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Some key milestones in New Zealand’s vehicle number plate history, plus find out about different plates and what you won't find on them.

1898 The McLean Motor Car Act is introduced to recognise motor vehicles as distinct from traction engines. When the first vehicles were imported, they were governed by the existing law for traction engines, which required them to travel at a walking pace and with men ahead and behind.
  Local bodies maintain motor vehicle registers (until 1925). Motorists are required to display the allocated number on the right-hand side of their vehicles. The number is either painted directly on the vehicle or on metal or wooden plates.
1925 New steel number plates are issued for each vehicle every year.
1941 With a shortage of steel during World War II, new plates are issued every five years.
1963 The introduction of annual licensing (on 1 July each year) begins. Completed in 1965.
1964 Permanent aluminium plates – intended to last a vehicle’s useful life – are introduced. These were issued by the New Zealand Post Office. Starting at AA100 to ZZ9989, the plates feature silver characters on a black plate. Plates ZZ9990 to ZZ9999 are bought for personalised plates.
1986 In November, reflectorised plates (black characters on white plates) were introduced.
1986 External licensing labels are introduced for all vehicles, with relicensing periods spread throughout the year.
1988 Personalised plates are introduced, providing a source of income for road safety research and projects.
2001 In April, the last registration in the two letter series is issued in Wellington. The first of the three-letter series available starts at AAA104. AAA100 to 103 are purchased for personalised plates.

Are all number plates the same?

There are six types of registration plates:

  1. Ordinary plates - for cars, trucks, vans. Theses plates were issued with two letters and up to four numbers to private cars on 1 July 1964 and commercial vehicles in 1965. The series went from AA1–AA9999 to ZZ1–ZZ9999, offering 6.7 million possible combinations. The last plate in the series was issued in March 2001.

    The new series of three letters and three numbers – from AAA104 ongoing to ZZZ999 – offers about 17.6 million possible combinations.
  2. Single plates – for motorcycles, trailers, tractors, caravans. These plates were divided into two series in 1988:
    • One or two letters and three or four numbers for motorcycles, mopeds and tractors (starting at 1RLH) The current series is 1AAA–99AAA ongoing to 1ZZZ to 99ZZZ.
    • One to four numbers and one letter for trailers, excluding D and X, which are used for trade plates. The current series is A111A to Z999Z.
  3. Trade plates – used mainly by vehicle manufacturers, assemblers and dealers. The trade plate also acts as a registration and is renewed each year. In 1986 black characters on yellow plates were introduced, showing the last two digits of the year the plate was purchased. The current series 1X–9999X and X1– X9999 replace the ‘D’ series.
  4. Diplomatic plates – for vehicles owned by embassies, consulates and high commissions (DC, DCC, FC and FCC plates) and ministerial vehicles (CC, CCC, CR and CROWN plates).
  5. Personalised plates – introduced in 1988, these plates can have up to six numbers or letters. Sold through Kiwi Plates Limited, personalised plates can have blue or red characters on a white background.
  6. Overseas visitor registration plates – on vehicles brought in by visitors. So long as the vehicle displays plates from its home country, visitors’ cars can drive on New Zealand roads without paying registration and licensing fees. The vehicle must remain licensed in its own country, but have a current New Zealand warrant of fitness (WoF) or certificate of fitness (CoF). The car owner must also pay the ACC levy. This exemption is allowed for 18 months or until the vehicle is sold or if the visitor becomes a permanent resident in New Zealand.

What you won’t find on plates

You won’t find…

  • combinations that could be offensive or cause confusion
  • the letter ‘V’ – it was excluded (after the FV series) because it is difficult to distinguish from the letter U
  • the letters I and O – these are not used in some cases as they are hard to distinguish from numbers one and zero.

Then in the early 1990s, the European style zero (with a stroke through it) was introduced to stop the confusion that arose between 0 (the number) and O (the letter) on personalised plates.