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.
Memory Tag Identifier
AA AB AC AD AE AF AG AH AJ AK AL AM AN
AO AP AR AS AT AU
AV AW AX AY
CA CB CC CD CE CF CG CH CJ CK CL CM CN CO
CP CR CS CT CU CV
CW CX CY
Deeside to Shrewsbury
DA DB DC DD DE DF DG DH DJ DK
DL DM DN DO DP DR DS DT DU DV DW DX DY
Forest & Fens
FA FB FC FD FE FF FG FH FJ FK FL FM FN FP
FR FS FT FV FW FX FY
Garden of England
GA GB GC GD GE GF GG GH GJ GK GL GM GN GO
GP GR GS GT GU GV GW GX GY
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)
East Midlands & Hertfordshire
KA KB KC KD KE KF KG KH KJ KK KL
KM KN KO KP KR KS KT KU KV KW KX KY
LA LB LC LD LE LF LG LH LJ
LK LL LM LN LO LP LR LS LT LU LV LW LX LY
Manchester & Merseyside
Manchester and the Isle of Man
MA – MY (MN + MAN Reserved for the Isle of Man)
NA NB NC ND NE NG NH NJ NK NL NM NN NO
NP NR NS NT NU NV NW NX NY
PA PB PC PD PE PF PG PH PJ PK PL PM PN PO PP PR PS PT
PU PV PW PX PY
SA SB SC SD SE SF SG SH SJ
SK SL SM SN SO
SP SR SS ST
SU SV SW
West of England
WA WB WC WD WE WF WG WH WJ
WM WN WO WP WR WS WT WU WV WW WX WY
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:
1st March - August End
1st September - February End
*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.