SocietySeptember 4, 2017

A few of my favourite PL8s: Memoirs of a personalised plate hunter


PL8spotting is a kind of urban trophy hunting where competitors shoot selfies with rare or exotic personalised plates. The sport’s inventor Henessey Griffiths counts down her personal favourite spots.

Personalised plates are truly one of the most underappreciated art forms in our society. Whether it be a simple ‘XSAMYX’ or a witty pun like ‘NVRL8’, the whimsical nature of the personalised plate allows a person to express who they really are. We go about our day-to-day loves blissfully unaware of the creative possibilities these plates can afford us, and the intentional (or unintentional) messages we may present to the world.

When you break it down, the concept of a personalised plate is kind of ridiculous. For starters, you pay an average of $999 for six characters on a piece of aluminium to be registered and displayed on your car. If you’re spending that much money to basically tattoo your car, there has to be some timely and relevant meanings to your plates. Often we see plates that are an expression of whimsical humour, such as ‘HI XLR8’ or ‘WOT3VA’ – just the little things that can light up someone’s day.

That’s what I love about plates. While a plate’s meaning is mainly designed for its owner, everyone can derive their own meanings from them, to essentially ‘REL8’ back to the plate. They are not just for the owner to enjoy, but for the whole world to admire.

For a good few years I dedicated my spare time to a sport called PL8spotting. The objective was to find a good personalised plate and take a selfie beside it with a blank facial expression, to juxtapose against the hilarity of the plate. I posted a collection of PL8spots on Facebook, and after seeing the reception it got, I realised I was onto something big.

Every day became a hunt for a new plate. I became addicted to the thrill of finding my next ‘D0IN 1T’ or ‘W0T3VA’ to the point where I craved it. I needed those witty six-characters-or-under pieces of aluminium to share over social media, to make other people laugh and construct my own identity.

Here is an obsessive PL8spotter’s list of the top personalised plates I saw around Dunedin during the heyday of my PL8spotting career.


Placed on the back of a 2005 Toyota Camry, ‘KWLDAD’ was one of the first ever plates I spotted, and I hold it dear to my heart. I like to think there are two possible meanings behind this plate: it either tells the story of a middle-aged father who is currently facing an identity crisis and finds it hard to relate to the youth anymore so splurges out on the revitalisation of his “kwlness”, or a reluctant Father’s Day gift that a dad feels obliged to show to the world given the thought and cost put into it. No matter the meaning behind this plate, there is something about the confidence behind such an audacious claim that I find quite inspirational. To claim that you are a ‘KWLDAD’ and have it permanently on display through your car is such a bold move, that only the coolest of dads could really achieve. I can only hope one day to be as kwl a dad as the owner of this car is today.


One of the more recent finds of my PL8spotting career, ‘I SKI TO’ is a plate that raises a lot of questions for me. The main one is: why? It’s almost as if someone is paying for their résumé to be published on their car. “By the way, amongst everything else I do, do you know that I SKI TO?” The sheer arrogance of it – I imagine the owners proudly dropping the fact they have a season pass to Coronet Peak – makes me so confused by this choice of plate. We can also read “I SKI TO” as a claim that the owners use skiing as a mode of transportation, to which we must ask then why display that on your car and not the skis themselves? While I respect the art of the plate, this one truly riles me up.

3. BTCH13

The moment I spotted this on the back of a wee Suzuki Jimny was the moment I knew I was onto something big. I like to think of the owner of this plate being a middle-aged mum who is done giving a shit. She doesn’t care about your family car stickers or if she rammed into your bumper, she is self-righteous and has places to be that don’t concern you. I hope to one day to meet the owner of ‘BTCH13’ and see if she lives up to her title, hopefully without being run over.


As one of my more recent finds, ‘TACKY’ proved a pivotal moment in my plate-spotting career. Found on the back of a humble Toyota Hilux, this plate led to a period of self-reflection and ultimately the demise of PL8spotting. The amount of irony dripping from this plate could feature in an Alanis Morissette song, as ‘TACKY’ encompasses both the literal and metaphorical meaning of the word. The bad taste of the pun reflects the self-consciousness of the plate’s owner, in some kind of twisted existential fake-deep way. It made me reflect on the art of plates and what drives (no pun intended) people to do what they do. Why do people spend nearly a grand on plates for it just to be considered ‘TACKY’? What kind of self-reflexive meaning does this plate have to its owner in the first place? But most importantly, why do I even care so much about this plate at all?

1. H8 II W8

I have seen many good plates in my time, but this is the one I always find myself coming back to. You can tell a lot of thought went into this plate. Let’s start with the actual phrase itself: ‘H8 II W8’ is a pun that we can read as ‘hate to wait’; the use of ‘H8’ and ‘W8’ to represent hate and wait is a smart way to convey that meaning with limited character availability. I can only imagine the owner being someone of high importance, with places to be and not enough time to get there. They are light-hearted and breezy (given the use of ‘H8’), but also driven and know what they want. They are strongly entrenched in the Kiwi “do it yourself” mentality – evidenced by the car they own and the feature of the fern beside the plate itself – which could be among the reasons why they hate waiting. My heart goes out to the owner every time they have to wait at a red light, the rage that must engulf their soul. I hope to only ever see the owner proudly driving off into the sunset, never having to face the thing they hate the most.

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