Registration Confusion

Drivers baffled by number plate classification

26 February 2008

Half of British drivers can't tell the age of a car by its number plate. while one in five don't even recognise the current style of car number plate, according to new research from AA Personal Loans.

This comes at a time when the police have announced a crackdown on drivers who interfere with number plates. It is an offence to alter the lettering and spacing and many drivers may fail to recognise when a number plate has been altered1.

AA research

a new format car number plate Seven years since the introduction of the new style number plates in 20012 and with the first March '08 registered cars about to be released, AA Personal Loans asked more than 1,500 UK driving licence holders to identify a number plate that would depict a car registered in September 2008 – just 50% answered correctly, with 19% saying that they had absolutely no idea what the new number plates even looked like.

Drivers who passed their driving test since the introduction of the new number plates were the most likely to know that the number plate 'RO58 PFL' will be found on a car to be registered from September 2008. However, 44% of these drivers, aged 18 to 24, still did not know the correct answer. Older drivers were the most clueless; 64% of over 55s could not identify the September '08 plate.

The number plates most likely to confuse drivers into believing that their car was registered in September '08 were SE08 FLG (11%), SP08 GDH (11%), RO88 UHL (2%) and SP85 JGH (2%).

Driving licence holders in London were the least adept at telling how old a car is from its number plate – 31% were unable to recognise the new-style plate, a further 31% identifying the wrong answer. Just 38% of Londoners chose the right plate.

Driving license holders in Lancashire were most clued up on license plate knowledge – 63% correctly identified the correct number plate, just 8% not attempting an answer.


Mark Huggins, Head of AA Personal Loans, says: "With one in five drivers planning to buy a car in 2008, it's concerning that so many people might be misled on the age of a car by misunderstanding the digits on the number plate. Worse, they might not recognise if a plate has been interfered with and risk a heavy fine if they buy the car. Unfortunately, many people can be misled when it comes to financing their car as well and don't shop around for the best deal. Potential car buyers should do their homework first: by brushing up on car terminology as well as budgeting for such an important investment."

For more information on number plate formats read the AA guide to deciphering the number plate code.

Plate format from 2010

From 2010, the year identifying number will continue to use the last two digits of the year for cars registered in March, with 50 added to that number for those registered in September.

So, for example:

2010: March 10 and September 60
2011: 11 and 61
2012: 12 and 62
2013: 13 and 63
2014: 14 and 64 etc.

Notes to Editors

1 Police have launched 'Operation Larch' to crack down on illegal number plates which attempt to frustrate the effectiveness of enforcement cameras. This includes altering the lettering style or character spacing. Penalties include fine of up to £1,000; withdrawal of the original number and failure of the MoT test. Click here for more information.

2 Car age identification digits started appearing on car number plates in 1963, with the suffix 'A' (for example, HLD 990A). Some letters were omitted, such as Q and Z. From 1983 the age identifier became a prefix (for example A490 PPO) until the current system was adopted in 2001.

Research for AA Personal Loans was carried out by YouGov amongst a GB representative sample of 1,974 people, including 1,634 driving license holders, between 29th and 31st January 2008.


26 February 2008