Got much on your plate? Here's what registration numbers really mean!

License Plate well jel

Posted by Holly West-Robinson on 01 March 2017

If you plan on getting a new car on finance in the next couple of weeks, it’s worth bearing in mind that purchasing a vehicle after the 1st April 2017 could leave you subject to the newly proposed road tax that’s due to take effect… BUT if you purchase a new car exactly one month beforehand (aka from the 1st March), in this little window of time, not only will you avoid the tax hike but you’ll also be able to get your hands on a brand new, shiny 2017 number plate!

Why do we need a number plate?

Vehicle registration plates have been around since 1904 in the UK. A legislation was passed on January 1st that year which required all motor vehicles to be entered into an official register to make it easier for cars to be identified in the event of an accident, loss or where illegal activity was concerned. It became law that any vehicles permitted for public roads had to have them on display. These days registration plates are also used for taxing your vehicle and help to easily allocate the vehicle details when looking up quotes for insurance.

The format of a number plate

Usually reg plates consist of 2 letters followed by 2 numbers, a space and then 3 letters. The below image details the format and what these letters and numbers represent. The country of origin symbol on the left is pretty standard with most plates these days but it’s not a necessity to have on display unless you plan to drive in other countries within Europe.  

Image of Great Britain number plate format and characters

  • EU Country Identifier – This shows where the cars country of origin is i.e. GB (Great Britain), PL (Poland), FR (France).
  • Area Code – Is the region of where the plate was registered. For example plates made in Peterborough, Ipswich or Norwich will all come under the region “Anglia” and start with the letter A. Whereas places located more west of the country such as Exeter, Truro and Bristol come under W (for the West of England region). Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness etc come under S for Scotland and Bournemouth, Portsmouth and Isle of Wight and considered part of the Hampshire & Dorset region so will come under H
  • Age Identifier – This tell us what year the car was registered and is also where things can get a little bit confusing! Since 2005 these numbers can be displayed in 2 different formats depending on whether they were registered between March – August that year or September – Feb leading in to the next year. For example – if a vehicle was registered in April 2016 the number plate would display as a “16” plate. But if it was registered in November that same year, you add on the value of 50 meaning it would be displayed as a “66” plate. This helps identify whether it was registered between those time periods. 

Not sure of where your car was made or the period it was registered? Check out the Wikipedia index here

  • Random Letters – There’s an abundance of cars on our roads these days compared to when licence plates first came out! If 2 cars were built the same year and were both made in the same region it’s going to be pretty touch trying to locate who that car belongs to without any other information! So to help distinguish the identity of cars better a unique set of letters are now placed at the end of every plate.

Displaying your number plate

Really muddy front end of 4x4 truck

It is a legal obligation for all road vehicles to have a licence plate on display which has been the case since 1904 as we stated earlier. The front and rear plates must be exactly the same and easily readable. The police can actually pull you over if they can’t read your registration properly and fine you up to £1000, even if your number plate is coated in mud!

It’s also an offence to rearrange, alter or misrepresent the numbers and letters from their original specification unless permitted to do so from the DVLA – in instances such as changing it to a personalised plate. Vehicles manufactured after 1973 must display the registration plate in this way: 

  • White background at the front of the vehicle 
  • Yellow background at the rear of the vehicle
  • Black letters and numbers in the standard registration plate font
  • Must be made of reflective material and not have any sort of background pattern

To find out more specifications for the font used such as size and spacing – read up here

Personalised plates 

If you are looking to get yourself a personalised plate, you can purchase these from the DVLA directly or a private dealer, but they must still be in this format. Note that you cannot make the car appear to be any older than it truly is i.e. putting a 09 registration number onto a car which was made in 2005. Personalised plates can be quite pricey though, so make sure you shop around and consider what you want it to read wisely! 

If your licence plate has been cloned or stolen

You must contact the policy immediately. Taking swift action gives them a higher chance of being able to locate the culprit and prevent and further fraudulent activity. If your plates have been cloned and you have been receiving letters for charges you are not responsible for, again notify the police and make sure you obtain a crime reference number. This will then need to be passed onto the DVLA as evidence, by writing to DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1ZZ. 

About the Author

Holly West-Robinson
Holly West-Robinson

Hi I'm Holly and I'm a young driver based in Peterborough! I love tattoos, food, drawing and anything art related, enjoy hanging out with friends and family and making a fool of myself XD I'm a huge lover of music and also a part time DJ in the underground drum and bass scene. I passed my driving test first time when I was 17 years old have been loving life and my new found freedom ever since! I'm definitely one of the adventurous types who's always up for a good old road trip!