Number plate guides

What is a car registration?

Car registrations are the numbers and letters shown on car number plates. Just as your name identifies you, a car is identified by its registration number. That’s actually quite a useful analogy so let’s stick with it. If the car registration number is the car’s official “name”, then the acrylic plates that display it are a bit like the name tag your mum used to sew into your school uniform. 

Car registrations enable DVLA and the police to record and identify vehicles on UK roads. One of the first things the police ask after an accident or a crime involving a vehicle is, “Did you get the registration number”. Read more about registration numbers.

Car registration formats

UK car registrations have had several formats over the years. This has been necessary as the sheer number of cars on the road has gradually used up the available combinations in each format.

Early number plates were simple and just had a one or two letter region code showing which local authority has issued the registration, and a unique number (up to four digits) to identify the vehicle itself. Unsurprisingly, this system ran out of combinations pretty quickly.

Next came the suffix format, with its distinctive year letter at the end, and when that rather larger pool of combinations was exhausted, the arrangement was reversed and the prefix format was born, with its year letter at the beginning. The current system, with the numerical year code in the middle of the plate, replaced the prefix format in 2001. Read a full explanation of UK car registration formats.

The V5C registration document

The registration number of your vehicle, as shown on its number plates, is confirmed on your car’s registration document or V5C - what we used to call the “log book”. Nearly all significant changes to your car and its circumstances will involve this document.

How to transfer car registrations

And we’re back to our name analogy to describe car registrations. Just as you may change your name if you don’t like the one you were given, you may change your car’s registration number if you don’t like the one it was issued with. There are some formalities to be observed but, once the necessary process has been completed, you may display a new registration on your vehicle. Read a full explanation of how to transfer car registrations

How to retain car registrations on certificate

Sometimes it is necessary to keep a vehicle registration number but there may be no vehicle available for it to be transferred. For example, if a person is selling a car, wants to keep the private car registration from that car, but hasn’t yet found a new car to put the registration on. In such a case, one can use the DVLA’s retention scheme. This handy scheme lets you keep a car registration in the form of a certificate. When the time comes to put that registration back onto a car, one just completes a simple transfer process. Read more about how to retain or keep a car registration

DVLA registrations

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) is the agency that deals with most of the bureaucracy surrounding cars and driving. DVLA issues driving licenses and administers penalty points to those licences when offences have been committed. It’s also in charge of the UK’s car registrations.

As well as making the rules that govern car registrations. DVLA issues all new registration numbers. The majority of numbers are issued within the scheduled sequence of registrations. Other numbers, however, have been held back over the years: some for reasons of censorship, and some for commercial reasons. Where DVLA has identified that a certain combination is likely to be attractive to a number of potential buyers, it may offer that car registration for sale at auction.

Regtransfers is not affiliated with DVLA. DVLA information is offered here because DVLA is the authority that controls almost everything we do as a business. Read more about DVLA.

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