It became compulsory for cars in the UK to carry plates back in the early 20th century when the Motor Car Act was passed. Since then, number plates have consisted of at least one letter and one number. These alphanumeric codes were developed in order to provide the authorities, along with other motorists, with a way to identify the vehicles involved in collisions or crimes.
While all cars contain a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) stamped into certain parts like the engine hub and chassis, number plates provide a far easier form of identification. Positioned at both the front and rear of vehicles, these easy-to-read plates are much simpler to spot, especially when a vehicle is on the move.
The current format of UK number plates issued includes a total of seven letters and numbers. Two letters are followed by two numbers and then three more letters to complete the index marks. While sometimes the way the letters and numbers are placed next to each other resembles words or phrases, for the most part they appear entirely random. However, if you know how to read a registration, you can tell a lot about a car with a quick glance at its plate.
If you’ve just purchased your new car with its own registration, you might be asking “what does my number plate mean?” Read on to discover the wealth of information to be found in the letters and numbers your car is sporting in its personal reg.
What do the numbers on a number plate mean?
While at one time the numbers on a plate showed simply the sequential order they’d been registered in for their specific region, today’s format uses two digits as an age indicator. These two numbers are designed to let those looking at a vehicle quickly know its age. To attempt to make an older car look younger with a newer registration is illegal.
Number plates are issued in two batches each year in spring and autumn. Plates released in the first launch take their third and fourth characters from the last two digits of the year date. For example, a plate issued in the first release for 2019 will feature a one and nine. To show a plate comes from the second batch, the year date digits are again employed but 50 is added to them. An autumn plate for 2019 would therefore show a six and nine.
If you understand how to read the age indicator, you can tell how old a car is to within six months.
What do number plate letters mean?
There are two groups of letters on the latest style of number plate – two at the very start of the registration and three at the end.
The first two letters on a plate indicate where the vehicle was first registered. Here at New Reg, you can use our helpful tables and innovative search facility to find out where your car hails from at a glance. You can look up the two-letter code and narrow down where it was registered to a very specific region. Previous formats were far more difficult to work out, with letters nominated sometimes by importance – for example, London registrations would begin with A as it was the capital city. Today, London number plates start with an L.
The three letters that end registrations are issued sequentially to dealerships selling vehicles. As they tend to be issued in massive batches, you’ll often find same make and model cars with similar registrations. The characters are used to differentiate cars from each other when they were registered in the same region and are of identical age. It is these three characters that make them unique and easy to identify.