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”.


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.

Transferring car registrations is a surprisingly simple process. There are a few bureaucratic hoops to jump through, of course, but there is nothing overly complicated or difficult to understand.

Of course, many people prefer the peace of mind provided by an experienced, professional team. That's why PlateTradeoffers our customers the option of a fully managed transfer service, taking care of all red tape and formalities. On the other hand, for those who feel confident to complete the procedure without the support and back-up we offer, we provide the following information on how to transfer car registrations or private plates.

There are three main kinds of transfer:

  • transfer a car registration between vehicles (e.g. from one car to another)
  • transfer from a Retention Document or Certificate of Entitlement to a vehicle
  • transfer from a vehicle to a Retention Document (also known as a retention certificate) as a way of storing a registration number until it is required to be assigned to a vehicle.

Read a full explanation of how to transfer car registrations

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