Number plates – What do they mean and what do they tell you? | AA Cars


Every car has a number plate. With one on the front and back, it gives each vehicle its own unique identity, and this allows information to be stored and used elsewhere.

To many of us, number plates are just a sequence of letters and numbers that can sometimes be difficult to remember. However, there’s method in the madness – here’s we explain what a number plate can tell you.

How is a number plate formatted?

Most number plates seen on UK roads today use a format that was introduced in 2001. This is a 7-character layout split into 2 sections – except for Northern Ireland which uses a modified version of this.

The sequence is 2 letters followed by 2 numbers, then 3 more letters after a space.

What do the first 2 letters mean?

Formally known as a local memory tag, the 2 letters represent where in the UK the car was first registered. The first letter represents the area – for example, L represents London, Y is Yorkshire, B is for models registered in the Birmingham area and S signifies Scotland. 

The second letter tells you the postal area it was registered in. For example, Hampshire and Dorset have 3 postal areas – Bournemouth, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. Multiple letters are used for each postal area.

And what about the numbers?

These 2 number, known as the ‘age identifier’, show when the car was first registered. It covers a 6-month period, which is why new plates are issued twice a year.

That means models registered between March and August hold the last 2 digits of the year it was put on the road. For example, for models from March and August in 2018, they will have the number ‘18’.

And for cars registered from September to February, 50 is added. So you’ll see the number ’68’ on the plate for models from September 2018 to February 2019.

So the final 3 letter must mean something as well?

Unlike the previous 4 characters, the final 3 letters don’t mean anything. Instead, these random combinations are used to help keep each car unique compared to other cars registered at the same time.

With only I and Q not in circulation, a combination of the remaining 24 letters are then used to make up the final 3 characters. Some layouts are taken out as they may appear as offensive.

How can you use a number plate?

A number plate is the key to lots of information on a vehicle. So much so that you can check a lot of the car’s history just by having the number plate. 

With all the vehicle’s information stored by the Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), you can see any major malfunctions and the MOT history.

You can also get a car valued through the AA’s Valuation Service. There you can see what dealers think your vehicle is worth before deciding where or who to sell your car to. 


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