What registration numbers really mean

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

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By Chloe Martell

Updated on Dec 4th, 2020

All cars need number plates, and each year on the 1st of March and the 1st of September, the numbers in 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 (for example, if you had a car registered in March 2019 it would be XX19, XXX. If you had a car registered in September 2019, the reg would be XX69, XXX as you add 50 onto it). This means at the moment all new cars are 20 plates - but come September first, this will change again... 

Say hello to the 70 plate! 

From September 1st 2020 to Feb 28th 2021, all new cars registered in the UK will follow this format - XX70 XXX. 

What registration numbers really mean!

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

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. Here's what it means.

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.

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

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 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!

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.

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Chloe Profile Picture

By Chloe Martell

As a new driver, I'm so eager to share my driving journey with you all - from when I was a learner, going through my test and all the aspects of my driving life now, including my love of cars!

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