The majority of modern number plates are generally made of acrylic, which is a type of plastic. However, acrylic isn’t the only material which has been used to create number plates. One other form of number plate you might be familiar with are aluminium number plates – sometimes referred to as pressed number plates.
The legality of these aluminium number plates however is something which isn’t entirely straightforward, and largely depends on factors such as how old your vehicle is, and when it was first registered. You may be interested in aluminium plates. You might even own an older vehicle which has these plates, but you’re unsure whether it is legally allowed on the road with them.
Whatever your situation, we’ve put together an overview of aluminium pressed metal plates, and we’ll also take a look at whether they are legal for your vehicle.
Aluminium pressed number plates – what are they?
Aluminium pressed metal number plates are essentially exactly what they sound like – they’re a type of number plate made out of aluminium. The ‘pressed’ part is referring to the letters and numbers they display, which are physically raised from the background through a process known as pressing.
Many drivers today find these plates to be aesthetically appealing, preferring them to the standard acrylic white and yellow number plates. They are especially popular on retro vehicles – especially when the vehicle’s country of origin allowed pressed plates at the time the car was manufactured. For instance, lots of people in the retro VW scene try to replicate the German pressed plates of the 80s or 90s.
As such, a wide variety of drivers are interested in using pressed aluminium plates on their vehicles. That brings us to the main question – is it legal to drive with aluminium number plates?
Are aluminium pressed number plates legal?
At one point in time, pressed plates were the standard type of number plate issued to cars. However, from March 2001 onward, rules regarding pressed aluminium plates changed. In that month, a new British Standard – BS AU 145D – was introduced, which went over exactly number plates have to be displayed for cars registered since then. This standard went on to be updated to the BS AU 145E in September 2021, where the rules surrounding aluminium number plates remained the same.
An aluminium pressed number plate would not meet the requirements of modern number plates, despite the rules not stating outright that pressed metal plates are illegal. In order for them to be road legal, number plates need to be made out of inherently reflective material – they can not have material or a coating added to them to make them reflective after the fact. Pressed aluminium plates made reflective in this way are referred to as being made ‘retroactively reflective’, and as we said, are not legally permitted.
Being inherently reflective is just one of the standards that pressed aluminium number plates don not meet. The rules also state that number plates must be resistant to bending. Pressed metal number plates are not flexible enough to retake their original shape if they end up getting bend out of it.
With all of this taken into consideration, any pressed metal number plates would not meet the standards to be considered legal for cars registered after March 2021. Whilst in the future there may be pressed plates that abide by the rules, being reflective and resistant to being bent out of shape, but as of right now, that’s certainly not the case. In order to ensure your number plates are road legal, make sure that you always purchase them from a specialist such as New Reg – it’s the best way to have confidence in your plates.
As we mentioned earlier though, at one point in time, aluminium number plates were the standard issued plates for cars. Due to this, the legality of aluminium number plates is actually very different depending on what car you own. It all comes down to what year your car was first registered in the UK.
When exactly are pressed metal plates legal?
While white and yellow acrylic plates are the standard in this day and age, cars registered in the UK in 1972 and earlier would have been issued with aluminium number plates. You may have seen these black pressed aluminium plates, featuring silver characters, still being used on the road today. The reason that they are still able to be read, despite aluminium not being an inherently reflective material, is that they are made retroactively reflective.
Cars from this time period are still allowed to use these kinds of number plates as they are deemed to be ‘classic cars’. However, the plates used by classic cars must still abide to the rules which were in place at the specific time they were issued.
Pressed metal number plates and classic cars
Vehicles which are considered ‘classic cars’ – that is, cars older than 40 which haven’t been subject to substantial modification – have a fair number of perks, many of which are related to the kind of number plates they are legally permitted to use. As we mentioned, cars which were registered during 1972 and earlier are legally allowed to make use of black and silver aluminium plates.
Vehicles from even earlier than this – from before the 1950s – are legally allowed to use black and white painted aluminium number plates. The font used on these classic number plates is also a slightly different size than modern plates. Going back even further than that, cars registered during or before the 1930s can use cast aluminium plates, forged from molten aluminium!
The perks of owning a classic car don’t stop there though. Any car the DVLA considers to be classic is not required to pay road tax. They also do not have to take part in an annual MOT test. However, they are still required to be able to function in a way that is considered safe and fit for the road.