A history of personalised number plates

The first registration number of one letter and one number
The first registration number of one letter and one number
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You will see dozens of them every day, without giving them a second thought - so how much do you really know about the plates adorning our nation’s vehicles?  

You have probably noticed vehicles on our roads can have a variety of different styles of number plates.

Aside from current or ‘new style’ plates which show where and when a vehicle was registered, there are also a host of personalised number plates.

These can be custom made or ordered from a large stock of DVLA-approved plates originating from older styles - but what are the differences?

Dateless number plates

The first registration number of one letter and one number – A1 – was issued following the Motor Car Act 1903.

Since then all vehicles on UK roads have had to be registered and display a registration number.

The earliest number plates are known as ‘dateless plates’ because they contain no information which denotes the year of issue.

Initially, they were made up of up to three letters followed by a random number.

This makes them ideal for personalised number plates as the initial letters can be matched with a driver or owner’s initials.

The more common the initials or the shorter the combination, the more in-demand the plate.

In the 1950s, as available plates began to run out, the order was switched so the numbers came first. These reverse dateless plates are slightly less desirable and, therefore, often more affordable.

Suffix number plates

Suffix number plates were introduced in 1963 as councils once again started to run out of registrations.

They introduced a letter at the end of each plate to represent the year in which the vehicle is manufactured.

So, for example, plates produced in 1963 would be AAA 111A.

Their popularity as personalised plates depends on their similarities to popular names or brands. For example, PET 3R would be very popular because it can clearly be read as the name Peter.

Suffix plates remained in use for 20 years. During that time, however, there were two major changes affecting number plates.

From 1973, all newly registered vehicles were required to have reflective-style plates with black letters on a white background at the front and a yellow background at the back.

In 1974, the central DVLC (now the DVLA) system was launched, removing local authorities’ responsibilities for vehicle registration.

Prefix registration plates

From 1983 to March 2001 prefix plates were used in the United Kingdom.

On these plates, the first letter represents the year of manufacture, doubling the lifespan of the number plate system.

They are popular as personalised number plates because they can mimic desirable postcodes or initials. Many of which are just 5 characters, eg C4 REG

They are often one of the most affordable options.

Current style

The latest format of number plates, commonly known as ‘current style’ were introduced in September 2001 and are set to continue until 2099.

Here, the numbers in the middle represent the release date and there are two number digits – the year and if the registration was issued in the first or second part of the year. (Either 1st March to 31st August or 1st September to 28th February)

So, for example, 06 would represent March 2006 onwards and 56 would represent September 2006 onwards, until the following March’s release.

Make your own

For several years now, people wanting to add a personal touch to their vehicle have been able to ‘make their own’ registration plates.

This allows vehicle owners to create a number plate in a format suitable for their vehicle.

Drivers can search for their chosen letters and numbers then choose from a huge range of available number plates which have never been used in the UK before. Start your plate search here today

4 things you need to know when buying a personalised plate

Despite the huge amount of number plates on offer there are a few rules you have to follow when choosing your personalised registration.

You cannot use a personalised registration to make a car seem newer than it is. However, there are no restrictions on using an older number plate or a registration number which is the same age as your vehicle.

Your vehicle must have been continuously taxed or had a valid SORN for the last five years.

Your vehicle must be registered in the UK.

You must not drive your vehicle with the new plates until it has been assigned by the DVLA.

Established in 1988, CarReg is considered a trusted UK car registration dealer of DVLA registrations.

Start your number plate search today at www.carreg.co.uk