In the world we encounter all kinds of faux pas—in culture, fashion, etiquette, and most likely on social media platforms today. However it’s been said nowhere is faux pas more dangerous than those committed in politics, where one gaffe made by a politician could risk a conflict between nations. There’s proper protocol to follow when we come face to face with royalty or heads of states and it will serve us all well to remember not to chew gum, kiss anyone’s hand or foreheads while asking them “Hey how you doin!” Yet politicians, celebrities and commoners have done all the above!

“What were they thinking?” springs to mind when we shake our heads with a jaw-dropping chuckle at someone else’s social blunder. By the same token, there’s a type of dangerous (and distracting) faux pas we see occurring daily on our roads today—customised number plates broadcasting provocative, insolent, inappropriate messages much too risqué for the ‘average general consumption’ of road users. Some are just plain lame and others cause the elderly to blush or recoil while the youngsters or young-at-heart sneer or simply jeer.

Offensive Personalised Plates

Thank goodness for governing transport authorities who vet through and reject many a quirky request on personalised plates, especially if they are offensive, contravene public decency or have a negative road safety stance. I do wonder if some of these examples of rejected submissions were meant as malicious gifts by a scorned spouse or partner. No one would malign themselves with a plate like DUMSHT or BIGASS(real story of unsuccessful applicants in Victoria). Many of these motorists, in their keenness to make a public expression of their personal mission statement, seemed to have deliberately put a pause on their inhibitions and at times, I’m afraid, their brains.

Multiple cutouts of number plates that spell identity

Show your individuality

Personalied Plates For Criminals

Outlaws or factions of the underbelly aren’t allowed to flaunt illicit trades on their plates either. A drug dealer from Geelong was notably denied his wish by VicRoads in 2013 in his hopes for some blatant advertising: ICEDLR (Ice dealer). Another individual who tried to advertise another well-known type of vice was rejected in their submission for HOOKIN. Others that did not make it to the roads may have been rejected due to their suggestion of violence, their risk to security or road safety. Examples are W34PN (Weapon), POL1C3 (Police), SHT2KL (Shoot To Kill), WA2Q1K (Way Too Quick) and DIE4ME.

Just what drives people to desire a customised plate? A behavioural expert in Arlington from the National Science Museum in the US claimed that ‘displaying symbols and signs of who they are’ helps people predict and attempt to control the world around them. It is termed ‘implicit egotism’, one of the ways people let the world know what they are and how people should treat them. An interesting paper published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology in 2008 found that drivers with customised plates, bumper stickers and other ‘territory markers’ were far more likely to use their vehicles to express rage—by honking, tailgating and other aggressive behaviour.

Really? I used to think that maybe mostly people like myself might need them—the very kind who forgets at which carpark (P1 or P3?)I parked, and when I finally approach a row of three parked black SUVs that look around the same size, wonders again, which was mine again? Aw give me a break, at least I didn’t forget the kids together with the milk this time! Wouldn’t a plate that had my name in bold, also preferably in fuchsia pink against indigo be super handy under those circumstances? Well, not to the police who will caution us against potential attackers who tend to prey on cars bearing ‘women plates’ with feminine names.

Yet women and even men both still love personalised name plates regardless of security. Others want custom plates purely out of self-expression, some out of vanity or snobbery, and others perhaps to jolt their poor memory and to aid quick vehicle recognition. But did you know that customised plates are also loved by a group who are serious investors and collectors?

Collectors of Personalised Plates

An entrepreneur like avid private number plate collector Afzal Kahn for example, thought nothing of turning down a A$10 million dollar offer for his most cherished ‘F1’ prestige license plate that proudly resides on his ‘fastest car in the world’ the Bugatti Veyron. He may have reaped above 10 times his investment of A$765,300 for his special plate (the highest ever on British records) yet he refused to part with his savvy investment for sentimental reasons.

Globally, private collectors of custom number plates have raised the ante beyond unbelievable boundaries. In the United Arab Emirates, the single digit ‘1’ sold in February 2008 for A$12.61 million to an Abu Dhabi businessman aged just 25. Car-mad cities of the Gulf just relish the prestige of owning as few digits as possible in their plates which adds to their status symbol among the wealthy classes. No wonder that 37 or the world’s 50 most expensive number plates are believed to have been bought by buyers there.

Asia spins a similar trend, where costs of number plates are staggering compared to the starting retail price of a car. In the vibrant city of Shanghai, China, its busy streets of 23 million people teeming with foreign vehicles, quotas on number plate registrations are necessary to curb road congestion. Local dealerships lament that the city’s complicated and expensive license plate auctions are responsible for their poor sales, since one cannot officially drive unless they win what’s been deemed as ‘the great car number plate lottery’. An entry-level vehicle can be bought for just A$3,721 but may end up costing the buyer another 90,000 yuan (A$14,530) for an accompanying plate. A number plate has become as much of a status symbol as the car itself alongside with gold and diamond encrusted wheels, knobs and other car accessories.

As for us who are living more modestly Down Under in Australia, you’d be surprised to know that custom number plates have been booming business and their investment value is surfacing especially in prestige heritage plates. Many governments are selling plates that can have anything from your name to your favourite sports team. The most valuable are heritage plates as they attract the serious investors and are best reserved for long-term appreciation and collection.

Typically, the lower the plate’s number, the greater its value. The Victorian government sold its No. 1 plate for A$165,000 and it is now reportedly worth between A$2-3 million today. Q1, the first Queensland plate, is owned by hairdresser Stefan and is worth more than A$1 million. Other valuable plates have sequential numbers as do number repeats. Also, there is a premium for plates with the number ‘8’ which has an auspicious connotation to Asian investors (‘8’ translates to ‘prosper’ in Chinese).

There is no lack in the colourful variety and creativity presented by customised plates. And there are all sorts of special ones to attract all sorts of special collectors. In Ballarat, Victoria, a web developer Tai Tran is selling FACEBK (a license plate, yes, nothing to do with the company founded by Mark Zuckerberg) for A$1.2 million. Not really much to raise eyebrows since he’s hoping it will be worth more than that for a company that’s touted to be worth $100 billion by the end of the year. He’s owned FACEBK for 4 years and also PAYPAL for 6 years but is yet to get a phone call from anyone interested.

There’s no questioning the popularity of customised plates and the market is ripe with buyers snapping up virtually anything that goes. Star Wars fans may pay $300,000 for DARTH, Michael Jackson fans—MJKSON for $100,000, and the last I checked at the Trading Post ads, ITALY was going for $50,000 and the ad beckoned ‘suitable for your Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati or Alfa Romeo’. If you’re up for serious mischief, you could have M4YHEM for $10,000. Perhaps you think you have the moves, in that case ‘TWOSXY’ (Too Sexy) at an affordable $450 may float your boat. If you have a grand dad who served in the army, maybe a good Australia Day gift for him would be a $3,950 ‘OZ R LIA’ (Australia) plate.

Just be forewarned that what we think is clever or appropriate doesn’t always meet the cut. A man from South Australia thought his OMGITSU (Oh My God It’s You) was funny but there was no ‘LOL’ from the transport department censors who rejected it based on its ‘offensive’ stance.

I think you’ll just have to brave it, submit it and pray that it goes well, because you’ll just never know. How did I know that? Well I just saw UR JOKN (You Are Joking) going for $8,000 and I agree entirely that it must be some joke. The same person who owns IMNUTS might be a suitable buyer.

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