Car Plate Culture Craze in the UAE

Make sure to check out comparisons between car plate prices versus their car below!


You leave your house that’s located in one of Dubai’s luxurious neighborhoods. You get into your car which cost at least a couple hundred thousand dirhams. You drive to the restaurant you’ve been seeing all over your Instagram feed on your new iPhone. You snap a few pictures and make sure you share them. But does is it all really matter if you don’t have your own special car plate number?


The car plate culture in Dubai is alive and thriving more than ever. More and more people aren’t settling for the standard-issued Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) plates anymore. They want special plates. According to the British website, Regtransfer, UAE residents are the biggest spenders on special plates. These plates are ones that are customised by the consumer; starting from the plate code, to the amount of digits that follow and the numbers they want them to be.


The plate design varies for each Emirate. The plate code, meaning the first symbol from the left, is usually a letter with the exception of Abu Dhabi and Sharjah having numbers for these codes. Dubai’s special plates are typically the ones worth the most, but Abu Dhabi holds the record for the most expensive one ever sold at 52.2 million dirhams.


Many people think this phenomenon is an integral part of the Emirati culture. Shakhbout Al Kaabi, an Emirati filmmaker made a documentary about the car plate culture in Dubai. He told Gulf News that it has, in essence, become something uniquely Emirati.


“It’s something that unites our family” said Hamad Saleh, an Emirati citizen whose family shares the same plate number, 9106, on all their five cars. His is H 9106, with the ‘H’, of course, signifying his initial.  “Every time someone sees one of our plates on the street, they know it’s a member of our family.”


Yara Riad, an Egyptian-Tunisian student at American University in Dubai, is another fan of personalised plate numbers. She thinks her plate number, Q 44401, is a reflection of her. It includes her birthday, an option RTA encourages people to go for, and the Q was suggested by her dad. “He said it’s because I’m his queen,” she gushes.


Still, some people consider this as a symbol of wealth. They are even so valuable that car plate theft is a pressing criminal issue in the UAE. There have been 799 cases reported in the past three years, according to The National.


In addition, a lot of people see it as an investment. For example, local man Said Al Khoury owns 7,000 special plate numbers and is the owner of the most expensive plate ever bought that was previously mentioned. He trades these plates as he understands the market has a high demand for them.


Some disagree with these ideals, however. “I see the potential of investment, but I don’t think they’re worth all the hype. Personally, I wouldn’t waste my money or time on special plate numbers,” said Sidharth Hemanth, an Indian national who has resided in the UAE since 1999.


Nevertheless, not all special plates are bought. Many are given as gifts from sheikhs as a sign of UAE’s trademark generosity. “My camel won in a race and as a prize, Sheikh Hamdan gifted me my car plate number, which is O56,” said Rashid Ateej, an Emirati finance student at the Canadian University in Dubai. “This car plate is so special to me because of its sentimental value,” he added.


Also, not all of them are bought off of purchasing websites or through connections. RTA hosts many auctions where people bid on very high profile plates and a lot of the times the money goes to charity. The 52.2 million dirhams spent on the most expensive car plate were all used to build a hospital specialised in treating accident victims.


Moreover, car plate numbers aren’t just about customization anymore, they’re becoming part of the digital revolution as well. Dubai aims to be one of the first cities to mass-introduce digital plate numbers, also known as smart license plates. They will immediately report to the authorities if the car gets into a crash and some are even considering it a whole new market for advertising.


The special car plate number craze is a phenomenon exclusive to the UAE; a country that’s famed for its love for cars and aesthetics. It’s only natural its residents want to present themselves in the most individual way.


Car Plate vs. Car?


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Photos and infographics by Farah ElBahrawy


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