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A brief history of number plates

The UK number plate system was introduced in late 1903 under the "Motor Car Act" with the registration "A1", debatably, being the first. Registration marks were issued in sequence and related to the geographic area they were issued. The registration system has undergone many changes since then and so this guide will help explain why we have different styles or registration and how they are used.

Dateless Style number plates (Mainland UK) (issued between 1903 and 1963)

Dateless style registrations were introduced by local licensing authorities in 1903. These registrations initially followed the format of A*, where A is a one- or two-letter combination, and * is a number between 1 and 9999. In 1932 these were extended to include a three-letter combination and the possibility of reversed registrations in the format *A, where the number precedes the one- to three-letter combination.

Due to the rise in traffic it became necessary for each vehicle to be easily identified and so the UK number plate system was introduced. The registration mark 'A1' was the first number plate issued in London. Registration marks would be issued in sequence and relate to the area of the country where the vehicles were registered. Each local DVLA office (formerly known as the DVLC) would have their own unique letter sequences that they would assign to newly registered vehicles. Dateless number plates were issued up until 1963 when they were replaced by Suffix style number plates.

Dateless style registrations do not refer to the year that a vehicle was first registered. This means that a dateless number plate can be re-assigned or transferred to any age of vehicle.

The lack of age restriction is the same as Northern Ireland registration marks which also date from the same era but are still being issued today. These are in more plentiful supply so they tend to be cheaper in price and can be easily identified as they always contain either a letter I or Z. The main benefit of dateless number plates and the reason why they are very popular is that they hide the ages of the vehicles that they are displayed on. More information on Irish style registrations can be found below.

123 ABC ABC 123
A1
The ultimate registration mark
25 JR
Janet's And Ronald’s 25th Anniversary
999 ROB
Rob the fire-fighter
TOY 5
Ideal for Toyota or toy store owners
AJL 33
April Jeanette Lee
4 CMP
For Christopher Michael Parkinson
ALF 45
Alfred or Alfie
XMA 55
It's Christmas!
  • Can be transferred to any age vehicle
  • Very rare due to their age
  • Generally the most expensive style
  • No I, Q or Z in the registration

I wanted a Dateless plate to cover the age of my vehicle and that would hopefully act as an investment. Plates4Less suggested BB 1967, BJB 808 and XOX 222.

Brett James Brown, DOB 1967, Accountant

Our Dateless Number Plates area is the most comprehensive in the industry, including lots of useful tools, check out these areas (these links open in new window):


Suffix Style number plates (issued between 1963 and 1983)

Suffix style registrations were introduced by the DVLA in February 1963, as they were running out of dateless combinations to use, having already issued millions of vehicle registration marks across the country. It also increased customer protection since the key attribute of the suffix style number plate is that it would now be easy to identify the age of a vehicle. They use the structure BBB*A, where A is a letter which represents the period that the vehicle was first registered, and * is a one to three-digit number. This style is the reverse of its successor, the Prefix style, which follows the format A*BBB. Suffix style registrations cannot incorporate the letters I, Q or Z; O and U can only appear in the first three letters.

Suffix style registrations were initially released annually and were issued between 1st January and 31st December of each year. This changed with the introduction of the F-registrations on 1st August 1967, which started the annual release of registrations in the period 1st August - 31st July.

ABC 1A Show Examples
ANG 314D
Angela Davies
KEN 1X
Kenneth, Number 1, Kiss
JON 3S
Jones
EDW 412D
Edward
GHO 5T
Ideal for Rolls Royce Owners, or believers in the supernatural!
RAC 3R
Racer
JAC 1P
Jack or Jacqueline, Number 1, Peters
CAB 846E
Cabbage, for vegetarians!
  • Age identifier is the last letter (suffix)
  • No I, Q or Z in the registration

Plates4Less offered me SAL 19Y which was a great option for us.

Tom, searching for a present for Sally

Here are interesting areas for you to look at (these links open in new window):


Prefix Style number plates (issued between 1983 and 2001)

Prefix style registrations were introduced by the DVLA in August 1983. They use the structure A*BBB, where A is a letter which represents the period that the vehicle was first registered, and * is a one to three-digit number. This style is the reverse of its predecessor the Suffix style, which follows the format BBB*A. Prefix style registrations cannot incorporate the letters I, Q or Z; O and U can only appear in the last three letters.

