The ultimate number plate guide

Everything you need to know about number plates

Number Plates Explained

Want to know more about what number plates actually mean? Read on!

When do the new number plates come out?​

New number plates are released in the UK twice a year, in March and September. The 18-plate will be released on March 1st 2018 and will apply to any new vehicle registered up until 31st August 2018.

From 1st September 2018, all new cars registered in the UK will carry the number 68, in March 2019, it will be the release of the 19 number plate and so on.​

What does it all mean?

With new car registrations released every six months, we thought we’d help you understand what it all means, so you can be prepared next time the release of the new number plate comes around.

The first two letters of a number plate identifies the location where the vehicle was registered. For example, LA – LY covers London and MA – MY covers Manchester and Merseyside.

The third and fourth digits signify the year in which the car was made and is known as the ‘age identifier.’ For example, a car made in 2018 will have '18' in its registration. If it is registered in the September plate change, it will have the same year plus 50 i.e. '68'. This is standard across all cars registered since 2001, so you can easily work out the age of a vehicle if you are looking to purchase a used car.

The last three letters of the number plate are randomly selected and allocated to dealers when the vehicles are registered.

The current system is able to run up until February 2051, with the last age-identifier being '00'. At this time the DVLA is likely to review and update the number plate registration system.

How can I calculate a car's age?

Calculating a car's age is important when assessing the quality of a car and how much insurance you are going to need to pay for it.

To identify the age of a car, just look at the third and fourth digits of the number plate. In March, the digits will always be the same as the last two digits of the year. In September, the digits will be the same as the last two digits of the year plus 50.

For example, a number plate of a London car registered in March 2018 would read LA18. The number plate of a London car registered in September 2016, would read LA68. 

How does the plate change affect personalised plates?

Depending on the age of your vehicle, there may be restrictions on the registration that can appear on your number plate. Before making your choice you must take note of these limitations.

Where the personalised registration number has an age identifier (i.e. the two numbers in the first section of your number plate), you can only put that number onto a vehicle of equal age or newer. For example, if your personalised number plate had the numbers 08 or 58 in it, then the car will have to have been registered in 2008 or after.

It is important to keep in mind that these restrictions still apply for older cars too. If you wish to start your personalised registration plate with a singular letter, you must check the old number plate system to see if it is suitable for your car. If you choose a W, for example, then you must ensure that your car was made in or after the year 2000.

Upcoming Number Plate Dates

These plate numbers will all be available in the UK on the following dates:

Plate NumberDate Range of Plate
17 Plate March 2017 to August 2017
67 Plate September 2017 to February 2018
18 Plate March 2018 to August 2018
68 Plate September 2018 to February 2019
19 Plate March 2019 to August 2019
69 Plate September 2019 to February 2020
20 Plate March 2020 to August 2020
70 Plate September 2020 to February 2021
21 Plate March 2021 to August 2021
71 Plate September 2021 to March 2022

The history of number plates

Licence plates have been around for as long as there have been automobiles. France was the first country to introduce the licence plate in 1893, followed by Germany in 1896. Next was the Netherlands in 1898, followed closely by the US in 1901. The UK finally decided to join in when the Motor Car Act made registration plates a legal requirement on January 1, 1904.

The first series of number plates were issued in 1903 and ran until 1932, consisting of a one or two-letter code followed by a sequence number from 1 to 9999. The code indicated the local authority in whose area the vehicle was registered. In England and Wales these were initially allocated in order of population size, as determined by the 1901 census. Thus A indicated London and FP indicated the smaller population of Rutland.

By 1932, however, the available codes were running out. An extended scheme was introduced that placed a serial letter before the code and the numbers only ran to 999. By the 1950s, this scheme had already hit a dead end. The next successful and long-running format was the prefix registration format. Prefix registrations, those that existed before 2001, all adhered to the format of a single year identifying letter. Then this would be followed by a number that may be one, two or three digits in length. Finally, the registration plate would end in three letters that would identify the area of the country in which the registration was issued.

Since 2001, this number has now taken on more importance. It is now the number that has become the 'age identifier'. These registrations follow the format of a two-letter prefix (the location), a two-digit year identifier and three more randomly selected letters. The year identifier works in this way: in March the number will simply echo the last two digits of the year (i.e. 16 in March 2016) and in September 50 is added to this number (i.e. 66 in September 2016).

Congratulations, you are now a number plate expert!

The current number plate format should have sufficient numbers to run until 2051. To find out more about registration numbers, the new 2018 registration plates or to register your interest in a new car displaying one of the latest registrations, call us at Lookers today or visit one of our dealerships located across the UK. You can also enter your number plate into our free online car valuation tool to find out how much your car is worth.