How do UK number plates work?

UK number plates explained in this simple guide


Believe it or not, there are 5 different styles of number plates in the UK. It's no wonder there's so much confusion about them. This has happened because the format was changed each time the available combinations began to run out.

Use our guide below:  We explain a bit more about each type of UK number plate, and what that means for you. Though it's not the only factor, the style of a number plate makes a big difference to how much it is worth.

Current number plate style

Current format (sometimes called new style) UK number plates are the ones we have now. They start with 2 letters, followed by 2 numbers (which identify the year of issue), a space, and then 3 letters.

Here's an example:

UK number plate style - current

More on current style number plates

Prefix number plate format

The number plate format used in UK from 1983 to 2001 had a single letter at the beginning which identified the year it was issued. As the year letter was at the beginning, this is why these are called the prefix number plate style.

Here's an example:

UK number plate format - prefix

More info on prefix number plates

Suffix number plate style

The UK suffix number plate style was first used from 1963. The last letter on the registration number was used to indicate the year it was issued. That's why they are called suffix. These were used until 1983 when letters for the suffix ran out.

Here's an example:

UK number plate format - suffix

More details on suffix number plates

Dateless number plates

The first number plates were issued from 1903. These are called dateless number plates because they have no letter or number that tells us what year it was issued. The combinations of letters were starting to run out in densely populated areas as the numbers of cars grew. Which is why these stopped in 1963.

Here's an example of one:

UK number plate format - dateless

More details on dateless number plates

Northern Ireland Irish number plates

Northern Ireland number plate format is very different to those on mainland GB. They are issued by the DVA in Coleraine, but can be used anywhere in the UK. Like dateless number plates, they have nothing that identifies the year they were issued. But they are distinguished by the use of either the letter I or Z in the registration number.

Here's an example:

UK number plate format - Northern Ireland Irish

More about Northern Ireland (Irish) number plates

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