Prefix style registrations were initially released annually and were issued between 1st August and 31st July of each year. This changed with the introduction of the T-registrations on 1st March 1999, which started the bi-annual release of registrations in the periods 1st March - 31st August, and 1st September - 28th February.

A1 ABC Show Examples
L4 URA
Laura
E12 ROR
For computer developers!
G3 MMA
Gemma
M155 GEG
Miss Grace Elizabeth Gallagher
K155 AJS
Kiss, Amy Jane Smith
J46 UAR
Jaguar
X999 ROB
A kiss for Rob, who works in the emergency services
N16 GKM
Nov 16th (Date of Birth), George K Moore
X40 JHD
Kiss, 40th Birthday, Janet Hannah Davies
K8 KLX
Katherine (Kate) Lambert, X for a kiss
  • Age identifier is the first letter (prefix)
  • No I, Q or Z in the registration

I wanted a fun plate for my new car. Plates4Less found K155ESS for me which I love!

Amy, looking for a plate for her new car

Take a look at the useful features within our Prefix Style Area (opens in new window)


Current Style number plates (issued since 2001)

The current format for UK registrations was introduced by the DVLA in September 2001. It uses the structure AA** AAA, where ** is a two-digit number representing the period that the vehicle is first registered. Current style registrations cannot incorporate the letters I or Q; and Z can only appear in the last three letters.

New registrations are released in this style twice a year. They are issued between 1st March - 31st August, and 1st September - 28th February. For example, AB02 CDE would represent a vehicle registered on or after the 1st March 2002, and AB53 CDE, would represent a vehicle registered on or after the 1st September 2003.

The current style of registrations will be periodically issued until 28th February 2051.

AA51 ABC Show Examples
OO07 RAY
For Ray, a James Bond fan
AN63 LAJ
Angela Jones
YU11 MMY
Tasty plate!
LO12 RYS
Haulage firm
AN11 MAL
For sports car fans or vets
SH12 LEY
Best plate for Shirley
SA12 AHJ
Sarah Jayne
BO55 RPJ
Boss, Rhys Paul James
JE55 GAZ
Jessica and Gary
MR52 DVS
Mrs Davies
XK03 JRC
XK Jaguar, John Robert Clark
JD04 CPD
Mr John Dawson and Mrs Claire P Dawson
  • Age identifier is the two digit number in the middle
  • No I or Q and Z only in the last three letters

I was looking for a plate that spelled my name exactly. Plates4Less suggested the ultimate ‘Shirley’ plate, SH12LEY.

Shirley, looking for the perfect plate for her name

Find your perfect plate by searching in our Current Style Area (opens in new window)


Northern Irish Number plates

Vehicles registered in Northern Ireland are assigned a form of dateless registration, introduced in 1903. These registrations follow the format AZ* where AZ is a two- or three-letter combination containing either an I or a Z, and * represents a number between 1 and 9999.

As of 2014, the DVLNI merged with the UK-wide DVLA so that all vehicle records and registration transfers are now handled by the DVLA here in Swansea. Now, registration transfers are completed a lot faster and are significantly cheaper than they previously were. All Northern Ireland style registrations are dateless and as such they do not refer to the year that a vehicle was first registered. This means that a Northern-Irish style registration can be assigned to any age of vehicle which has been registered in the UK.

These registrations are more readily available than Dateless Style registrations and therefore tend to be cheaper in price. They provide the most cost-effective solution to customers wishing to hide the age of their vehicle with 'cover plates' as Northern Irish style registrations can be transferred onto vehicles in England, Wales and Scotland. By the way, all UK mainland registration types can be transferred to Northern Ireland registered vehicles of suitable ages and types.

Northern Irish registrations are easily identified as they will always contain an I or Z, and will always follow the 'dateless' style format of up to three letters, followed by up to four numbers.

ABZ 1234 Show Examples
SHZ 40
Sharon's 40th birthday present
BAZ 101
Barry
BIG 8055
Big boss
GIL 2068
Gillian
GAZ 6468
Gareth
LNZ 12
Lyndsey
OIL 999
For a petrol-head!
  • Can be transferred to any age vehicle
  • Always have an I or Z in the registration
  • A cheaper alternative to a dateless number plate

I wanted to get my husband a unique gift. Plates4Less suggested DAZ 84 which is perfect as it’s his nickname and year of birth!

Ai, searching for a gift for her husband, Darren

Find your perfect plate by searching in our Irish Style Area (opens in new window)