaller plate and do not want a square plate on the front making your car look like a snowplough and your engine overheating because it restricts air flow why not purchase a road legal oblong that is sized according to your registration. We highly recommend you go down the road legal route and provide your documents etc so you get the BS number in the bottom right of your plate!
Choosing the right size plate can be a bit confusing as it depends on how many characters you have in your registration and if you have any 1's (they need less width than any other character). So below is a rough guideline to help you choose plate size - all these sizes assume the correct legal import font is used at the correct height with legal spacings etc
No Badges or 1's in the registration i.e. AB09 XYZ
7 Characters - 410mm x 90mm
6 Characters - 350mm x 90mm
5 Characters - 300mm x 90mm
No Badges but a single 1 in the registration i.e. AB10 XYZ
7 Characters - 380mm x 90mm
6 Characters - 330mm x 90mm
5 Characters - 280mm x 90mm