A question for the British

UK owners occasionally post here stating their car is, for instance, an "H" registration vehicle.
What's pertinent about such letters in the UK registration system?

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Indicates a year of first registration,
http://www.needforspeed.co.uk/pages/Registrations.htm
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To make matters more confusing a lot of people have personal plates where the year letter does not relate to the year the car was registered. The only rule is you can't make your car look younger. My 2006 SLK has a plate on it that signifies 1989. My 2005 C Class has a historical plate with no year letter which was first issued in 1927!
Driving around here about 30% of cars seem to have personal plates on them with meaningless date letters or nop date letters at all (often Northern Ireland plates which have no date letters and you can buy for about £100 to conceal the age of your car). .
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To add some more bits:
- 'Personalised' plates are not freely made up as in some other countries (parts of the US?) but are existing plates from the days before the year indentifier and some logic (hidden, but there) in some of the letters and the local authority that issues the number.
- Number plates are fungible and people pay for proximity to their names or other words.
On our older car we have a 'regular' plate starting with K, indicating the year of registration. However, as the dealer had a set of allocated plates available (as all dealers) from which I could choose I selected one with the digits 42 after the K because that was my age at the time. Thus the plate is 'personalised' but does not look at all special (and it cost nothing extra).
On my newer car I have the plate T50 DAS. DAS = my intials, 50 was my age. The T has no meaning for me, but having it in meant I paid the lowest possible price of GBP 250 incl the transfer charge and tax. Those who know me will recognise my initials. If I had gone for, say, "50 DAS", which probably exists, it would have cost about GBP 5000 (!) more.
IIRC there was talk some years ago about introducing a much greater element of real personalisation, i.e. giving people some freedom to make up their own plates but there was massive opposition from the plate traders because many currently valuable combos would have lost considerable value if 'better' combinations could be composed.
If you can have "Michael" why bother with M10HAEL for example (if such a thing were to exist).
DAS
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Actually 50 DAS might not cost that much. Its the shorter ones that cost serious money and prices have skyrocketed over the past year. The longer dateless ones are selling for £600 to £1000. There is a real glut of them. The cheapest way to get a dateless plate is at the DVLA auctions. I bought a number 18 months ago, the same number at auction now would go for twice what i paid for it.
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Gordon Hudson wrote:

Yes, here one can choose just about anything EXCEPT: Christ, God, Jesus, and the other extreme if you see Kay, but most anything other than that is "personal-Lie-zzzed" thus O.K. for $$$. States lack any uniformity anymore except to rake in the dough. Perhaps it's pre-prep for the lack of sovereignty and the glob--L whirl miss-mesh that's occurring? Jmho.
Helen

