UK number plates: understand the code and your choices

We’re now in the run-up to the new UK registrations in September. But do you know why they’re constructed the way they are? And what about personalising – how does that work? Let’s take a look into the interesting code of number plates.

Interpreting plates

At first glance, those new to number plate numerology might be forgiven for thinking – why so complicated? Well, if nothing else, it gives those devising and implementing government policy something to do. But actually, once you’re in the know, they’re fairly easy to interpret.

The current system has been in place in the UK since September 2001 (be aware, there’s a different system entirely for Northern Ireland, though). The layout starts with an optional country flag followed by a two letters, two numbers and three letters:

  • The first two letters are an area code, linked to the DVLA office where the car was first registered
  • The two numbers that follow indicate the car’s age. It shows the 6-month period in which the car was first registered
  • And the last three letters? Well hey, guess what. They’re random. To avoid confusion, Z is only ever used as a random letter.

See, it’s not complicated at all, really. So what else can you tell from the number plate?

Identifying the age of a car

The first thing to note is that the numbers change in March and September every year – it’s that time again! And deals can now be found for cars registered in the first half of this year.

A car registered between March and August uses that year’s number. So cars registered in these months in 2015, have the number 15, for example.

Cars registered between September and February carry that year’s year code (at September) plus 50. So a car registered in September 2015, will have the number 65 (15 + 50).

If you’re thinking about a new car, complete with those sparkling new September plates, you can head down to your local Perrys dealership, or take a look at the gorgeous new cars on our sales pages.

Earlier number plate formats

If you’re just starting to become a major car buff, you might want to know how to interpret earlier plates. Some sites have helpful lists, but in a nutshell…

Before 2001, the first letter of the number plate showed the year of registration. So ‘A’ was introduced on 1 August 1983 and the system ended with ‘Y’ in August 2001. And before 1983, letters were used as a suffix. Simples.

National flags

New rules introduced in April 2009 allow people to display specific flags on their number plates:

  • the Union flag
  • the Cross of St George
  • the Saltire
  • the Red Dragon of Wales
  • The blue European flag with “GB” within the circle of stars

In all cases, unless you have the European flag, you will still need to display the oval GB sticker when you travel within Europe.

Personalised number plates

What are the rules about these?

The site tells us “When you buy a personalised number, you’re buying the right to assign the number to a vehicle and display it on its number plates. The vehicle can be registered in your name, or in the name of someone else (‘the nominee’).”
Whatever you choose has to be approved by the DVLA. Their site, DVLA Registrations Direct, helps you find your ideal number from among more than 50 million registrations available to buy online. It’s usually just £80 for the assignment fee, plus costs of making up the plates +VAT. But certain personalised plates have been known to be sold for a lot more, with the record at £500k! Funny number plate combinations also regularly get sold for extra.

Meeting the rules

There is an official font and it’s worth knowing it’s mandatory and applies to all new plates.
Customised number plate fonts are illegal. You can’t use different fonts such as italics, or space the letters and numbers differently. Neither can the plates be made to look as if they’re saying something different. Some people are so keen to do this that they risk prosecution by altering the numbers or letters, or even adding mounting screws in strategic places.

Transfers of plates

You can transfer your number to another vehicle, or retain your number, ie remove it from your vehicle and keep it until you want to assign it again. The cost, paperwork and time it takes to do this means that plate has to be pretty important to you.
You can put an ‘old’ registration plate onto a new car. But you can’t make a vehicle look newer than it is. So you can’t put a ‘15’ registration number onto a 2007 registered vehicle for example.

You can’t put a personalised registration number onto a vehicle displaying a ‘Q’ number plate. And why not? Well, ‘Q’ number plates are reserved for kit cars and some imports where the date of the original registration cannot be established.

So there you have it all – the code and the choices. What would your ideal number plate be? Share your ideas with us on Twitter or Facebook.