What registration numbers really mean

Curious to know what your number plate means? We've got all the details you need here!


By Marmalade Author

Updated on Sep 2nd, 2022

All cars need number plates, and each year on the 1st of March and the 1st of September, the numbers on the plates change in accordance with the year. Usually, in September, you add on the value of 50 to the year to get almost a half number so for example, if you had a car registered in March 2022 it would be XX22 XXX. If you had a car registered in September 2022, the reg would be XX72 XXX as you add 50 onto it.

Say hello to the 72 plate!

From September - March 2023, all new cars registered in the UK will follow this format - XX72 XXX. While many drivers are pleased to see the return of the UK flag (optional) to replace the EU one, some have privacy concerns. New driving laws introduced on March 1st mean that changes have been made to the design in order to make it easier for ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras to recognise them.

What does my number plate mean?

new 22 registration plate

If you plan on getting a new car you may be wondering what the rest of the registration number means!

The format of a number plate usually consists of 2 letters followed by 2 numbers, a space and then 3 letters. Here's what it means:

Area code

This 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 to the 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 are considered part of the Hampshire & Dorset region so will come under H.

Age Identifier

This helps narrow down the period of time in which the car was registered. Since 2005 these numbers can be displayed in 2 different formats depending on whether they were registered between March-August that year or September – February leading into the next year. For example – if a vehicle was registered in April 2016 the number plate would display as a “16” plate. 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.

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 tough 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.

What registration year is my car by the numberplate?

For cars registered from 2005, provided it is not a private number plate, it’s quite easy to tell.

If it was registered between March and August, the two numbers on the reg plate will be the last two numbers of the year it was registered – so if it was registered during that period in 2022, it would be 22.

If it was registered between September and February the two numbers in the reg plate will be over 55. To work out the period of registration you’d just need to subtract 50 from the 2 digit number of the reg plate. So, for cars registered between September 2020 and February 2021, the numbers would be 70.

Displaying your number plate

The front and rear plates must be exactly the same and easily readable. The police can pull you over if they can’t read your registration properly, and fine you up to £1,000, 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 on the DVSA website.

Why do we need a number plate?

Vehicle registration plates have been around since 1904 in the UK. 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.

How to change a number plate

Having a private plate has become increasingly popular over the years. Some people think that their regular reg plate is boring so want to stand out from the crowd and be noticed. Some people choose one to reflect their name, others want to make a statement or be funny - HA5 8EER and C0R BL1MEY spring to mind!

How to get a personalised number plate

If you are looking to get yourself a private number 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 newer 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!

Are 3D number plates legal?

The new British standard following laws that came into effect on March 1st state that number plates can now only display solid black lettering. Any two-tone plates that use different shades to create the 3d gel and 4d effect are now illegal. You may be fined up to £1,000 and your vehicle could fail it’s MOT!

How much is my number plate worth?

Private registration plates vary from a few hundred pounds to tens of thousands, so they can make a great investment. The value of your plate depends on a few things:  age for one, as shorter numbers are older and harder to come by. The popularity of your plate is another factor - does it have a name? If it’s quite common obviously it won’t be worth as much. There are some great sites around you to find out.

If your licence plate has been cloned or stolen

You must contact the police immediately. Taking swift action gives them a higher chance of being able to locate the culprit and prevent 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 Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency as evidence, by writing to them: DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1ZZ.

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By Marmalade Author

Providing tips and advice for young drivers on all aspects of driving - from getting through the driving test to buying and running your first car.

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