Build and Compliance Plates

6 October 20204 min read

What’s the difference between a compliance plate and a build plate? It’s a common question and it can be hard to find a straight answer.

Both are legitimate – and necessary – ways to identify a car. However, only one accurately notes the exact age of a vehicle.

When a vehicle is manufactured, it is fitted with a build plate (or label) with a build date, usually specific to a month and year, rather than day, month and year.

That’s because it usually takes anywhere from 24 hours to several days for a motor vehicle to go through the entire manufacturing process, from start to finish.

The build date on the build plate or label (usually fitted in the engine bay, but can also be applied to the driver’s door frame) represents the month and year the vehicle rolled off the production line in completed form.

Once manufactured, vehicles are transported to showrooms around the world.

Since manufacturing of motor vehicles ended in Australia in October 2017, all cars are imported.

The shipping times range from four to six weeks from factories in the Asia-Pacific region and two to three months from factories in Europe and the US.

Once a shipment of cars is offloaded in Australia, vehicles go into “bonded storage”, a large holding area where they are kept until import duties and any other tariffs are paid.

The vehicles are then fitted with a number of extra identification plates or labels, to show they comply with Australian Motor Vehicle Standards.

Car companies appoint third-parties and transport specialists to do this check, and it is usually done while vehicles are still in storage and before they are freighted by truck to dealerships.

At this part of the process, eligible vehicles (which is the overwhelming majority of new cars imported for sale into Australia) are fitted with a compliance label or a compliance plate. (They are also fitted with a tyre placard and a fuel rating label at this point).

The compliance label (or plate) signifies each vehicle meets Australian standards. The label (and the date on it) is usually applied weeks or months after the vehicle was built. In some rare cases, if a car has been held in storage, the compliance plate or label can be applied a year or more after the vehicle was manufactured.

The exact wording from the Department of Infrastructure, which oversees motor vehicle regulations, says: “Before a new vehicle can be registered for the first time in Australia, it must meet the requirements of the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989. The Act applies to all new vehicles – whether road motor vehicles or road trailers. Under the Act, new vehicles are required to be fitted with an identification plate (formerly known as a compliance plate). The identification plate provides a clear indication to the state or territory registering authority – and to the owner and the general public – that the vehicle is ready for use in transport on public roads in Australia.”

The recent shift from calling it a “compliance” plate to an “identification” plate (or label) is likely to add to confusion when trying to check the bonafides of a car.

In essence there are three main vehicle identifiers on modern motor vehicles. The build plate (or label), the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), and the compliance plate (or label), now known as an identification plate (or label).

Much of the information – such as a particular vehicle’s VIN – will be common across all three identifiers.

However, the build plate (or label) will have the most detailed data on the vehicle and includes exactly then the vehicle was manufactured.

It is important to make a distinction between the three difference vehicle identifiers, because some sellers and dealers attempt to use the compliance plate (or label) to make a car seem newer than it is.

For example, if a car was manufactured in December 2019 but the compliance plate (or label) was not fitted until January 2020, a seller might use a description similar to “2019-built but 2020-complied”.

Although there may only be a one-month difference, in the dealer’s eyes the car is a year old.

Regardless of what you’re told, a car is always judged on the build date on its build plate (or label). And that’s the date that appears on the vehicle’s registration papers.

If you were to trade-in the same vehicle to the same dealer who previously said the car was a “2019-built but 2020-complied” example, they would judge on the build date.