The history of number plates in the UK

The first ever number plate issued in the UK was A1, this was back in 1903 following the publication of the Motor Car Act 1903

The format was initially set at one or two letters followed by a number from 1 to 9999.

However by 1932 it was becoming clear that we were quickly running out of combinations so the DVLA decided to alter the format so that it became three letters followed by three numbers. By the mid 1950s we had again started to run out of combinations of unique registrations so the format was reversed so that you had three numbers followed by three letters.

1963 - Prefix Style Plates

Less than a decade later in 1963 almost all available combinations were exhausted so the DVLA decided to add a suffix to the three letter/three number combination to allow an overnight doubling of available numbers and also allow identification of the vehicle age. Up to this point vehicle registrations were dateless. This format was known as Suffix Type Registration, an example would be CVB 123A.

Suffix launch dates

PrefixFromTo
AJan-63Dec-63
BJan-64Dec-64
CJan-65Dec-65
DJan-66Dec-66
EJan-67Jul-67
FAug-67Jul-68
GAug-68Jul-69
HAug-69Jul-70
JAug-70Jul-71
KAug-71Jul-72
LAug-72Jul-73
MAug-73Jul-74
NAug-74Jul-75
PAug-75Jul-76
RAug-76Jul-77
SAug-77Jul-78
TAug-78Jul-79
VAug-79Jul-80
WAug-80Jul-81
XAug-81Jul-82
YAug-82Jul-83

Initially the plan was to change the suffix in the January of each year however this caused an immediate problem in that vehicle sales/registrations peaked during the first three months of the year then dropped dramatically as we progressed through the year. For some reason the decision was taken to move the date change to August from 1967.

1983 - Suffix Style Plates

The next change in format was in 1983 when the idea of adding a prefix to the registration plate instead of a suffix was launched which meant a number plate was in this format A123 CVB

Suffix launch dates

PrefixFromTo
AAug-83Jul-84
BAug-84Jul-85
CAug-85Jul-86
DAug-86Jul-87
EAug-87Jul-88
FAug-88Jul-89
GAug-89Jul-90
HAug-90Jul-91
JAug-91Jul-92
KAug-92Jul-93
LAug-93Jul-94
MAug-94Jul-95
NAug-95Jul-96
PAug-96Jul-97
RAug-97Jul-98
SAug-98Feb-99
TMar-99Jul-99
VAug-99Feb-00
WMar-00Jul-00
XAug-00Feb-01
YMar-01Aug-01

2001 - Suffix Style Plates

PlateFromTo
51Sep-01Mar-02
2Mar-02Sep-02
52Sep-02Mar-03
3Mar-03Sep-03
53Sep-03Mar-04
4Mar-04Sep-04
54Sep-04Mar-05
5Mar-05Sep-05
55Sep-05Mar-06
6Mar-06Sep-06
56Sep-06Mar-07
7Mar-07Sep-07
57Sep-07Mar-08
8Mar-08Sep-08
58Sep-08Mar-09
9Mar-09Sep-09
59Sep-09Mar-10
10Mar-10Sep-10
60Sep-10Mar-11
11Mar-11Sep-11
61Sep-11Mar-12
12Mar-12Sep-12
62Sep-12Mar-13
13Mar-13Sep-13
63Sep-13Mar-14
14Mar-14Sep-14
64Sep-14Mar-15
15Mar-15Sep-15
65Sep-15Mar-16
16Mar-16Sep-16
66Sep-16Mar-17
17Mar-17Sep-17
67Sep-17Mar-18
18Mar-18Sep-18
68Sep-18Mar-19
19Mar-19Sep-19
69Sep-19Mar-20
20Mar-20Sep-20
70Sep-20Mar-21
21Mar-21Sep-21
71Sep-21Mar-22
22Mar-22Sep-22
72Sep-22Mar-23
23Mar-23Sep-23
73Sep-23Mar-24
24Mar-24Sep-24
74Sep-24Mar-25
25Mar-25Sep-25
75Sep-25Mar-26
26Mar-26Sep-26
76Sep-26Mar-27
27Mar-27Sep-27
77Sep-27Mar-28
28Mar-28Sep-28
78Sep-28Mar-29
29Mar-29Sep-29
79Sep-29Mar-30
30Mar-30Sep-30
80Sep-30Mar-31
31Mar-31Sep-31
81Sep-31Mar-32
32Mar-32Sep-32
82Sep-32Mar-33
33Mar-33Sep-33
83Sep-33Mar-34
34Mar-34Sep-34
84Sep-34Mar-35
35Mar-35Sep-35
85Sep-35Mar-36
36Mar-36Sep-36
86Sep-36Mar-37
37Mar-37Sep-37
87Sep-37Mar-38
38Mar-38Sep-38
88Sep-38Mar-39
39Mar-39Sep-39
89Sep-39Mar-40
40Mar-40Sep-40
90Sep-40Mar-41
41Mar-41Sep-41
91Sep-41Mar-42
42Mar-42Sep-42
92Sep-42Mar-43
43Mar-43Sep-43
93Sep-43Mar-44
44Mar-44Sep-44
94Sep-44Mar-45
45Mar-45Sep-45
95Sep-45Mar-46
46Mar-46Sep-46
96Sep-46Mar-47
47Mar-47Sep-47
97Sep-47Mar-48
48Mar-48Sep-48
98Sep-48Mar-49
49Mar-49Sep-49
99Sep-49Mar-50

Some non common facts about number plates

Up until the Road Act of 1920 cars and motorbikes had two separate registers which meant it was possible to have a car and motorbike with the same registration number.

Cars that moved area pre 1920 were issued with a new registration plate and the old plate then was made available for registration for another vehicle

Since 1963 the year of your car, van or bike’s manufacture can determined from the your vehicle registration.

Over the years the UK has adopted three separate systems:

  • Suffix Type number plates e.g. CVB 123A
    These ran from January 1963 to July 1983
  • Prefix Type number plates e.g. A123 CVB
    These ran from August 1983 to August 2001
  • New Style number plates e.g. CV51 CVB
    These started from September 2001 and continue until March 2050