Buying a Number Plate

A private reg or personalised number plate is a common accessory and an increasingly popular gift. Anyone can legally buy any registration but you can’t use any registration on any vehicle. There are rules that determine which types of registration format can be used on what age of car. It is important that you fully understand these rules before you buy a personalised registration otherwise you might not actually be able to use it without buying a new car!

How Old Is My Car?

In normal cases the number plates on your car can indicate it’s age but it might not always be obvious to you how old your car is especially if it has been imported or already has a private registration. The actual age of the car is not the critical factor anyway, what matters is the date the vehicle was first registered in the UK.

Every car has a registration document called a VC5 or log book, this lists the date your car was first registered. No other date matters so refer to this date first. If your car was sat in a forecourt or storage area for a couple of years before being sold, it will not have been registered before the sale date. So the legal registration date may be later than you would expect given the model of your car.

Registration Formats

  • CURRENT STYLE – Issued since September 2001 its format is two letters, two numbers and three letters. The two numbers act as age identifiers.
  • PREFIX – Issued from August 1983 to August 2001. Its format is one letter, 1 to 3 numbers and three letters. The first letter is an age identifier.
  • SUFFIX – Issued from February 1963 to July 1983. Its format is three letters, 1 to 3 numbers and then a single letter. The final letter is an age identifier.
  • DATELESS – Issued before February 1963. 1 to 4 numbers followed by up to three letters or vice versa. There can’t be more than 6 characters, sometimes known as ‘Cherished number plates’.

What Are The Rules?

If a registration contains an age identifier it can only be used on a car of that age or younger. That means a dateless plate can be placed on any car irrespective of its age (except Q cars, see below).

However current style, prefix and suffix style registrations can only be placed on cars of certain minimum ages. The table below allows you to look up which registrations you can use given the VC5 registration date of your vehicle. Find where your car sites in the table – you can use any registration in the same column below it and any the columns to the right. You cannot use any registration in the same column above or to the left.


Q Registrations

These are very special registrations which the DVLA only issues to vehicles that it either can’t identify or can’t age. The DVLA do not allow the registrations on Q cars to be changed so you cannot legally use a personalised registration on one of these cars.




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