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Even though there are just under two million cars in Norway, the authorities came up with an elaborate system for registration plates (or "license plates" as other cultures have named them) in 1971. All vehicles (except agricultural ones) are required to have one from when they become inaugurated into the Norwegian car pool to the day the vehicle is scrapped. Throughout the lifespan of a vehicle, the registration plate never changes. Authorities keep records on all vehicle owners, making it possible to find out who owned a particular car and when. Buying and selling cars in Norway is a long winded process. The "pink slip" concept found in some other countries isn't used. You do not own a car until the government say you do.

Every month of March, all vehicle owners are billed for the privilege of having transportation. The amount varies between NOK 1180 and NOK 2310 (about €160 and €290). Failure to pay means getting your plates un-surgically removed by means of bolt cutters.

Registration plates comes in three basic shapes, without slogans, commercial messages or any other non-essential things:


     .--------.      .-----.
     |AB 12345|      | AB  |
     `--------´      |12345|
                     `-----´

The one on the left is the most common one. On the right you have the shape that cars imported from the USA and motorbikes usually drives around with. Aluminium is the preferred material. The third shape is simply a smaller version of the rectangular one.

In an attempt to adopt to EU regulations, authorities changed the 30 year old plate design in August 2001. The plate is now 52 centimeters long and have room for a "tax paid" sticker between the letters and number. The authorities have also made it possible to personalize your registration somewhat. You cannot have ASSMAN though, but inside the system detailed in this writeup you can juggle the letters and number combination around quite a bit.

The typeface on the plates was changed too in 2001, giving rise to negative criticism from industrial designers. The designers were ultimately right; some of the letters and numbers are confusingly close in appearance. Because of this the typeface is about to change again.

A picture of the old vs. the new look of Norwegian registration plates can be found on http://www.fedrelandsvennen.no/multimedia/archive/00020/026945_20817a.pjpeg

Regular cars

Your regular four-door five-seat family station wagon, sports car, SUV, sedan or bus is assigned a registration plate consisting of two letters and five numbers: AB 12345. Numbers run from 10000 to 99999. Letters and numbers are black on a reflective white background.

Two-wheelers

Trailers, motorbikes, scooters, mopeds, four wheel mopeds and snowmobiles are assigned two letters and four numbers: AB 1234. Numbers run from 1000 to 9999. Letters and numbers are black on a reflective white background.

Military vehicles

Miltary vehicles are assigned five numbers only, dropping the letters. 12345. Administrative vehicles usually have a '5' as the leading digit and tactical vehicles (tanks, APCs) usually have a '9' there. Numbers are black on a reflective amber background and run from 10000 to 99999 If you think having reflective registration plates on tactical vehicles is a dumb idea, please keep in mind that the Royal Norwegian Armed Forces have bolt cutters too.

Utility vehicles

The heavy machinery operating in a fixed location for long periods of time get their own registration plates. These are of the tracked or wheeled type painted in bright colours and operated by experienced drivers with hard hats. There would be no roads or buildings without them. Utility vehicles are assigned two letters and five numbers: AB 12345. Numbers run from 10000 to 99999. Letters and numbers are reflective yellow on black background.

Trucks and pick-ups

Trucks and pick-ups not intended to mainly transport people around (i.e. have only two or three seats) get a black on reflective green two letters and five numbers. Letters and numbers are assigned out of the same pool as regular cars and the plates (save for the background colour) look the same. The green colour designates a vehicle exempt from certain taxes. Audi A6 Station Wagons with green plates are common among travelling salesmen. The trick here is to rip out the back seat, convert the free space into a really large trunk, have the car registered as a pick-up truck and save up to €20,000 in one-off tax in the progress.

Corps Diplomatique

In order to easily recognize ambassadors and other embassy staff who might have diplomatic immunity, their vehicles are assigned a special registration plate. On a bright blue reflective background, the yellow letters and numbers take the form CD XXYYYY. CD is the internationally recognized term for Corps Diplomatique. The two following numbers denote what country the vehicle is from. Everybody in Norway (for historical reasons) knows Russia has the number 28, but apart from that it isn't common knowledge what numbers the different embassies have. The last three digits are assigned sequentially for every embassy.

