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.
When you own a personalised number plate, you have to become familiar with the DVLA’s vehicle registration transfer process. It is not difficult to do, once you know the rules and have gone through it at least once. Our guide will walk you through the three main processes:
- Transferring a registration from one vehicle to another
- Transferring a registration away from one vehicle but retaining it for future use
- Transferring a registration that you have previously retained (i.e. that is not currently on a vehicle) onto a vehicle
Vehicle to Vehicle Registration Transfer Rules
You can transfer a registration between any vehicle that is subject to, or will be subject to at some stage, an MOT or GVT test. This means you cannot, for example, transfer a registration number to a tractor.
The exception is vehicles with a Q registration. Technically, Q registrations are used when the DVLA cannot absolutely verify the age or identity of the vehicle. They are typically issued to kit cars and cars that are rebuilt. You can’t transfer a registration to (or from) a car with a Q registration.
Both vehicles involved in the process (the vehicle that currently has the registration and the one you are transferring it to) must be registered with the DVLA. Although this rarely happens, they should also be available for inspection in case the DVLA requests this.
The other main general rule is you can’t make the car you are transferring the registration to appear younger than it is. This is determined by the age identifier on your registration number. For example, the registration BD51 SMR indicates the vehicle was first registered between September 2001 and February 2002. You could not, therefore, transfer a registration number such as BD05 SMR – that registration number is for vehicles registered between March 2005 and August 2005.
Other rules regarding the registration transfer process that you have to be aware of are concerned with road tax. To start with, the DVLA will not transfer a registration number to a vehicle that is not taxed. Usually, this means the vehicle receiving the registration number must be taxed, although you can still apply for the transfer and include an application for road tax at the same time.
The vehicle that currently has the registration number could have a SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) instead of road tax, however, the SORN must be less than 12 months old (i.e. you can’t transfer a registration number from a vehicle that has had two or more SORNs in a row), and the vehicle must not have any breaks in its road tax record, i.e. a period of time when it had neither road tax nor a SORN.
If your SORN doesn’t meet any of these conditions, you will have to get road tax for the vehicle before you can transfer the registration.
Vehicle to Vehicle Registration Transfer Process
You can complete the registration transfer online or by post, although online is by far the easiest option. It is a two stage process. The first involves removing the registration number from your current vehicle and the second step involves assigning the registration number to the new vehicle.
To complete a registration transfer by post you will need a V317 form from the DVLA. You can download this online or pick it up from your local Post Office, provided they are a Post Office that deals with road tax. Filling out the form is fairly straightforward:
- Section two is for details of the vehicle the registration number is being transferred from.
- Section three is for details of the vehicle the registration number is being transferred to. You will also need to include details of the owner of the vehicle the registration number is being transferred to in this section.
As well as the form, you will need the vehicle registration certificate and a copy of the insurance for both vehicles involved in the transfer, i.e. the vehicle that currently has the registration number, and the vehicle the registration number is being transferred to.
How Does the Process Work?
The DVLA will process your application and will assign a new registration number to the vehicle your registration number is being transferred from. This is usually a registration number based on the age of the vehicle.
The existing registration number of the car that you are transferring your registration number to is, in effect, cancelled. The registration number you own now applies to this vehicle. This means you will then receive a V948 authorisation which you can use to get new number plates made. You will also receive a new vehicle registration certificate.
Retaining a Registration Number
This process involves getting a retention certificate for your registration number. It lasts for 10 years and costs £80. As with the vehicle to vehicle transfer process, the easiest way to do this is online. You will need the vehicle registration certificate for the vehicle you are transferring the registration number away from. Use this form to complete the details in the online process.
Once complete, you will get an email confirmation. This email will also give you the new registration number for the vehicle. Shortly after this you will receive (by post) a vehicle registration certificate for the vehicle with the new registration number. You will also get the retention certificate for your registration number.
Transferring from a Retention Certificate to a Vehicle
As before, the online process is the easiest to go through if you want to transfer a registration number currently covered by a retention certificate onto a vehicle. You can do it here.
You can also do it by post. You will need your retention certificate and the vehicle registration certificate of the vehicle you are transferring the registration to.
For both the online and postal methods, you will receive a new vehicle registration certificate in the post.
The current cost for transferring a vehicle registration is £80 and it can take 5-10 days to complete. However, the introduction of the online system has made the process much smoother than it used to be.
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