In Singapore, like any other countries, every motor vehicle must have a vehicle registration number (VRN) to operate on the road. Each VRN is unique and like no other — it does not repeat and cannot be reused once discarded.
Most motorists use the VRN automatically assigned by LTA when buying a new vehicle. There is no charge for an assigned VRN. You could also bid (from LTA) for a new VRN or retain a VRN from an older vehicle. Your third option is to purchase and transfer a VRN from the open market.
History of Prefixes
A VRN generally consists of 3 parts: the prefix, the numbers and the suffix. Take ‘SJH1842U‘ for example. SJH is the prefix, 1842 form the numbers and U is the suffix derived from the checksum of the prefix and numbers.
Private car VRN began in the early 1900s, with a single prefix S for denoting Singapore. There are only 9999 numbers in each series. As the years went on, 2-letters prefix had to be introduced in 1913, E/EA introduced in 1972 before going back to S with 3-letter prefix in 1984.
At the time of writing, we are currently on SMU prefix.
Vintage plates on the road
If you are observant whilst on the road, you may have observed cars who have 2- or 1-letter number plates. These number plates are known as vintage plates, with the last of the series EZ beginning in 1984.
Car Number Plate “more expensive” than the Car
One of the most satisfying thing as a driver on the road is to notice nice numbers on another vehicle, even better if it is a vintage plate. It really hits-it-home if the number plate is “more expensive” than the car itself that it is affixed to.
The market value for a single-S car registration number is priced around $300,000.
Vintage vehicle registration number auctioned for $335,000
S32H at a public auction in Feb 2016 sold for $335,000. A similar S45X is offered for sale at $388,000 for sale on sgCarMart at that time. The auction or sales of vintage VRN is not new. Even now, older VRN are still highly priced and sought after.
Single-number plate bidding
The bidding for new VRN from LTA is good revenue for the government. Some $600,000 to $1 million in revenue is collected from 1,000 and 1,200 received bids for each series. The highest bid amount received so far has been $118,000 in 1995. All revenue is payable to the government’s Consolidated Fund.
Not all single-digits are equal — numbers 1, 3, 7, 8 and 9 usually attract the highest bids.
1 remains the most popular, with its significance is to be the “number one”. Equally nice-looking single-digits in a ‘normal’ series go for at least $10,000.
For the Chinese, they attribute numbers to fengshui.
2 (二, ÈR)
The number represents ‘double’ or ‘双’, which may also means a pair or doubles bring blessings.
3 (三, SĀN)
三 has similar sounding to 生, which means “life” or “to give birth” in Chinese. 生 has a positive connotation.
4 (四, SÌ)
四 has similar sounding to 死 (sǐ), which means “death” in Chinese.
5 (五, WǓ)
五 has similar sounding to 无 (wú), which means “not” or “without” in Chinese.
6 (六, LIÙ)
六 has similar sounding to 流 (liú), which means “flow” in Chinese. A popular Chinese idiom, 六六大顺 (liù liù dà shùn), denoting things will run smoothly.
7 (七, QĪ)
Lucky Seven has seen the number 7 as a lucky number from the western culture. 七 has similar sounding to 起 (qǐ), which means the “start” or “rise”, and also 气 (qì), which means “vital energy”.
8 (八, BĀ)
八 has similar sounding to 發 (fa), which means “wealth”, “fortune”, and “prosper” in Chinese. 8 is the luckiest number in Chinese culture. Multiples of eight are approved, 88 for example bears a resemblance to 囍 (shuāng xǐ), or “double happiness”.
9 (九, JIǓ)
九 has similar sounding to 久 (jiǔ), which means “long lasting” and “eternity” in Chinese.
Sometimes, we find novelty plates on the road, and these gets tongues wagging due to their being checky.
Are vintage or nice numbers out of my league?
It really depends on how deep your wallets are. Yet, it need not break a hole in your pocket. Bidding for nice number plates is still a possibility with each series that come out from LTA.
For vintage plates, there are also those which are more affordable yet still don’t sound too bad.
Each VRN number is unique from one another. Once discarded, the same combination can never be reused. The supply of old or vintage VRN continues to fall over the years as people scrap their cars and give up their VRN.
The rich or those with expensive rides tend to go for a fancy VRN. The market demand is there for nice number combinations, single-digits and vintage VRN.
- The older the prefix (except 3-letter prefix), the more valuable.
- The shorter the prefix, the more valuable.
- The lesser number of digits, the more valuable.
- For single digit, 1 is the most valuable.
- Next up on the popularity list for single digits in no particular order: ‘8’ means fa or prosperity in mandarin, ‘6’ sounds like luck when pronounced in dialect, ‘7’ for lucky seven, ‘9’ for longevity in mandarin, ‘3’ for life in mandarin.
- 4 is the least valuable, since it means “die” in mandarin.
- Next up on the least popular list in no particular order: ‘2’ and ‘5’.
- Repeating numbers, especially those that are more auspicious sounding e.g. ’88’, ‘888’, ‘8888’, ’66’, ‘666’, ‘6666’, ’77’, ‘777’, ‘7777’, ’99’, ‘999’, ‘9999’.
- For the rest of the other repeating numbers, though not as popular, they have a higher value than mixed numbers e.g. for repeating ones, twos, threes, fours, fives.
- Novelty names or vanity plates e.g. SMA1180Y (SMALL BOY), SE1X, SMA5H (SMASH)
Generally if you have an old car running in the family, have a look whether it has a nice combination of the above. It is also not uncommon for number plates to be passed down from one car to another as the family retains the VRN.
Who knows if you have another S32H for the future?