Dateless Number Plates
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Dateless Number Plates

What are dateless number plates?

Despite cars being expensive and initially only available to the wealthy, by 1903 motorised vehicles of all sizes had become so popular, an easy way for vehicle identification had to be introduced in the United Kingdom. The various DVLC vehicle offices were simply running out of letter and number combinations thanks to millions of car registrations and so a new system had to be introduced.

The very first registration mark issued under the brand new UK number plate system proudly presented “A1” for a plate issued in London and from then onwards registration marks were issued in sequential numbers with a reference to the area where the vehicle was registered and which country the registration related to, as each DVLC vehicle office (now known as DVLA vehicle office) had a unique letter sequence that would be issued to new vehicle registrations. Until 1963 the DVLC offices issued dateless number plates, after that suffix style number plates became the norm.

Number plates that are described as “dateless” show no reference to the very first registration date of a vehicle and are therefore not providing an indication to the age of the vehicle. It is not against the law to transfer or re-assign a dateless number plate to vehicles of any age - just as Northern Ireland’s number plate system doesn’t carry a date reference in the number plate. Northern Ireland still uses the pre-1963 system of vehicle registration marks. Incidentally, dateless number plates from Northern Ireland are easy to spot as they include either the letter Z or I in the mark.

Dateless number plates have continued to be popular because they are easily available and lend a charming air of nostalgia to the motoring experience. Apart from their appeal on cost and style, dateless number plates are also popular because they effectively camouflage the real age of a vehicle.

In the United Kingdom mainland dateless number plates look something like this: “1 A”

From the very first number plate “A1” eventually more letters and numbers were needed to reflect the number of vehicles on the road, so “A1” was followed sequentially by “ABC 123” or “A 123” or “123 ABC” for example.

What are suffix style number plates?

Introduced in 1963, suffix number plates do show the age of a vehicle as the last letter of the plate acts as the “suffix” or “age identifier”. Their structure never varies and they look something like this: W X Y 123 D (or Letter, Letter, Letter), (space) followed by a maximum of 3 numbers, followed by a letter. In this particular case the suffix denotes a car that was first registered in 1966 and the first 3 letters show the car was from Bangor in Wales.

Another reason for introducing the suffix number plate registration system was the fact that number plates with an age identifier provided greater protection to motorists, as the age of a vehicle was apparent from its suffix number plate. It has also helped to increase car production as the urge to own a vehicle with the latest registration suffix has been a trend for a long time.

With the introduction of the age identifier legislation pertaining to registration transfers changed for good. When choosing a new number plate from a dealer the age of the vehicle must be displayed correctly by assigning the correct suffix or age identifier to the plate.

Since the introduction of the Motor Car Act 1903, which came into force on 1 January 1904, all UK motor vehicles must be entered in an official vehicle register supervised and maintained by the DVLA and DVA, and all UK vehicles are required to carry number plates obtained from a licensed supplier. UK number plates must correspond to exact dimensions and are either square or rectangular in shape.

They also must conform to specific materials used for the manufacture and they must correspond to particular colours as prescribed by law. Before purchasing any number plate from a dealer, it is therefore best to check with the relevant DVLA or DVA office, what current legislation states with regard to the type of plates vehicles are permitted to display. Reputable dealers will either display or describe the exact dimensions, colours and materials used for their front and rear dateless number plates to ensure their customers buy only what is a legitimate number plate.

Dateless number plates, particularly those from Northern Ireland, are so popular they sell very quickly – perhaps not surprising bearing in mind they can be purchased for around £40 plus VAT. While the majority of dateless number plates are relatively cheap, rare dateless number plates that spell short names for example usually start at prices of £300 plus VAT; however, on average dateless plates cost around £160.00 plus VAT.

Most online search facilities allow motorists to type in the desired letter and number combination after which the dealer’s database system will search millions of registrations on file. Some dealers will display the nearest available registration numbers, while frustratingly, others will only state that this particular search has not been successful, when the desired number is not in stock. Some 40 million registrations are potentially for sale at any given moment.

Apart from hiding the true age of a vehicle, the continued appeal of dateless number plates also lies – albeit to a smaller extent – in their brevity and slightly nostalgic individuality. They are easily remembered, because there are less letters and numbers to recall.

The arrival of the Internet has made it easy to find dateless number plates at competitive prices and online dealers can supply a vast array of dateless number plates from mainland Britain and from Northern Ireland that will suit most budgets. 

Useful Links

You will find here a few notes and forms required for the procedure to transfer a vehicle registration.

Registration marks that show no reference to the very first registration date of a vehicle.

Plates where last letter reveals the age of a vehicle.

Widely available and often less costly than dateless registrations.

An interesting opportunity to investment in some sought after number and letter combinations.

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