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My SLK was originally SL06 OAP ("slob OAP"). It actually got me chatted up by a nice lady at a petrol station, but it really had to be changed as it was highly embarassing.
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So, all exceptions aside, the letter in a UK registration connotes the car's age.
California has a defacto age scheme in its numbering system. About 1980 a 1 was added to the front of the usual letters so ALL-123 became 1ALL-123. By 1996 the sequence was up to 3ALL-123 and after 26 years that sequence has reached 5ALL-123.
California also has a large "personalized plate" sales program available to owners. Various background scenes with non-significant letters and numbers and vanity plates: regular plates or scenes with owner selected letters and numbers can be purchased. The DMV must approve unique plates. There's a one time fee (up to $90) and an annual surcharge (up to $50) depending what's selected. Some, like POW (prisoner of war), are free - as they ought to be.
So much for auto trivia.
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Auto trivia cont...
Only up to a few years ago, as shown on the website given by Gordon Hudson.
Now the standard style is XXDD XXX where X = letter and D = digit.
The second digit is the year and the first indicates which half of the year.
See here for pics of various styles:
http://www.licenseplatemania.com/landenframes/engeland_fr.htm
For some decades plates at the front are black on white and at rear black on yellow. In The Netherlands it's black on (a similar) yellow front and rear and in Germany black on white at both ends. In Blegium it's red characters on a white background at both ends. There is no European country that requires only a rear plate as in (parts of?) the USA.
In the UK the enforcement of recommended spacing and typeface has become rigid only in recent years.
Northern Irish plates no longer look different to mainland Britain plates. This was a reaction to terrorist attacks.
Most European countries have a numbering system where the 'system' is more obvious than Britain's, except Belgium, which appears to have a completely random combination of numbers, letters and spaces.
The system may also depend on who gets the associated fees and taxes. In the UK the central government gets it, so it is financially immaterial where the car is registered. In Germany the money stays local so you have to register locally and re-register if you move to another district. The letters before the hyphen are fixed (by the local authority) but there is some choice in the alphanumerics that come after the hyphen.
If you are at a loose end at 2 am one morning look here for styles of plates: http://www.olavsplates.com /
Yet more trivia...
When crossing a border one is supposed to show an oval country identifier stuck to the rear of the vehicle.
However, the EU had introduced a very practical idea in which the country code and circle of stars is shown in a blue 'sidebar' on the left. This obviates the need for the oval sticker.
In some countries I believe this is the only legal format. In Britain the addition of the blue sidebar is volunary AFAIK.
What I find interesting is that a number of countries near the EU, including non-candidate ones, have introduced a similar blue sidebar with the country flag instead of the EU stars. Of course most of the recent/current candidate countries joined in 2004 but we still have Romania and Bulgaria joining in 2007 I think.
Poland was a good example of introducing the EU-style blue sidebar long before actually joining the EU. From a distance it is hard to tell the difference.
DAS
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And all my cars have totally illegal plates because the manufacturers post code is not in small print at the bottom. There is now a register of number plate manufacturers corss referenced by post code. Plates can only be made up if you have the correct paperwork. This is to prevent number plate cloning, especially in London. What happens is people look on the internet for a car that looks the same as theirs, get plates bearing its number made and fit them. Then they go in and out of London without paying the congestion charge and someone else (usually up north) gets the fines.
The number plate manufacturers register has not really worked as people now just steal plates off other cars. You can also get plates made without the paperwork (which is why mine don't have the postcode on them, I wanted them before I had the paperwork or I was transferring from one vehicle to another and the paperwork was in the post). To try and prevent plate theft they are going to change the plates so the backing comes away if they are disturbed.
Believe it or not if I got stopped by the police it would be three points on my licence per illegal plate (front and back), even though they are correctly spaced, and look perfectly normal. 12 points and you lose your licence for a year. It really is getting very silly.
By the way our local prefix is SL, but many of the SL55 plates were retained by the DVLA for sale to Mercedes drivers.
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Yes. Very silly. But I suppose they want to make sure that their cameras read your number correctly as you commit yet another trivial infraction for which they can squeeze pots of money out of you. From being a relaxed place where the government left you alone we have gone to a situation where the everything you do is monitored, checked, controlled... and now the government forced through the compulsory identity card bill. It will cost probably billions to implement and many millions to run.
Naughty boy! Illegal plates! But there are so many about they'd never find you...
Years ago the DVLA (or its predecessor) disapproved of the 'gray' (but not illegal) market in plates.
And they they changed their mind, jumped in with gusto and now proudly trumpet how much money they make from this trade themselves. Of course they retain a lot of the 'better' combinations.
Lots of "they"s but you know who I mean - the relevant authorities.
DAS
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A few years ago, friends from Germany rented a motor home in California for a trip through the south-west USA, and were flabbergasted that, in lieu of actual metal plates on the back and the front (the paperwork for which had not come through, yet), they were allowed to drive for thousands of miles, through ten states, in what was for them a foreign country, with nothing more than a piece of paper taped in to the back window. "Such a sing vood not heppen in Shermanny." For better or worse, they're right.
John M. '94 E320 mit alle papiere in ordnung
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Yes, that's how one drives a new car for the first few weeks - a dealer supplied piece of paper with the VIN number - no name or address. States accept each other's registrations so such a paper is respected outside California. When stopped for speeding the Arizona police were more interested in checking my insurance coverage than the car's ownership.
California checks exhaust emissions but otherwise no longer inspects a car's lights, brakes steering etc. as do some other states - and, the world hasn't ended! After all, how many wrecks result from a car's mechanical failure vs. its driver's inattention?
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Dori A Schmetterling wrote:

The begium numbering system is not complete random, the plate (almoste us plate size) stays with the owner if he sels the car. and the same thing go's to the newone. so you can reaconise an elderly driver or a young driver by the plate.
-- Out there Somewhere.

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Does the Belgian plate show a year and/or district?
Is there an issuing sequence?
;-) DAS
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