Vehicle registrations in the UK go back as far as 1903. They were introduced and issued as a means of identifying individual vehicles driving on public roads. All UK vehicles are legally obliged to display a registration with the exception of monarchical vehicles being used in an official capacity. There are four different styles of UK registration plates, one style issued immediately after the other as a result of the previous style's possible combinations all being exhausted. We will take you through each style in chronological order below as well as introducing you to Irish registrations.
DATELESS REGISTRATIONS - (1903 - 1963)
Issued from 1903, dateless registrations were the first style introduced in the United Kingdom. They originally displayed a one or two letter code followed by a numeric sequence from 1-9999 (examples: A 1, AB 12, A 123, AB 1234). Different areas of the UK were allocated specific codes on a first come first served basis for their respective licensing authority to issue. By 1932 the possible combinations were running out and an extension to the system was developed. By placing a "serial" letter (omitting I & Z restricted to Ireland and Q restricted to temporary imported vehicles) before the letter code and in turn displaying only numbers 1-999 making a maximum of six characters on the registration, it was possible to issue another unique set of UK registrations for years to come (examples: AAA 1, AAB 12, ABC 123). Inevitably this addition would run out and by the 1950's the easiest solution was to simply reverse the display so the numbers were displayed before the letters (examples: 1 AAA, 12 AAB, 123 ABC). With more vehicles registered on the roads every day, reversing the display was never going to last long and by 1962 there was no option but to consider a new format.
Dateless registrations have no specific date identifier and as such they tend to hold a higher value than other styles. Generally the fewer digits there are the more the registration is worth however, this is open to interpretation depending on specific letter and number combinations. Dateless plates not only remove all date identifiers from a vehicle, they arguably add more prestige to a vehicle than any other style available.
SUFFIX REGISTRATIONS - (1963 - 1982)
Suffix registrations can be identified easily by their format. Three letters, 1-3 numbers then one "suffix" letter. This system is very similar to the dateless serial letter extension system with three letters and 1-999 numerical code. The only difference was a suffix letter added after the numerical code to identify the age of the vehicle (example: AAA 1A, AAB 12A, ABC 123A). The suffix letter system began with the letter "A" in February 1963 and was changed alphabetically (omitting I, O, Q, U, Z) on an annual basis meaning a whole new set of number plate combinations could be issued in the UK for years to come.
Suffix registrations are not as old as dateless registrations but still have an age and element of prestige to them. They have a date identifier but the majority of vehicles registered after 1982 can have a suffix registration assigned. As a result some of them can be just as valuable than many dateless registrations. Suffix number plates that closely resemble names or words can be worth a lot of money and can be a great investment.
PREFIX REGISTRATIONS - (1983 - 2001)
The suffix style had reached "Y" by 1982 and the prefix style was introduced to take it's place. Prefix registrations were first issued in 1983 by reversing the suffix system. They display a "prefix" letter to begin with then a 1-999 numerical code and three letters at the end (examples: A1 AAA, A12 AAB, A123 ABC). The prefix system started with the letter "A" and just like the suffix system it was changed annually (omitting I, O, Q, U, Z). The prefix system only really offered a temporary solution to the continuation of issuing vehicle registrations in the UK. By the time the late 1990's came along the quantity of new vehicles being registered on the roads was increasing greatly and the prefix letter began changing every six months to keep up with demand. The last "Y" prefix registration was issued in March 2001 and again a new system was developed to take it's place.
Prefix registrations are our best sellers! They are old enough that they can be assigned to approximately 90% of the vehicles registered on UK roads today. Just like suffix plates, prefix registrations may represent names or words very closely and as a result some can hold high values.
We love prefix registrations at Grand Plates and with good reason. They look great, you can't tell what age a modern vehicle is when using one, they are generally more affordable than any of their predecessors and there are still many excellent name or word related options available to purchase immediately today.
CURRENT STYLE REGISTRATIONS - (2001 - 2051)
As the name suggests, this is the system currently in use when new vehicles are registered in the UK. All current style registrations contain 7 characters starting with a two letter area code (omitting I, Q and Z), a two number age identifier followed by a random three letter sequence (omitting I and Q). The area code indicates the local registration office. All local offices have been closed since 2013 however, the codes are still issued representative of their region. The two number age identifier is displayed immediately after the area code. The age identifiers began with the number 51 on September 1st 2001 and are changed in March and September each year. The age identifier 02 was used in March 2002, 52 in September 2002, 03 in March 2003 and so on. All current style registrations legally have a space inserted after the age identifier and the random three letter sequence is displayed immediately after (examples: AB51 ABC, AB02 ABC). There should be enough possible combinations for the current style system to run until the 28th February 2051.
Current style registrations are all quite new, they all have age/date identifiers on them and they are all 7 digits yet some of them can represent names and words almost perfectly. Those that do can be worth a lot of money. There are combinations available with the current style display that have never been possible to make with suffix or prefix styles and those can be very good investments. There are still loads of current style registrations available to buy immediately and trying to create them is actually quite fun.
NORTHERN IRISH REGISTRATIONS
Northern Irish (NI) registrations originally featured a two letter county and city code (all featuring the letter I or Z) followed by a 1-9999 numerical code (examples: AZ 1, AI 12, AZ 123, AI 1234). Just like UK dateless registrations the initial system would always be exhausted of combinations and in 1957 it was reversed to display the numerical code before the county and city code. More registrations were required by 1966 and the addition of a serial letter before the county and city code allowed the system to continue (examples: AAZ 1, AAZ 12, AAZ 123, AAZ 1234).
VARIOUS COMMON TERMS FOR REGISTRATION MARKS
A "Registration Mark" is officially the correct term however, across the UK they can be known as any of the following:
registration plate, number plate, private plate, DVLA number plate, cherished plate, private reg, car reg, reg plate, private number plate, cherished number plate, DVLA reg, car number plate, vehicle reg, vanity plate, cherished registration plate, private registration, DVLA registration, private reg plate, private car reg, personal reg, personal car reg, personal registration, personal number plate, personal registration plate, cherished reg, new reg, car reg, cherished reg plate, cherished reg mark, vehicle registration mark, private reg mark, private number mark, cherished registration mark
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