U.K. Car Registrations Explained

Car registration plates in the UK use a system of letters and numbers to show when and where a vehicle was registered. The numbering system has been in place since 2001. The numbers on the plates are updated twice a year so once cars become six months old, they decrease in value more quickly. Vehicle drivers need to register ownership of their cars and obtain a registration certificate.

Registering a New Vehicle

All new cars need to be registered by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) before they can be issued with a registration number. Fill out a form at your local DVLA office and present documents, such as your birth certificate, marriage certificate or bank statements, to confirm your identity. This helps to guard against number plate fraud. The car may be inspected before registration is issued and a fee is payable. Expect the process to take around six weeks. Dealers of new cars may register the vehicle for you. You can also buy number plates at auction.

What the Registration Plate Means

All UK number plates use seven letters and numbers. The first letter shows the area of Britain where the car was registered. The second relates to the particular government office where the car was registered. The next two numbers signify the date the car was registered. The first of these numbers shows whether the car was registered in the first or second half of the year. The plates issued between March 1 and August 31 are marked zero and registrations from September 1 to February 28 are marked five. The second number shows the year the vehicle was registered.

The last three letters in the registration are random and given to a dealership when the car is registered.

Personalised Number Plates

You can have a personalised number plate bought through a specialist dealer or from another motorist. Dealers buy your personalised combination from the DVLA and arrange to either get the number plate made up or arrange an authorisation letter sent to you to allow you to have the number plate put on the vehicle. If you are buying a new number plate you will be sent a "certificate of entitlement" showing the dealer as the purchaser and you as the "nominee." If you buy an existing number, you will be given a "retention certificate." Buying a number plate only gives you the right to display that number on your car. The numbers are owned by the UK government.

Plate Style

All number plates must use the same font. The only variation allowed is a 3-D effect version of the permitted font. The only symbols that are allowed on the plate are the British or European flags. There are also strict guidelines on the size and spacing of the letters and numbers. These rules apply to both conventional plates and personalised plates.

Transferring Your Registration Plate

You can transfer a registration number to another vehicle. Both vehicles must be registered with the DVLA who may wish to inspect them before the transfer of the number takes place. You will have to fill out a form and be charged a fee. You must show your registration documentation.

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About the Author

U.K. journalist Jill Sainsbury began writing news for print and broadcast in 1990. Her work has featured on “BBC Online," magazines “The Journalist” and “Charlotte’s Mag,” and the “Hull Free Press." She has a Bachelor of Arts in geography from the University of Hull and a post graduate diploma in broadcast journalism from Falmouth School of Arts.

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