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  • How Do Number Plates Work In The UK?

How Do Number Plates Work In The UK?

Even if you didn’t drive, you’d be familiar with the concept of a number plate; an identifier on every vehicle you see on UK roads that makes each one unique. Located on the front and rear of your vehicle, you’ll likely also be aware that your number plate is a legal requirement. But did you know that different parts of the number plate mean something? 

The history of UK number plates

Before we go into the details of modern number plates, let’s take a look at how far we’ve come. The very first number plate was issued in 1903 by London County Council, and consisted of one letter and one number; it’s not all that shocking that this was simply ‘A 1’. This format ran until all the combinations had been exhausted, at which point two letters and up to four numbers were introduced. 

The first nod to the local vehicle licensing format that we see today was the allocation of different letters to different councils in 1920. When certain areas sold out of unique combinations quickly, the format for those areas was upped to three letters and three numbers, and then three numbers followed by three letters. 

In 1963, suffix registration marks were introduced, and these displayed three letters, followed by up to three digits (1 through 999), and then the letter A, to introduce a date element to these unique identifiers. The letter A signified that the vehicle was registered 1963, and the next year, this changed to B, then C the next, and so on. 

In 2001, this registration format came to the end of its natural life, and a replacement was needed. That was when area and date formatting came together to form the format we know on the roads today. 

So, how do number plates currently work in the UK? 

Modern number plates now contain 7 characters split into two sections. First, there are two letters, followed by two numbers. Then there’s a space, and then there are another three letters. This looks like, for example, AB23 EFG. 

What do number plate letters mean? 

The first two letters of the number plate relate to the area of the country in which the car was registered. Known as a ‘local memory tag’, the first letter relates to the region, and the second letter relates to a local DVLA office. 

For example, ‘Anglia’ as an area is represented on a number plate by AA through to AY. It’s worth noting that Z is never used in a local memory tag, only as a random letter. 

Here’s the full list of regions and their corresponding local memory tags. 

First

Letter

UK Region

Postal Area

Memory Tag Identifier

A

Anglia

Peterborough 


Norwich

Ipswich

AA AB AC AD AE AF AG AH AJ AK AL AM AN

AO 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 CO 

CP 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 and the Isle of Wight

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

East Midlands & Hertfordshire

Borehamwood

Northampton

KA KB KC KD KE KF KG KH KJ KK KL

KM KN KO KP KR KS KT KU KV KW KX KY

L

London

Wimbledon

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 and the Isle of Man

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 PT 

PU PV PW PX PY

R

Reading

Theale

RA-RY

S

Scotland

Glasgow

Edinburgh

Dundee

Aberdeen

Inverness

SA SB SC SD SE SF SG SH SJ

SK SL SM SN SO

SP SR SS ST

SU SV SW

SX 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

 

The last three letters are completely random!

What do the numbers mean on your number plate? 

This is where the date comes in, and once you know the format, you’ll easily be able to tell how old a car is, providing it’s displaying it’s registered number plate. 

To put it simply, the two numbers on the plate indicate the 6 month period in which the car was registered. In the car world, this is between September-February, and March-August. On 1st March and 1st September each year, the age identifier updates to reflect the new 6 month period, and the March identifiers are easier to spot, because they clearly show the year. For example, in March 2023, a number plate could read AB23 EFG. 

For the 1st September age identifier update, the number needs to indicate that it was registered in the latter half of that year. What happens here is the number becomes the year plus 50. So for 2023, this is 23+50, which equals 73. So a number plate could read AB73 EFG.

Take a look at how this age identifier has worked since 2001 in the chart below: 

Year

1st March - August End

1st September - February End

2001/02

 

 51

2002/03

02

52

2003/04

03

53

2004/05

04

54

2005/06

05

55

2006/07

06

56

2007/08

07

57

2008/09

08

58

2009/10

09

59

2010/11

10

60

2011/12

11

61

2012/13

12

62

2013/14

13

63

2014/15

14

64

2015/16

15

65

2016/17

16

66

2017/18

17

67

2018/19

18

68

2019/20

19

69

2020/21

20

70

2021/22

21

71

2022/23

22

72*

*and so on until 55/00

Can you personalise your number plate? 

Want to add your own stamp to your car? You can do just that with a personalised number plate, so you’re not restrained by the original formatting of your vehicle’s number plate. Personalised plates can be purchased through the DVLA and online auctions, and can be fitted to your car once you’ve got the appropriate V750 certificate. 

Find your next car in East Anglia 

Whether you’re aiming to have a brand new 72 plate or you’re happy with something pre-loved, we make your next car possible at EMG

Choose an up-to-date model from our franchise partners Kia, MG, Nissan or Mazda, or discover one of our quality used models on display across our EMG branches.

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