History of Car Registration

Posted on 17th August 2018

With the new '68 plate coming out in a few weeks, HPL Motors have looked into the history of our car registration plates in the UK.


Car registrations were first introduced after The Motor Car Act 1903. This act was done due to an increase in number of accidents occurring more frequently, which lead to identification of cars becoming necessary. From 1st January 1904 number plates were compulsory. 



During these years, the registrations were made up of your local council’s identifier code of up to three letters, followed by any three numbers. When all number started to run out they reversed it by having the random three numbers followed by the three letter. 

In 1920 The Road Acts was passed due to the fact that some people had to the same registration for both their car and their motorcycled meaning that two vehicles had the same registration in the same area. This Act put a stop to this by ensuring all authorities has a single registration for all vehicles. Along with this, they stopped changing people’s registration when they moved to another areas and reassigning their old registration to another car. It was too perplexed and an inconvenience. 

Sure enough, these registrations are now in high demand. 0 11 is now worth £95,000. This is due to the single letter, it being dateless and the fact that it only has 3 character.


By this time local councils were running out of registrations. The Suffix system meant adding the year of registration to the end of the plate, along with the three letters and three numbers. 

One problem here is that police check on vehicle records were time consuming and labour intensive. It was unpopular amongst the public due to delays. A nine year planning to create a technological centralised system. 

In 1973 all newly registered vehicles were required to have reflective style number plates, with black letters on a white background at the front, and on a yellow background at the rear. The older style plates, with white or silver letter on a black background, remained legal for vehicles already registered. 

Nine years later, 1974, the centralised DVLC system was up and running, no longer were local councils responsible for vehicle-registrations.


A new system called the Prefix system started in August 1983. The first letter would be the year the car was registered and put on the road. A for 1983, B for 1984 and so on. The last two letter are an area code that indicates where the plate was registered. The three number and the first of the three letters at the end have no meaning, only providing an alternative for identification. 

This system shorted ran out after 20 year as the letters I, O, U and Z were not issued. 


Our current style is our local region, date ID and random last three letter, now including Z. This way it can cater for up to 12.6 million new registrations each year. It is believed this system will run smoothly until at least 1949, when it can simply be reversed.

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