Electric cars

Electric cars like the Pivco and Think! carry the same registration plates as - say, an Opel Astra - except the two leading letters are always EL. Electric cars are exempt from paying in highway toll booths and several taxes usually placed on regular internal combustion engine vehicles.

The first two letters in Norwegian registration plates tell you were the vehicle was originally registered. The authorities have set up several local special offices which handles the registration of new cars and issuing of driver's licenses. The first regular car registered in e.g. Oslo under the 1971 system was assigned DA 10000. Once DA 99999 was assigned, the next plate ws DB 10000. This sequence repeats until all possible combinations are exhausted, at which point I'm not sure what happens. At the moment this is way into the future though.

You can not tell what year the vehicle was registered in by looking at the registration plate. The reason is of course that not all cars registered in Norway are fresh out of the factory.

Letters O, G and I are not used in order to aviod confusion with numbers zero, six and one respectively. A couple of years ago, SP 99999 was assigned to a car in Bergen. Normally this would lead to SS 10000 as the next in line, but it didn't happen. Because of an assortment of bad memories from WWII during the Nazi occupation, people protested the use of SS on plates. The authorities skipped SS and proceeded directly to ST instead.

This is a list of letter combination ranges that says where the vehicle was first registered in Norway:

  AA-AC Halden
  AD-AV Fredrikstad
  AJ-AP Mysen
  AX-BB Moss
  BC-BK Drøbak
  BL-CB Sandvika
  CC-CZ Lillestrøm
  DA-FR Oslo
  FS-HA Hamar
  HB-HE Elverum
  HF-HH Tynset
  HJ-HR Kongsvinger
  HS-HY Lillehammer
  HZ-JB Otta
  JC-JP Gjøvik
  JR-JT Fagernes
  JU-KA Hønefoss
  KB-KO Gol
  KE-KS Drammen
  KT-KY Kongsberg
  KZ-LF Horten
  LH-LR Tønsberg
  LS-NC Larvik
  ND-NU Skien
  NV-NZ Notodden
  PA-PB Rjukan
  PC-PL Arendal
  PN-PV Kristiansand
  PX-RD Mandal
  RA-RB Flekkefjord
  RE-RY Stavanger
  RZ-SB Egersund
  SC-SL Haugesund
  SN-TR Bergen
  TS-TU Odda
  TV-TZ Forde
  UA-UB Nordfjordeid
  UC-UD Sogndal
  UE-UL Ålesund
  UN-UP Ørsta
  UR-UV Molde
  UX-VC Kristiansund
  VD-VV Trondheim
  VX-VZ Orkanger
  XA-XC Brekstad
  XD-XL Steinkjer
  XN-XP Stjørdal
  XR-XU Namsos
  XV-XZ Mosjøen
  YA-YD Mo i Rana
  YE-YL Bodø
  YN-YS Narvik
  YT-YY Svolvær
  YU-YX Sortland
  YZ-ZD Harstad
  ZE-ZN Tromsø, including Svalbard (Spitsbergen)
  ZF-ZI Finnsnes
  ZP-ZR Vadsø
  ZS Kirkenes
  ZT-ZV Alta
  ZX Hammerfest

Vehicles that was first registered more than 30 years ago are allowed to use the pre-1971 registration system. This system comprises a single letter A-W, a dash and three or four digits. Since cars got new plates each time it was sold under this system, hunting down the original registration number is popular among vintage car owners.

Some cars owned by the Royal family have plates with a single A, a dash and a single number. They are normally used exclusively in ceremonies, leaving the normal day-to-day driving to non-descript cars without any special plates.

That's about it. The next time you meet a Norwegian car with the registration KF 34591, you have him all figured out.


Sources:
Mostly pulled from my own head, except the bits gleaned from http://www.naf.no

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