There are several 'types' of UK registrations and these all follow set formats. Here's our guide to identifying them.
Number plates were introduced to UK vehicles back in 1903. The distinguishing feature of these original marks is that they have no year identifier on them, meaning it's impossible to tell (just by looking) when they were first issued - hence them gaining the moniker 'dateless'.
These registrations carry a history with them, some now having been on vehicles for over 100 years, and their rarity usually makes for a higher asking price. That extra expense though does get you something that looks very unique on todays roads.
The format is very simple to follow - between 1 and 3 letters followed by between 1 to 4 digits. This was then reversed in 1932 to be between 1 and 4 digits, followed by between 1 and 3 letters.
As today, certain letter combinations were never made available for various reasons (not wanting to cause offence to certain people, reserved for special use and the like), and the letters I, Q and Z were not permitted.
Northern Ireland adopted the same kind of 'dateless' system as the mainland, with no way (just by looking) of identifying when the reg were first issued, but to distinguish vehicles registered there, Irish reg always contain the letter I or Z in their letter combinations.
This format continues to this day, and as Northern Irish reg are perfectly valid on vehicles registered in England, Scotland and Wales, Irish reg are a great way to get a dateless plate onto your vehicle at a fraction of the price of a non-Irish dateless plate.
These registrations are remarkable value and are amongst some of the cheapest available.
With the number of vehicles on the roads rapidly expanding, it was decided to phase out dateless registrations in favour of a format that would reveal a little more information about the vehicle. Enter the suffix plate, so called because the last letter (the suffix) would identify the age of the vehicle.
The format in full is made up of three letters (again, the letters I, Q and Z are not permitted), between 1 and 3 digits, and the suffix letter on the end. The chart below shows the year of issue that each suffix letter relates to.
Certain letters were not used for the suffix - I and Z were restricted for Irish use only, Q was retained for 'special case' vehicles (those where the age of the vehicle could not be accurately determined e.g kit cars), and the letters O and U were deemed to look too similar to other characters (such as the number 0, letter V etc.) so to avoid confusion were not used.
When the suffix combinations ran out, the format was mirrored, putting the year identifying letter at the front of the reg, and making these 'prefix' plates. The year identifying prefix letter, between 1 and 3 digits and three letters on the end (the letters I, Q and Z still not permitted).
The chart below shows the year of issue that each prefix letter relates to.
As with the suffix reg, certain letters were not used for the prefix - I and Z were restricted for Irish use only, Q was retained for 'special case' vehicles (those where the age of the vehicle could not be accurately determined e.g kit cars), and the letters O and U were deemed to look too similar to other characters (such as the number 0, letter V etc.) so to avoid confusion were not used.
When the prefix combinations ran out, an entirely new format was produced. Sometimes called 'millennium' reg (because they began at the turn of the new millennium), these reg contained more characters than previous reg, and used a number as the year identifier rather than letters.
The format is as follows - two letters (excluding I, Q and Z), a two digit number that identifies the age of the vehicle, and three further letters. For the first time, the letter Z was permitted on non-Irish reg in these last three letters, opening up lots of combinations like BAZ and GAZ.
There are now also two number plate releases every year, rather than just an annual event. This means two sets of numbers relate to the same year, one the first half, one the second half.
The chart below shows the year of issue that each number series relates to.
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