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How Is The UK Car Registration Plate Configured?

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“What do the letters and numbers on a number plate mean?” is a question that we have been asked by numerous individuals, many times over the course of many decades…

The current number plate system for Great Britain has been around since September 2001. Northern Ireland has its own system that’s quite different, but we’re focused on what’s known as the GB systems (England, Scotland, Wales).

We’re also not planning to go over any of the earlier number plate systems prior to 2001. The numbering system has changed several times, so maybe we’ll examine previous systems another time.

Contact when looking for a number plate maker.

Current British numbers are arranged in the format comprising two letters, then which are followed by two numbers, followed by a space and after that three letters (eg the format XX22XXX).

Prior to Brexit, you could have a vertical blue strip (known as a flash) down the left side of the plate. It has the EU logo and the letter “GB” below. They are no longer offered on new vehicles, however they are still legal if you have them installed on your vehicle.

The letters that begin with the letter “A” show where the car was first registered.

The first two letters are called a ‘memory tag’, which is DVLA-speak to mean a place identifier that indicates which location the car was initially registered. This was previously identified by the DVLA office where the registration took place. However, the DVLA ended all its regional offices at the end of 2013 and handles new registrations directly with car dealerships via an electronic system.

Although the system has been centralized dealerships will continue to be allocated registration numbers that correspond to their original area code. So (for example) if you are buying an automobile from a London dealership most likely, you’ll be assigned a number plate starting with an L.

Other regions of England have their own letter codes; Yorkshire-registered cars start with the letter Y. Hampshire-registered vehicles start with an H and it goes on. If you’re buying a new vehicle in Scotland you’ll most likely begin by using the letter S. For vehicles that are registered in Wales the letters will begin with a letter C for Cymru.

If you look closely at the list below it will be clear that the letters I, Q and Z aren’t used in the identification of the location.

The numbers tell the date the car was first registered

The two numbers are known as the ‘age identifier’, which will tell you during which six-month period the car was registered for the first time. This may initially be confusing, however, once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be able to make the concept

The numbers change every six months, in March and September. The March codes are simple to remember since they correspond with the year of registration (so a car registered between March and August in 2022 will bear the number 22, a car that has been registered during March-August of 2005 will have the number 05 and so on. ).

For vehicles that are registered between November and February things are slightly more difficult. The numeric code is equal to what calendar year (as in September) plus 50. Thus, a vehicle which was registered from September 2022 to February 2023 would have numbers of 72 (= 22 + 50). A car that was registered between September 2006 to February 2007 will have the number 56 (=06 + 50) and so on.

In theory, the system could be in place until February 2051, unless some future administration changes it before then.

The last three letters are random

The three letters in the middle are officially random. In practice, dealerships are assigned various registration numbers in batches, therefore your local dealer will probably have a series of consecutive numbers. If they’ve used the entire allocation then they’ll be assigned a different batch. So it’s not technically random, but close enough.

It is important to note that the letters Q and I are not made use of because they could be confused with the letters 1 and 0 or O and the DVLA does not permit any combinations that are thought to be inappropriate or sweary. we’re not going to give an example, but you may use your imaginations…

The personal number plate is an entirely different matter and aren’t covered here, but again the DVLA will censor anything it finds offensive or indecent.
What exactly does that green stripe refer to on certain number plates?

You might have noticed some vehicles have green flashes to the left of the number plate. It’s in the same spot where the blue EU identification was. It is a new initiative to make zero-emission cars (which currently time, basically translates to electric cars).

The goal of”green” flashes is for authorities to easily recognize electric cars, which may be eligible for parking discounts and priority parking, or the use of specific lanes, exemptions from taxes such as the London’s Ulta Low Emission Zone, and so on.

It’s not required to put these “green plates” on your electric car If you don’t want to make a fuss about it. However, the number of people who opt for it seems to be increasing as EVs become more popular.

The number plate trivia

It’s possible to get an old number plate on a new car, since the DVLA offers number plate sales they believe have a significant commercial value. This means you can use a ’56’ license plate (Sept 2006 to Feb 2007) on a brand-new 2022 car , if that’s what you prefer. It’s not uncommon for people trying to make the words from their plate, or with owners who want to conceal how old their car actually is.
However, you cannot have the latest number plate code than the one that was assigned to that car’s date of registration. This means that you cannot have the ’22’ or number plate (2022 car) on a car that is registered as 56 (Sept 2006 – Feb 2007) for example, in the reverse order of the above example.
If you switch cars, you are allowed to retain your registration number, if you don’t wish to remember a brand new number each time you switch your car. This is as simple as paying the DVLA an excessive amount of money, filling in an excessive quantity of paperwork, then waiting an unnecessarily long time for them to get around to processing it…
The letters I A, Q, and Z are used only in random order they are not used in the form of an area code.
It is against the law to employ different fonts or space the letters in any other way than what is shown above regardless of the fact that hundreds of car owners use it. It is also unlawful to change the numbers or deliberately use mounting screws to make the plates appear as if they read a different font. Again, this is poorly enforced , and the penalties are very minimal.

Why is it that Britain be so sloppy with its complicated numbers plate systems?

This is a different matter however, it usually is a follow-up to the initial question of “How does the system function?” Beats me, however, I suppose it gives a lot of civil officials working in Swansea (where there is the DVLA is headquartered) an opportunity to be involved…