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About Number Plates - National Numbers

Here at National Numbers, we've been in the number plates business for a long time - in fact, we've been buying and selling registrations for more than 30 years.

We aim to provide our customers with user-friendly searches to make it easier for you to find the plate of your choice. Browse our site and you'll find a vast resource for cheap, dateless and Northern Ireland number plates.

Finding the right plate for you

Just use our number plate search facility, where you can search for initials, names or anything else! You'll be able to have fun experimenting with ideas, names and phrases until you find the combination that you're looking for.

Better still, because of our experience and vast database, why don't you give our friendly sales staff a call to discuss - even if your choice isn't on the website, they can sometimes get the mark released into a DVLA auction for you to bid on. You might like to learn more about how the present system of number plates evolved. If so, read on.

A Short History

In 1903, the Motor Car Act was passed which required all motor vehicles to be registered by the appropriate local authority from January 1st 1904. However, some authorities began registration as early as late 1903.

Each local authority was allocated registrations with one, two or three letters. London, as the largest registration area, was allocated 'A'. 'B' was given to Lancashire as the next largest and so on. Glasgow was given 'G', Edinburgh 'S' and Lanarkshire 'V', these three letters being reserved specifically for Scottish plates. 'I' and 'Z' were reserved for Ireland, being allocated alphabetically, for example, 'IA' to County Antrim etc.

It is widely known that the first registration issued in London was A 1 and, to secure this for his Napier, Earl Russell queued all night outside the officesfor the right to display A 1.

Obviously as more and more vehicles came onto the roads, authorities would run out of their original allocation or new boroughs would be created and require their own registration codes. In 1905, London was given LC as the first registration area to use up its original 'L' allocation.

In the early days, the registration system was not as tightly regulated as it is today. For example, if a vehicle keeper moved to another registering borough, the vehicle was often re-registered.

By 1932, the two-letter code system was bursting at the seams and a third letter had to be added, followed by up to three numbers. so this is where the first, potentially offensive words had to be withheld eg. GOD and SEX. The rapid increase in car ownership after the war was catered for by the obvious step of reversing letters and numbers.

It is interesting that more motorcycles were registered in the 1930's than any other vehicle type. This influenced some authorities to use both their series of three letter combinations at once to avoid having the problem of fitting four-digit number plates onto small, rear motorcycle plates.

It seems that people's sensitivities about what was displayed on vehicles were much tenderer back then - or perhaps so the "powers that be" thought. For example BF ("bloody fool") was not initially issued but, as the system came under pressure, this combination was released with a preceding letter. However, ABF ("a bloody fool") and UBF were not allowed to be displayed neither was 'WC' allowed at first although 'LOO' got past with no problem!

Number plates in more modern times

Again, to respond to an ever-increasing number of vehicles on the roads, a year letter was introduced in 1963 eg. BDC 167A, where 'A' is the so-called suffix letter.

Another major change happened in 1974, when the hitherto manual system operated by local authorities changed to (yes, you've guessed it) a computerised system. The DVLC (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre) at Swansea was formed along with a network of local Vehicle Licensing Offices. In December 2013, this network was closed, with everything being handled by Swansea. This first move towards centralisation signals a gradual transfer to providing motoring facilities online. Familiar paperwork like tax discs, certificates and even V5/C's will eventually disappear.

In 1983, the suffix system had come to an end with the 'Y' registration. Consultation decreed that the year letter should now take the form of a prefix eg. A167 BDC where "A" at the front of the plate indicates the year of manufacture.

At this point, some far-sighted person decided there was no fair way to allocate the numbers 1-20 so these numbers were withheld followed by more attractive numbers during the later releases, such as 30, 50 etc. 33, 44 etc. 100, 200 etc and 111, 222 etc.

Congratulations if you have read this far. You are now ready to explore the vast range of number plates on our site, whether it be a dateless mark (ie. without a year-letter at all), suffix number plates (year letter at the end), a prefix mark (year letter at the front) or a new-style registration (two letters at the front indicating the issuing local office followed by the year identifier followed by three random letters).

