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British car number plates

In the United Kingdom, carss and other motor powered road vehicles have had to carry a registration plate since 1904.

The Motor Car Act of 1903, which came into force on January 1, 1904, required all vehicles to be registered with the authorities, and to carry number plates. The act was passed in order that vehicles could be easily traced in the event of an accident or contravention of the law.

car plates are rectangular in shape.

Table of contents
1 Colour
2 Current System
3 History
4 See also


Current plates have black characters on reflective white (for the front plate) or on reflective yellow (for the rear plate).

Older plates had white or silver characters in relief on a black background. This style of plate was phased out in 1972, and is now only legal to be carried on cars registered prior to that date.

Current System

The current system was brought in in 2001. Each registration consists of exactly seven characters. From left to right the characters consist of:

With this scheme, a buyer can tell the year of a car without having to look it up, and the preceding area code letters are usually what is remembered by witnesses - it then quite simple to narrow down suspect vehicles to a much smaller number by checking the authority's database without having to know the full number. This scheme should have sufficient numbers to run until 2050.

Registrations having a combination of characters that are particularly appealing (resembling a name, for example), are auctioned each year.

Vehicles registered under previous numbering systems continue to retain their original registration plates. Subject to certain conditions, registration plates -- some of which can be worth tens of thousands of pounds -- can be transfered between vehicles by the vehicle owner.


Pre 1930

The first series of number plates ran until
1930, using the series A1 - YY9999. The letter or pair of letters indicated the local area where the vehicle was registered, for example A - London, B - Lancashire, C - Yorkshire, etc. The letter codes were allocated arbitrarily according to when the registration office opened in that region.

1930 to 1963

By 1930, the available numbers within this scheme were running out, and an extended scheme was introduced. This scheme consisted of three letters and three numbers, taken from the series AAA1 to YYY999. Note that certain letters - O, I, Q and Z were never used, as they were considered too easy to mistake for other letters or numbers, or were reserved for special use.

The three letter scheme preserved the area letter codes as the second pair of letters in the set of three, and the single letter area codes were deleted (since prefixing a single letter code would create a dupicate of a two-letter code). In some areas, the available numbers with this scheme started to run out in the 1950s, and in those areas, a reversed sequence was introduced, i.e. 1AAA - 999YYY. The ever-increasing popularity of the car can be gauged by noting that these sequences ran out within ten years, and by the beginning of the 1960s, a further change was made in very popular areas, introducing 4-number sequences with two letter area codes, but in the reverse direction to the early scheme - i.e. 1AA - 9999YY.

1960s to 1982

In 1963, numbers were running out once again, and an attempt was made to create a national scheme to alleviate the problem. The three letter, up to three number system was kept, but a letter suffix was added, which changed every year. In this scheme, numbers were drawn from the range AAA1A - YYY999A for the first year, then AAA1B - YYY999B for the second year, and so on. Some areas did not adopt the year letter for the first two years, sticking to their own schemes, but in 1965, adding the year letter was made compulsory.

As well as yielding many more available numbers, it was a handy way for car buyers to immediately know the age of the vehicle. At first the year letter changed on January 1st every year, but car retailers started to notice that car buyers would tend to wait towards the end of the year for the new letter to be issued, so that they could get a "newer" car. This led to major peaks and troughs in sales over the year, and to help flatten this out somewhat, the industry lobbied to get the month of registration changed from January to August. This was done in 1967 - that year had two letter changes - 'E' came in January, and 'F' came in in August. The month remained at August thereafter.

1982 to 2001

By 1982, the year suffixes had reached Y and so from 1983 onwards, the sequence was reversed again, so that the year letter - starting over at 'A' - preceded the numbers then the letters of the registration. The available range was then A1AAA - Y999YYY. Towards the mid-90s, there was some discussion about introducing a unified scheme for Europe, which would also incorporate the country code of origin of the vehicle, but after much debate, Britain decided not to adopt any such scheme. The changes in 1983 also bought the letter Q into use. It was used on vehicles of indeterminate age, such as those assembled from kits, substantial rebuilds, or imported vehicles where the documentation is insufficient to determine the age. It was seen as an aid to consumer protection.

However, the range of available numbers was once again starting to run out, and a new scheme would need to be adopted. Rather than stick with a variation of the ad-hoc numbering that had existed since 1903, it was decided to research a system that would be easier for witnesses to remember, clearer to read, yet still fit within a normal standard plate size. In addition, the car sales industry were finding August was becoming overly busy, and started to push for two changes per year. This change was brought in early, using the existing scheme, which helped to run the numbers out quicker. The current system was introduced in 2001.

Year Letters

Suffix series

Prefix series

See also

External Links