9am-6pm Mon-Sat03339875088
24hr Text/Calls 9am-6pm 07961794577
Skip navigation

Car Registrations ExplainedCar Registrations Explained

A look into number plate years and formats

The UK car registration system traces back to 1903. The Motor Car act which came into force on January 1st, 1904 required all vehicles in the United Kingdom to be registered and carry number plates. The Act was passed in order that vehicles could be easily traced in the event of an accident or contravention of the law. The Act stated that all motor vehicles used on the roads after 1 January 1904 had to be registered with the appropriate local council or county borough. Each authority was allocated a set of letters to use for their area, for example London was given A, Lancashire B etc. When single letters ran out, two were used – AA for Hampshire, AB for Worcestershire and so on. Each set of letters was followed by a series of numbers. It is believed that the first registration mark issued was DY1 - in Hastings, Kent on 23 November 1903. The registration mark A1 was issued in London some time later in December 1903 and subsequently acquired by council member, Earl Russell, for his Napier car.

By 1932, the available codes were running out, and an extended scheme was introduced. Three letters then three numbers were used this time, for instance ABC 123. The second two letters (in this example, BC) showed which authority had issued the plates but by august 1962, an attempt was made to create a national scheme to alleviate the problem of registrations running out once again. This used the scheme introduced in 1932, of a three-letter combination followed by a sequence number from 1 to 999, but also added a letter suffix, which initially changed on 1 January each year. An "A" suffix was thus used for 1963, "B" for 1964, etc.

In 1983, the year suffixes ran out and the system was reversed, so the year identifier was the first letter on the number plate. In March 1999, the system of changing the year identifier was moved to a twice a yearly change, to prevent the annual rush to buy new vehicles in August. The series ran out of letters in September 2001 which is when the current system was introduced using a new system of year numbers.


The different systems explained…

Suffix system

A completely new system was needed by 1963, which came in the form of the ‘year’ letter suffix (ABC 123A). This is the format of registration used on vehicles first registered between 1963 and 1983.

Suffix Registration Format 1963 - 1983

The second two letters, in the above example BC, are the 'area identifier' and indicate where the vehicle was first registered.

The last letter, in the above example A, is the 'age identifier' or 'year letter' and shows the date when the vehicle was first registered - in this case during 1963. The first letter and numbers, in the above example A__ 123 are the individual element which give the vehicle it's unique identity.

Old Suffix Letter Year Identifiers

Prefix system

This is the registration system below (A123 BCD) which came in the form of the ‘year’ letter prefix used prior to the current one and most of the vehicles on Britain's roads today display a plate of this type. This is the format of registration used on vehicles first registered between 1983 and 2001.

Prefix Registration Format 1983 - 2001

The first letter, in the above example A, is the 'age identifier' or 'year letter' and shows the date when the vehicle was first registered - in this case between 1 August 1983 and 31 July 1984.

The last two letters, in the above example CD, are the 'area identifier' and indicate where the vehicle was first registered. Area identifiers for newer vehicles are different to those used with this system. The numbers and second letter, in the above example 123 B, are the individual element which give the vehicle it's unique identity.

Old Prefix Letter Year Identifiers

Current / Infix system

This is the current/infix vehicle registration system used in the UK, used on vehicles first registered from 1 September 2001. Each registration index consists of seven characters with a defined format.

Infix Registration Format from 2001

The first two letters, in the above example BJ, are the 'area identifier' and indicate where the vehicle was registered - the first letter "B" represents the general area and the second letter "J" represents the town or city in this area where the vehicle was registered (not where the owner lives or the vehicle may reside!). The area identifiers used with the current system are different to those used prior to 2001.

The two numbers, in the above example 57, are the 'age identifier' and indicate when the vehicle was first registered - in this case between 1 September 2007 and 28 February 2008. Note: In March 1999, the system of changing the year identifier was moved to a twice a yearly change and the three letters, in the above example TWM, are the individual element (Random letters) which give the vehicle it's unique identity.

Current Letter Year Identifiers

Dateless Number Plates

Dateless style number plates were the first number plates issued. These plates were common between 1903 and 1963. They are called dateless number plates today because they do not indicate the year the number plate was issued. These number plates contain a set of numbers or letters, followed by a space, followed by a set of numbers or letters. Because there is no year identifier, these number plates are very popular today as they can be displayed on any type of vehicle of any age. Irish number plates are described as dateless number plates. 

One or two letters followed by one to four numbers or reverse:

Dateless Plates

These plates are normally seen on newer vehicles as cherished or personalised numbers. The one or two letters, in the above example AB, make up the 'area identifier' and indicate where the vehicle was first registered. However, some still exist and were originally issued to vehicles first registered between 1903 and the mid 1930's. When the three letter plate combinations ran out, the reverse (where the one or two letters follow the numbers) were issued in the 1950's / 60's. If the plate is reversed, e.g. 1234AB, the two letters (AB) are still the area identifier.

Three letter plates before 1963:

Dateless Plates

Three letters, one to three numbers or reverse on cars first registered before 1963, in the above example look like this. The plates usually carry the three letters before the numbers between 1 and 999, but some are reversed with the numbers preceding the letters. If the plate is reversed, e.g. 123ABC, the second two letters (BC) are still the area identifier. 

NOTE: Dateless registrations from 1903 – 1963 can be used on any type of year.

Letter & Number Combinations

There are many personalised number plates out there and at times you might find it difficult to understand what they mean or say. Below is a list of numbers, so you may know which numbers represent which letters of the alphabet.

0 = O or D
1 = I or L
2 = R or 2
3 = E or B
4 = A
5 = S
6 = G, B or C
7 = T or Y
8 = B or A
9 = G
11 = H, N or U
12 = R
13 = B

A few more
substitute letters:

1V = N
D = O
VV = W
V = U

That's the 0 - 13 list of what numbers and letters you could use for a personalised number plate. By using the combinations above, visit our online search for any available registrations that might suit you. If your search does not return back the results that you are looking for, then please visit our Find my Number Plate page.

If you require any further assistance regarding personalised number plates, please contact us on 03339875088

DVLA is a registered trade mark of the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency.PrivateRegs4u.co.uk is not affiliated to the DVLA or DVLA Personalised Registrations. PrivateRegs4u.co.uk is a recognised reseller of DVLA registrations.