how does the number plate system work?


Every vehicle that is registered and taxed in the UK is allocated a set of numbers and letters that is used to identify it. When the vehicle gets passed on to another owner, the previous registered keeper is able to choose to transfer or retain the number, otherwise, it stays with that vehicle until it is destroyed or exported internationally.

Every March and September, car manufacturers will release the latest models of their cars, meaning that brand new sets of registration numbers are also formulated. The numbers and letters that are allocated are not random but signify the year in which the car was made as well as where it was originally registered. This system was first introduced in September 2001.

Every number plate follows this format:

  • First 2 letters = where the vehicle was registered. The 1st letter indicates the region of the UK and the 2nd letter indicates the local DVLA office.
  • Middle 2 letters = the age of the vehicle and which half of the year in which it was registered i.e. March to August (the year) / September to February (the year + 50). For example, a car that is registered in April 2019 will have the number 19 in its number plate, whilst a car registered in November 2019 will have the number 69 (19+50).
  • Last 3 letters = random letters which will allocate the car to a specific dealership.


Age identifier

Year 1st March – 31st August 1st September – 28/29th February
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


The rules of the new number plate system

  • All new number plates must be displayed in the compulsory font.
  • Number plates created before Sept 2001 must be replaced if they have modified / stylised numbers and letters or if the bolts fixing it in place impede the appearance of the figures.
  • National flags: From April 2009, drivers in England, Scotland and Wales are permitted to display the Union flag, Cross of St George, Saltire or Red Dragon of Wales. You are also able to display the letters: Great Britain or GB; United Kingdom or UK; ENGLAND, England, ENG or Eng; SCOTLAND, Scotland, SCO or Sco; CYMRU, Cymru, CYM or Cym; WALES or Wales.
  • When travelling outside of the UK, you are required to add an oval shaped GB sticker to comply with international requirements.
  • If you are towing a trailer behind your vehicle, you are legally required to clearly display your registration number on both your car and the rear of the trailer so that it is easily visible by those behind you.

Personalised Registration Plates

  • You can buy a private/personalised registration number from the DVLA or a private dealer.
  • It must be made from a reflective material.
  • The front plate must have black characters on a white background.
  • The back plate must have black characters on a yellow background.
  • Must be displayed in the standard font and must not have a background pattern.
  • A registered supplier of number plates must fit it to your vehicle.
  • You can find available plates through the DVLA’s online database, which will also indicate how much you’ll pay for it.
  • The DVLA has a policy of restricting any number plates that could be offensive.
  • Some (but not all) car insurers regard personalised number plates as a form of modification, which could increase your premium, so it is worth checking this before you buy one.


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