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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.

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
5
minute read
posted 21 OCTOBER 2019

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
A Anglia Peterborough
Norwich
Ipswich
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
C Cymru Cardiff
Swansea
Bangor
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
Shrewsbury
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
Lincoln
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
Brighton
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
Portsmouth
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)
K   Borehamwood
Northampton
KA KB KC KD KE KF KG KH KJ KK KLKM KN KO KP KR KS KT KU KV KW KX KY
L London Wimbledon
Borehamwood
Sidcup
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)
N North Newcastle
Stockton
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
P Preston Preston
Carlisle
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
S Scotland Glasgow
Edinburgh
Dundee
Aberdeen
Inverness
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
Truro
Bristol
WA WB WC WD WE WF WG WH WJ WK WL WM WN WO WP WR WS WT WU WV WW WX WY
Y Yorkshire Leeds
Sheffield
Beverley
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

Date Code Date Code
    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

 

Daniel Hutson

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:

  • Fonts
  • 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.

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