What do number plates mean?
What do number plates mean?
Ever wondered what the characters on your car registration plate stand for? Read our guide and find the key to decoding number plates.
Why have number plates?
Number plates are used to identify vehicles so they can be registered and taxed. Number plates come with the vehicle, not the person who owns it, so when you sell your vehicle the number plate goes with it unless you apply to keep it. Number plates are officially owned by the Secretary of State.
When did number plates first start?
Number plates were first introduced in the UK in 1903. The first number plate had a two-character code – a letter and a number: A1. These short combinations were quickly used up and the format was eventually extended to three numbers and three letters, with a serial letter at the beginning of the plate.
In 1964, a new element was added – a letter at the end of the plate that indicated the vehicle’s age. This was moved to the beginning of the plate in 1982 and was followed by three numbers, a serial code and an area code.
What do number plate characters mean now?
The number plate registration format we know today was introduced in September 2001. It has three elements:
- The DVLA memory tag
This is two letters at the beginning of the plate. They show the region where the vehicle was first registered. There are 19 regions covering England, Scotland and Wales. I, Q and Z aren’t used in these memory tags.
Northern Ireland has its own regions. Its plates use a version of the format, with most plates containing I or Z.
Q plates are used for some imported cars and for kit cars.
- The age identifier
This is two numbers telling you when the vehicle was first registered. It doesn’t appear on Northern Ireland plates.
- Three randomly generated letters (up to four in Northern Ireland).
DVLA memory tags
|Letter||Postal area||DVLA memory tag identifier|
|AA AB AC AD AE AF AG AH AJ AK AL AM ANAO AP AR AS AT AU AV AW AX AY|
|B||Birmingham||Birmingham||BA – BY|
|CA CB CC CD CE CF CG CH CJ CK CL CM CN COCP CR CS CT CU CV CW CX CY|
|D||Deeside to Shrewsbury||Chester
|DA DB DC DD DE DF DG DH DJ DK DL DM DN DO DP DR DS DT DU DV DW DX DY|
|E||Essex||Chelmsford||EA – EY|
|F||Forest & Fens||Nottingham
|FA FB FC FD FE FF FG FH FJ FK FL FM FN FP FR FS FT FV FW FX FY|
|G||Garden of England||Maidstone
|GA GB GC GD GE GF GG GH GJ GK GL GM GN GO GP GR GS GT GU GV GW GX GY|
|H||Hampshire & Dorset||Bournemouth
|HA HB HC HD HE HF HG HH HJ HK HL HM HN HO HP HR HS HT HU HV HW HX HY (HW will be used exclusively for Isle of Wight residents)|
|KA KB KC KD KE KF KG KH KJ KK KLKM KN KO KP KR KS KT KU KV KW KX KY|
|LA LB LC LD LE LF LG LH LJ LK LL LM LN LO LP LR LS LT LU LV LW LX LY|
|M||Manchester & Merseyside||Manchester||MA – MY (MN + MAN Reserved for the Isle of Man)|
|NA NB NC ND NE NG NH NJ NK NL NM NN NO NP NR NS NT NU NV NW NX NY|
|O||Oxford||Oxford||OA – OY|
|PA PB PC PD PE PF PG PH PJ PK PL PM PN PO PP PR PS PTPU PV PW PX PY|
|R||Reading||Theale||RA – RY|
|SA SB SC SD SE SF SG SH SJSK SL SM SN SOSP SR SS STSU SV SWSX SY|
|V||Severn Valley||Worcester||VA – VY|
|W||West of England||Exeter
|WA WB WC WD WE WF WG WH WJ WK WL WM WN WO WP WR WS WT WU WV WW WX WY|
|YA YB YC YD YE YF YG YH YJ YK YL YM YN YO YP YR YS YT YU YV YW YX YY|
DVLA age identifiers
|Sept 2001 – Feb 2002||51|
|March 2002 – Aug 2002||02||Sept 2002 – Feb 2003||52|
|March 2003 – Aug 2003||03||Sept 2003 – Feb 2004||53|
|March 2004 – Aug 2004||04||Sept 2004 – Feb 2005||54|
|March 2005 – Aug 2005||05||Sept 2005 – Feb 2006||55|
|March 2006 – Aug 2006||06||Sept 2006 – Feb 2007||56|
|March 2007 – Aug 2007||07||Sept 2007 – Feb 2008||57|
|March 2008 – Aug 2008||08||Sept 2008 – Feb 2009||58|
|March 2009 – Aug 2009||09||Sept 2009 – Feb 2010||59|
|March 2010 – Aug 2010||10||Sept 2010 – Feb 2011||60|
|March 2011 – Aug 2011||11||Sept 2011 – Feb 2012||61|
|March 2012 – Aug 2012||12||Sept 2012 – Feb 2013||62|
|March 2013 – Aug 2013||13||Sept 2013 – Feb 2014||63|
|March 2014 – Aug 2014||14||Sept 2014 – Feb 2015||64|
|March 2015 – Aug 2015||15||Sept 2015 – Feb 2016||65|
|March 2016 – Aug 2016||16||Sept 2016 – Feb 2017||66|
|March 2017 – Aug 2017||17||Sept 2017 – Feb 2018||67|
|March 2018 – Aug 2018||18||Sept 2018 – Feb 2019||68|
|March 2019 – Aug 2019||19||Sept 2019 – Feb 2020||69|
|March 2020 – Aug 2020||20||Sept 2020 – Feb 2021||70|
|March 2021 – Aug 2021||21||Sept 2021 – Feb 2022||71|
|March 2022 – Aug 2022||22||Sept 2022 – Feb 2023||72|
|March 2023 – Aug 2023||23||Sept 2023 – Feb 2024||73|
|March 2024 – Aug 2024||24||Sept 2024 – Feb 2025||74|
|March 2025 – Aug 2025||25||Sept 2025 – Feb 2026||75|
From the Motor team
“Number plate characters have meaning – they can tell you where a car was registered, as well as how old it is. Altering a number plate is against the law, but you can buy your own personalised number plate.”
What’s a personalised number plate?
A personalised plate is one you choose for yourself. Also known as a private number plate, it will often have the characters arranged to spell something, like a name, or to show a significant date, such as a birthday.
You can buy personalised plates from individuals, companies and the DVLA.
If your personalised plate has an age identifier, you can put it on a vehicle of that age or a newer one. But you can’t put it on an older vehicle as this could make it appear newer than it is.
There are also rules about what number plates can say. Combinations spelling out offensive words are banned.
Number plate rules
Plates can’t be altered, and there are strict rules on:
- The spacing between letters
- Colours (must have a white background at the front of the vehicle and a yellow background at the back).
- Letters must be black
- The material the number plate is made from must be reflective.
Number plates must only be on the back of motorbikes registered on or after 1 September 2001. Bikes registered before then can also display a number plate on the front, but they don’t have to.
You can have a flag with an identifying letter on the number plate. Permitted flags are:
- Union flag
- Cross of St George
- Cross of St Andrew
- Red Dragon of Wales
It’s vital you display your number plate correctly. If you don’t, you could be fined as much as £1,000 and your vehicle will fail its MOT.