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Number Plate Formats Explained

 

There are several established formats for number plates. Here we explain each of them and what information they communicate about the vehicle they're on.

Dateless Registrations Explained

When registrations were introduced in 1903, and before the suffix format came into effect in 1963, they had no discernable year identifying letters or digits on them. With a registration like this it's impossible to tell (without insider knowledge) how old the vehicle displaying it is.

Prefix registrations are so called because their initial (prefix) letter identifies the age of a vehicle, suffix registrations because their trailing (suffix) letter identifies the age of the vehicle and the New style reg can identify a vehicle age from the two digit number they contain. All of these styles of registration follow the rule that they cannot be assigned to vehicles that were manufactured before their date of issue.

But because dateless registrations have no way to identify their age (hence their name), these registrations can be assigned and displayed on vehicles of any age. Because these format registrations date back to pre-1963, they're considered the cream of the crop in the number plate world. They're often very difficult to come by, simply because vehicles they were originally on will have long since been scrapped.

They do, however, come with a history attached to them and you can be sure that the reg you're buying will be one of only a small number of similar reg still on the roads.

Dateless reg come in various configurations, either with 1, 2, 3 or 4 digits followed by 1, 2 or 3 letters, or the reverse with 1, 2 or 3 letters followed by 1, 2, 3 or 4 digits. The letters in the registration would originally have been able to identify the area of the country in which the registration was issued.

We presently have 63,897 dateless registrations on our database.

Example Dateless Reg

Suffix Registrations Explained

Suffix registrations are those which follow the format of three letters, a number which can be 1, 2 or 3 digits in length, and finally a single year identifying letter.

Search suffix registrations - just pick three letters, a number and one suffix letter.

Example
FVL 144M

The first three characters would originally have been able to identify the area of the country in which the registration was issued. In our example FVL indicates that this registration would have been released in Lincoln.

The number is simply a way of uniquely identifying one registration from the possible 999 alternatives with the same prefix and suffix combinations that could be out there.

The final letter (or suffix hence the name of this style of registration), would originally have been used to determine the age of the vehicle it was being displayed on. You can see a full table of release years below, but for our example, F would suggest 1967.

SUFFIX YEAR OF RELEASE
A 1963
B 1964
C 1965
D 1966
E 1967
F 1967
G 1968
H 1969
J 1970
K 1971
L 1972
M 1973
N 1974
P 1975
R 1976
S 1977
T 1978
V 1979
W 1980
X 1981
Y 1982

Missing Letters

Have you spotted that the I, O, Q, U and Z are not included amongst the suffix letters? The 'I' and 'Z' were reserved for Northern Ireland registrations. 'Q' is always reserved to register vehicles whose date of manufacture is unknown - a 'Q' mark is non-transferable. 'O' and 'U' are not used as they are too easily confused with 'Q' and 'V'.


As these registrations have an age identifier (the suffix), you can only assign them to vehicles of the same age as the registration or younger. As with all registrations that carry a year identifier you can make your vehicle look as old as you want, but not one day newer.

So, for example, the above registration - FVL 144M - could be assigned to any vehicle first manufactured after 01/08/1973, but you'd be unable to put it on a vehicle that was manufactured before that date as you would be giving the impression that the vehicle was more modern than it is.

We presently have 66,300 suffix registrations on our database.

Example Suffix Reg

Prefix Registrations Explained

Prefix registrations are those which follow the format of a single year identifying letter, then a number (which can be 1, 2 or 3 digits in length), and then finally three more letters.

Search prefix registrations - pick a prefix letter, a number and three more letters.

Example
K50 WTB

The prefix character is to describe the age of the vehicle as explained in the table of years of release below. In this example K would be from 1992.

The number is simply a way of uniquely identifying one registration from the possible 999 alternatives with the same prefix and suffix combinations that could be out there.

The last three characters would originally have been able to identify the area of the country in which the registration was issued. In the above example the WTB indicates that this registration would have been released in Liverpool.

PREFIX YEAR OF RELEASE
A 1983
B 1984
C 1985
D 1986
E 1987
F 1988
G 1989
H 1990
J 1991
K 1992
L 1993
M 1994
N 1995
P 1996
R 1997
S 1998
T 1999
V 1999
W 2000
X 2000
Y 2001

Missing Letters

Have you spotted that the I, O, Q, U and Z are not included amongst the prefix letters? The 'I' and 'Z' were reserved for Northern Ireland registrations. 'Q' is always reserved to register vehicles whose date of manufacture is unknown - a 'Q' mark is non-transferable. 'O' and 'U' are not used as they are too easily confused with 'Q' and 'V'.


As these registrations have an age identifier (the prefix), you can only assign them to vehicles of the same age as the registration or younger. As with all registrations that carry a year identifier you can make your vehicle look as old as you want, but not one day newer. So, for example, the above registration - K50 WTB - could be assigned to any vehicle first manufactured after 01/08/1992, but you'd be unable to put it on a vehicle that was manufactured before that date as you would be giving the impression that the vehicle was newer than it is.

We presently have 7,791,726 unique prefix registrations on our database which you can search through.

Example Prefix Reg

New Style Registrations Explained

These registrations are those which you will currently find on newly registered vehicles. They follow the format of a two letter prefix, followed by a two digit year identifier and finally three more letters.

Search New Style registrations - pick two letters, a number and three more letters.

The New Style reg became the current standard for vehicles from the second half of 2001 - and replaced the exhausted prefix format. For the first time in UK mainland registrations the letter Z was allowed as a character in the last three letters - but not in the prefix.

Example
SK64 MPK

The two prefix letters of this registration would originally have been used to identify the area of the country in which the registration was issued. In this example, SK indicates a Scottish release, most likely from the Edinburgh DVLA Vehicle Registration Office.

The two digit number in the registration would originally have been used to to determine the age of the vehicle it was being displayed on - as shown in the below table. In our example, 64 means a year of release for this number plate of 2014 (specifically the second half).

The final three letters are random characters.

YEAR 1st HALF 2nd HALF
2001   51
2002 02 52
2003 03 53
2004 04 54
2005 05 55
2006 06 56
2007 07 57
2008 08 58
2009 09 59
2010 10 60
2011 11 61
2012 12 62
2013 13 63
2014 14 64
2015 15 65
2016 16 66
2017 17 67
2018 18 68
2019 19 69
2020 20 70
2021 21 71
2022 22 72
2023 23 73
2024 24 74
2025 25 75
2026 26 76
2027 27 77
2028 28 78
2029 29 79
2030 30 80
2031 31 81
2032 32 82
2033 33 83
2034 34 84
2035 35 85
2036 36 86
2037 37 87
2038 38 88
2039 39 89
2040 40 90
2041 41 91
2042 42 92
2043 43 93
2044 44 94
2045 45 95
2046 46 96
2047 47 97
2048 48 98
2049 49 99

As these registrations have an age identifier (the two digits), you can only assign them to vehicles of the same age as the registration or younger. As with all registrations that carry a year identifier you can make your vehicle look as old as you want, but not one day newer.

We presently have 51,964,261 of these style registrations on our database for you to search.

Example New Style Reg

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