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A Historical Overview of Number Plates Years and Car Registration Formats


The UK number plate’s registration format is one of a kind, and there is a history behind it. Introduced in 1903 under the “Motor Car” act, this registration system has undergone major transformations to become what it is today.

In the early days, registration plates were introduced and issued by local authorities. Today, the number plates registration docket is handled by DVLA, but you can get private number plates and personalised registrations from authorised dealers, such as Absolute Reg. This guide is an overview of the history of number plates, and how the format has changed over the years.

Dateless Style Number Plates (1903 to 1963)

The first number plates issued were dateless. That means there was nothing to identify the age of the car. This system lasted for a whopping 60 years.

Dateless number plates were issued by local licensing authorities. These registrations initially followed the format ABC 123. Each number plate consisted of a 3-letter combination, followed by three numbers in sequential order. As such, the first ever number plate to be issued was A 1.

In the early 1950s, the available plates combinations were almost exhausted, and the immediate solution was to reverse the components. This gave rise to new, reversed registrations that followed the format 123 ABC. Dateless number plates were issued until 1963, after which they were replaced by the Suffix Style Number Plates.

(c) Pixabay

Suffix Style Number Plates (1963 to 1983)

In 1963, the population of vehicles had skyrocketed and this caused the issuing agencies to run out of number plates.

There was also a need for a better registration format that would identify the age of the vehicle, hence the Suffix Style Number Plate style was introduced. The suffix format added a letter at the end of the plate to denote the year of registration.

A new letter would be released once per year starting from 1963. So in 1963, the plates had the format AAA 111A. That would change to AAA 111B in 1964, and so on.

Prefix Style Number Plates (1983 to 2001)

In August 1983, the Prefix Style Format was introduced. This saw the letter denoting the age of the vehicle moved to the beginning of the registration mark.

This style was meant to be a reverse of the previous Suffix Style Format, and it consisted of a single letter year identifier (excluding I, Q, and Z) followed by up to 3 numbers (1 to 999), followed by 2 letters, indicating the area code where the plate was first registered. This resulted in millions of possible plate combinations.

Current Style Number Plates (2001 to Present)

The current format for UK vehicle registrations was introduced by DVLA in 2001. This system follows the format AA XX 123, where:

AA   – is the region when the vehicle was first registered

XX   – is the age of a vehicle based on a 6-months period. 

123 – are random numbers that give the vehicle a unique identity.

The current system is structured such that every registration features exactly 7 characters. This gives rise to more combinations, and it can support over 12 million registrations. It is believed that the current system will last until 2049.

To learn more about private number plates registrations, contact Absolute Reg, or visit their website.

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