You can read more about number plate formats here.

A Few Anecdotes

Did you ever play that game where you made a note of every number plate that passed your gate? We at National Numbers still engage in the game while driving down the motorway. We spot a plate that looks familiar, especially on coaches. Over the years, we have supplied whole fleets with series of registrations. The type of mark we mainly used were from Northern Ireland as we were able to allocate a certain letter combination with a numerical series, for example OUI 4562, 4563 etc.

We once transferred a whole series of NI registration numbers to a fleet of hearses - we gently suggested that the "FIL" marks they chose were perhaps not advisable in deference to the possible demise of a "Phillip" in the future! The Chief Exec. thankfully chose a much more anonymous series eventually.

The above incident reminds one that, in order to transfer each number, a funeral director had to undertake voluntary MOT's. You see, hearses are MOT exempt (although subject to very strenuous alternative testing) but to be able to take part in a cherished transfer, the donor and recipient vehicles must be subject to MOT testing at some time in their life. At this point, you may be interested in learning something about the list of regulations put in place by DVLA with reference to the transfer of a registration number from one vehicle to another or onto a retention certificate (V778).

Cherished Transfer and Retention Scheme

  1. The donor (ie the vehicle giving up the number plate) vehicle must exist and be available for inspection if randomly selected.
  2. The vehicle must be registered at DVLA on a computerised V5/C (registration certificate). The record was effectively closed many years ago - this was a deadline by which vehicle keepers had to register their plate on the Swansea computer. Any old cardboard log books were not acceptable after this date. However, if a keeper could provide sufficient evidence of the age of manufacture (say, from a vintage car club) then the original number could be allocated on a non transferable basis. Thus helping to stamp out fraudulent applications since the financial incentive of the subsequent sale of the number plate was removed.
  3. DVLNI (Driver and Vehicle Licencing Northern Ireland) operate a similar transfer scheme but, at the moment, no retention facility is available. However, under government initiatives to provide more and more facilities online, DVLA and DVLNI records are being combined. For example, registration documents are now all issued by DVLA and are identical. This will pave the way for extending the retention facility to Northern Ireland. It is also going to be possible to end the extremely clumsy procedure involved when assigning a mark purchased as a DVLA Certificate of Entitlement (V750) to a vehicle registered in Northern Ireland.
  4. The vehicle must be currently licensed or be accompanied by a tax application. However, with regard to the donor vehicle (i.e. the vehicle "giving up" the number plate), since 2005 a concession has been introduced whereby the vehicle can still qualify if the last disc has been expired (not refunded) less than 12 months.
  5. The vehicle must be subject to MOT/HGV testing sometime in its life - as discussed earlier with reference to hearses.
  6. Previously, only the registered keeper could apply to either transfer or retain the mark. In another step forward, at the time of retaining a mark, the vehicle keeper can authorise a different grantee to appear at the top of the certificate. At the time of writing, it is not yet possible to change the grantee when the registration mark is already on a V778. This will certainly change in the future. The current DVLA retention fee is £105.

Acrylic plates

As you would expect, as well as changing the record at DVLA, we can supply high quality acrylic plates direct to your door. We are a registered supplier and all our plates conform to legal requirements - very important with increasing ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) camera coverage throughout the country. Our sister company, Jepson and Co Ltd, have been in business even longer than we have, more than 125 years in fact. They are the oldest manufacturer of plates in the world and take a pride in their product.

Go on, have a go, enter your name, initials, birthday in the search box.

By the way, we have a free app (iPhone and Android) to help you in your search. Also, we offer 0% finance on some plates as well as personal loans so don't let funds put you off.

Find out more about:
Private Number Plates
Cherished Number Plates
Number Plates in Our Stock

Number Plates

By Eric Craggs - Google+