There are big changes coming for Gauteng’s GP number plates. As of January 2010 new-car registration numbers will start with the letter Y so it’s easy to see that Gauteng’s alphanumeric registration system will simply run out of letters and digits soon.

October 2010, to be exact.

However plans have been in place since 2007 for a high-tech new, “intelligent” number-plate system to be introduced from mid-June 2010.

The new plates will be made of aluminium rather than plastic, be “permanently” attached to the vehicle and have a radio-frequency identification tag.

More importantly, they will be traceable back to the manufacturer, making it much more difficult to manipulate the system, which now sees fraudulent plates produced on nearly every street corner.

The new number plates, if successful, will provide a more tamper-resistant link between a car and its owner. In theory it should be almost impossible for the bad guys to walk into a signage shop and simply create any number plate they want.

The Gauteng transport department says the new system “is linked to the provincial crime reduction strategy”, “will curb the practice of car cloning and vehicle theft” and will “sanitise the current vehicle registration information system”.

A new way of fastening number plates to vehicles has also been introduced recently; it’s commonly called “permanent” but “theft resistant” might be more accurate. You may have seen the new (often yellowish) backing plates on the front and rear bumpers of new cars in dealers’ showrooms.

The new law states that number plates on vehicles registered or re-registered from January 2009 must be attached with rivets. Most people don’t want to rivet directly to their car’s body so the bracket is more of an aesthetic go-between.

Rivets can be drilled to remove a number plate but, for this purpose, provide more of a theft deterrent than anything else. However the new system will cost you. Initially the department said there would be no extra cost to the driver but more recently admitted that plate prices would be around R50 higher than the current cost (R250 to R280) of a new set. And that’s without the optional intermediary mounting plates.

However one of South Africa’s six SABS-approved makers of number-plate blanks said the chips alone would cost R50 each (your vehicle will need two) and that he expected the price of a pair of plates to be between R400 and R800 because of more expensive embossing materials.

ENORMOUS TASK

He also said stringent regulations for registered number-plate makers would see many existing companies forced to close. So far 203 out of about 300 registered in Gauteng have survived the first stages of audit.

There are 3.5-million vehicles in Gauteng and about 43 000 are registered or re-registered each month so it will be an enormous task to get all vehicles fitted with new plates.

The process will take about three years with current registrations broken up into alphabetical due dates. It was to have started in March 2010 with registrations beginning with C (the first letter prefix for private owners) and Z due in December 2012, but has now been delayed.

A spokesperson for the Gauteng transport department said a revised schedule would be released in June, 2010. Notices would be sent by post and vehicle owners must bring a copy of their ID and their vehicle licence document to a registered number-plate provider to get the new plates.

New vehicle registrations will be in a two-letter, then two-digit, then two-letter format. Existing registration numbers will be renewable but must be reprinted on the new “chipped” plates