What are the Different UK Number Plate Styles?

What are the Different UK Number Plate Styles?

Throughout the history of the DVLA in the UK, there have been numerous number plate styles. Each tweaked and changed from the previous style to meet new challenges to road legislation. Every number plate style is different in its own way depending on the rules and regulations of the time they were produced. In terms of private plates, it’s often the case that older number plate styles are more valuable due to their age and rarity.

In this guide, we’ll cover the history of when number plates were first introduced in the UK, what types and styles of number plates there have been, and how the rules and regulations have changed. 

When Did Number Plates Start Being Issued in The UK 

The very first number plates were issued back in 1903, well over 100 years ago! These were dateless number plates and NI (Northern Irish) number plates. They were issued in order to trace and monitor cars as automobiles started to grow in popularity. With more cars on UK roads, more regulations were required.

How Many Number Plate Styles Are There? 

In total, there have been five different types and styles of number plates in the UK from 1903 onwards. It started with dateless plates and Northern Irish plates in 1903 and 1904, which ran until 1963 when suffix plates replaced them. Suffix number plates then ended in 1983 when all the combinations were used up. The DVLA then moved onto prefix plates. These then ran until 2001 when the current new style number plates were introduced. New style number plates have been running ever since and don’t look like changing anytime soon.

Number Plate Styles

Each number plate has its own specific style. It could be how the numbers and letters are arranged, what the numbers and characters represent and how they are displayed. Some are vastly different from others whilst some may look somewhat similar

Below you can view what each one of these number plate styles looks like and how they are arranged. It also covers why they were changed and how the rules and regulations for number plate styles have changed over time.

New/current Style Number Plates 

The DVLA changed to the new/current style of number plates all the way back in 2001 after prefix plates stopped being issued. They decided to move on from prefix number plates as drivers were still able to hide the age of their vehicle. This caused confusion for speed cameras as they could not read the plates properly. So to help with enforcement and to help the digital speed cameras, all number plates were standardised. 

They begin with two letters at the start which reference the area where the reg was issued, and the next two are numbers which represent the year it was issued. The next three characters are completely random to ensure each number plate is unique.

Prefix Style Number Plates

Prefix style number plates were first introduced back in 1983 after suffix style number plates stopped being issued to road users. The reason prefix number plates needed to be introduced is that the suffix style number plates ran out of possible combinations. They worked very similarly to suffix number plates in terms of the style.

Prefix number plate styles begin with a letter which indicates the year of the registration. The next six characters, three numbers then three letters are then randomised.

Suffix Number Plates

Suffix style number plates were introduced in 1963. The reason for their introduction was to increase the overall number of combinations that can be issued to vehicles on the road. This came with more and more people buying vehicles, so the rules of number plates changed due to meet the new demand.

Suffix number plates begin with a sequence of three letters. These letters are then followed by either one, two or three numbers and finish with the suffix letter.

Dateless Number Plates

Dateless number plates were the first ever number plates to be introduced into the UK in 1903 and ran until 1963. They are the oldest and most valuable number plates on the market, as there are very few restrictions with dateless number plates. They were introduced to register and monitor vehicles on the road. These number plates however had nothing to denote the year of issue, so it was really easy to hide the age of your vehicle. They were eventually replaced to keep up with the demand of the sheer number of people owning vehicles. 

Dateless number plates only consist of a simple letter at the beginning to denote the region the number plate was issued in, followed by sequential numbers. There are a lot of variations of dateless plates, making them easy to customise.

NI Number Plates  

Northern Irish number plates have been around ever since number plates were introduced in 1904. However, NI number plates differ from other number plate styles. This is because they have no age identifiers and any number plate can go on any vehicle no matter the age.

Northern Irish number plates have different letter combinations to start with but always include an I or Z. These are then followed by number sequences from one all the way to 9999.


Which Number Plate Styles Are Legal?

Although number plate styles have changed throughout the years, all of them are still legal. What makes a number plate legal or illegal is not the number plate combination itself, but the way it is displayed. For example, number plates cannot have the following:

  • Neon Lettering

  • 3D printed characters

  • Glittery characters

  • Frosted characters

  • Any carbon styles

To see all the rules and regulations around number plates in the UK, see the DVLA’s rules and regulations on number plate displays.

Are Old Style Number Plates Still Legal? 

Because of the new laws and regulations around number plates, the plate itself will need to match the age of your vehicle. So a vehicle registered over 40 years ago would need a number plate which reflected the same age.

Why Are 4D Plates Deemed Illegal? 

If the letters on the number plate stick out too much from the surface, it can make them difficult or even impossible to read from certain angles. The 4D letters are usually cut out and attached to the background with adhesive. This means there is a possibility that they may fall off, leaving you with an incomplete number plate.

Buy Personalised Number Plates From Absolute Reg 

As the largest supplier of UK number plates, we have over 50 million plates available!

With millions of our number plate combinations to choose from, finding a unique number plate couldn't be easier. You can also depend on Absolute Reg for on-time delivery and excellent customer service. In fact, Reviews.co.uk even gave us the highest rating for on-time delivery in 2021.

Additionally, private number plates offer numerous benefits beyond personalisation. Personalised plates can add extra security to your vehicle and potentially be a profitable investment.


Use our search function to find your perfect plate today. 


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