Number Plate Formats Explained
The number plate system as we know it was first introduced in 1903 when the historic A 1 registration was issued to Earl Russell and assigned to his Napier car. Currently there are 4 main formats for number plates. These are:
1. Dateless Number Plates 1903 - 1963
As the name suggests, these number plates have no 'date' or year identifier. Because of this they can go onto any age of vehicle (car or bike) without restriction. This type of plate is often referred to as a 'cherished number plate'.
2. Suffix Number Plates 1963 - 1982
Suffix number plates started in 1963 with an 'A' suffix. This new system added thousands of combinations of registrations to supply the ever growing number of vehicles on the roads. Many of these plates are still in existence and offer a great opportunity to spell names or words such as the 'BRATS' example above, originally issued in 1977.
3. Prefix Number Plates 1983 - 2001
Prefix number plates were first introduced in 1983 with the 'A' prefix. The idea was to identify the age of a vehicle by the first character of the number plate. There are many unissued or unreleased prefix number plates available to buy through our number plate search.
4. Current Issue Number Plates 2001 on
The current format of number plates started in September 2001 with the '51' number identifier as shown in the 'DE51YRE' example above. The idea was to make vehicles easily identifiable and to allow 2 changes per year instead of the traditional one issue per year. This took pressure away from car dealers and diluted the rush with registering all new vehicles at the same time. This new format created several million new combinations offering scope for specific unreleased numbers to be purchased.
These number plates as with any that carry a year identifier are restricted to use on vehicles of the same age or newer. For example you cannot use a '51' plate on a 2000 vehicle as it makes it look younger than it actually is. You can however use the '51' plate on anything issued after September 2001 ie. a '51' plate, an '02' plate etc. You can in essence go older but not newer.
Dateless number plates carry no restrictions on age or use. You can view all the prefix and suffix registration years in our guide.
Many territories under the control of the UK follow a similar number plate format to the mainland UK.
Gibraltar, the Falklands & Bermuda all have a letter identifier G, F etc. to denote their origin. Many now also carry the EU logo with Bermuda also displaying a map of the island.
The Cayman Islands differ in that they have six numbers displayed. Due to the low number of vehicles, this simple format is ideal.British Virgin Islands
Passenger vehicles have PV with four digits whilst commercial vehicles display CM to identify them. Taxis are distinguished by a TX number plate prefix.
Vehicles under government control have a GV prefix.
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