Number Plate History - What’s the history of Registration Plates?

What’s the history of Number Plates ? 

The first cars to hit the British roads back in the 1890s, weren’t required to have number plates attached to them as the car registration system hadn’t even been invented until some 13 years later. With the adoption of powered transportation becoming more and more popular, a method was needed to identify individual road users.


Old UK Number Plates Explained


Dateless Plates (1903 – 1963) -

The very 1st of the UK's number plate history began at the end of the Victorian era in 1903. The Motor Car Act was introduced and it became law the following year. As a result, it became mandatory for every car to display a number plate. Initially, UK number plates from the early years were a simple combination of letters and numbers that were non-date specific.

Some of these are highly sought after today with some straightforward registration marks like 1 EW and SA 9 selling for thousands of pounds. These ‘dateless’ style plates remained in production until 1963.


Certain letters like I, Q, and Z were excluded from the serial letter series. The use of I and Z was confined to Ireland, while Q was reserved for temporary imports. Moreover, single-letter codes were omitted to avoid duplication of existing two-letter codes. Although this scheme was later adopted by the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the latter still uses it.


The advent of this new system posed challenges for authorities, especially in a pre-technology era. Tasks like registering a new vehicle or conducting a car number-plate check were labour-intensive and managed locally at the council level. Number plate history shows that this created an administrative nightmare which gave rise to the idea of a centralised service, and in 1974 the DVLA was born, marking a pivotal moment in number plate history.




Suffix Plates (1963 – 1983)

As car and vehicle ownership was on the rise, the initial system for registration plates inevitably ran out as the available combinations of numbers and letters were quickly exhausted due to the increasing number of vehicles. To accommodate this demand, the production of "Suffix style" number plates commenced in 1963 and continued for the next two decades, concluding in 1983.


Suffix plates featured an additional letter at the end of each set of characters to signify a year. 

Age Identifier

Date Registered


February 1st 1963 to December 31st 1963


January 1st 1964 to December 31st 1964


January 1st 1965 to December 31st 1965


January 1st 1966 to December 31st 1966


January 1st 1967 to July 31st 1967


August 1st 1967 to July 31st 1968


August 1st 1968 to July 31st 1969


August 1st 1969 to July 31st 1970


August 1st 1970 to July 31st 1971


August 1st 1971 to July 31st 1972


August 1st 1972 to July 31st 1973


August 1st 1973 to July 31st 1974


August 1st 1974 to July 31st 1975


August 1st 1975 to July 31st 1976


August 1st 1976 to July 31st 1977


August 1st 1977 to July 31st 1978


August 1st 1978 to July 31st 1979


August 1st 1979 to July 31st 1980


August 1st 1980 to July 31st 1981


August 1st 1981 to July 31st 1982


August 1st 1982 to July 31st 1983

To avoid any confusion, the letters I, O, Q, U and Z have never been issued as year identifiers: I because of its similarity to the numeral 1; O and Q because of similarity to a zero; U because of similarity to the letter V; and Z because of similarity to the numeral 2.


Prefix Plates

In the early 1980s, the introduction of the "Prefix system" revolutionised the format of number plates. Beginning in 1983, this format saw the letter used to identify the year on suffix plate moved from the end of the plate to the beginning, creating what is known as the prefix style plate. These plates were structured with a letter followed by up to three numbers and three letters,

Age Identifier

Date Registered


August 1st 1983 to July 31st 1984


August 1st 1984 to July 31st 1985


August 1st 1985 to July 31st 1986


August 1st 1986 to July 31st 1987


August 1st 1987 to July 31st 1988


August 1st 1988 to July 31st 1989


August 1st 1989 to July 31st 1990


August 1st 1990 to July 31st 1991


August 1st 1991 to July 31st 1992


August 1st 1992 to July 31st 1993


August 1st 1993 to July 31st 1994


August 1st 1994 to July 31st 1995


August 1st 1995 to July 31st 1996


August 1st 1996 to July 31st 1997


August 1st 1997 to July 31st 1998


August 1st 1998 to February 28th 1999


March 1st 1999 to August 31st 1999


September 1st 1999 to February 29th 2000


March 1st 2000 to August 31st 2000


September 1st 2000 to February 28th 2001


March 1st 2001 to August 31st 2001

Additionally, the final two letters of the prefix plates served to indicate the area of registration. This style of number plate remained in use until 2001.



Current Style Plates

In the early years of the new millennium, significant efforts were made to overhaul the number plate system, aiming to enhance the clarity and functionality of vehicle registrations. Authorities decided to reformat the plates, shifting the area code to the beginning, followed by a date identifier and three randomly selected letters.

As well as making number plates easier to read it opened up a huge number of possibilities for creating new registrations. This adjustment not only improved readability but also unleashed a plethora of possibilities for crafting new registrations.


Year Reg’d              March 1st to August 31st                       September 1st to February 28/29th

2001/02                                        Y                                                                51

2002/03                                        02                                                             52

2003/04                                        03                                                             53

2004/05                                        04                                                             54

2005/06                                        05                                                             55

2006/07                                        06                                                             56      

2007/08                                        07                                                             57

2008/09                                        08                                                             58

2009/10                                        09                                                             59

2010/11                                        10                                                             60

2011/12                                        11                                                             61

2012/13                                        12                                                             62

2013/14                                        13                                                             63

2014/15                                        14                                                             64

2015/16                                        15                                                             65

2016/17                                        16                                                             66

2017/18                                        17                                                             67

2018/19                                        18                                                             68

2019/20                                        19                                                             69

2020/21                                        20                                                             70

2021/22                                        21                                                             71

2022/23                                        22                                                             72

2023/24                                        23                                                             73

2024/25                                        24                                                             74

2025/26                                        25                                                             75

2026/27                                        26                                                             76

2027/28                                        27                                                             77

2028/29                                        28                                                             78

2029/30                                        29                                                             79

2030/31                                        30                                                             80

2031/32                                        31                                                             81

2032/33                                        32                                                             82

2033/34                                        33                                                             83

2034/35                                        34                                                             84

2035/36                                        35                                                             85

2036/37                                        36                                                             86

2037/38                                        37                                                             87

2038/39                                        38                                                             88      

2039/40                                        39                                                             89

2040/41                                        40                                                             90

2041/42                                        41                                                             91

2042/43                                        42                                                             92

2043/44                                        43                                                             93

2044/45                                        44                                                             94

2045/46                                        45                                                             95

2046/47                                        46                                                             96

2047/48                                        47                                                             97

2048/49                                        48                                                             98

2049/50                                        49                                                             99

2050/51                                        50                                                             00

2051 onwards ??????????                              


This new format has been meticulously crafted to accommodate millions of number plate combinations, ensuring this system lasts a lot longer than previous styles and with over 36 million British road users, estimates and projections suggest that this plate style should remain in use until approximately 2050, at which point, this style too, will also become a part of the UK's number plate history.



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