UK Number Plates Explained

What do car number plates mean? It’s a question most people who drive will have asked at some point – especially when buying a new car. If you’re curious to find out, we have all the answers on how number plates work. It turns out there is actually a lot more to those series of numbers and letters than first meets the eye…

Why do we use number plates?

Vehicle registration numbers are assigned to cars rather than owners to keep track of it for official reasons such as tax purposes. The current system has been in place in Great Britain since 2001 (Northern Ireland operates separately, which means that number plates UK rules might differ).

What do number plates mean?

Number plates consist of seven numbers and letters that each mean something:

Two Letters

The first two letters are a “local memory tag” to show where the vehicle was registered (the first letter is the region while the second letter represents the DVLA office).

Two Numbers

The following two numbers are age identifiers, indicating which six-month period the car was first registered.

Three Letters

The last three letters are random and are allocated to a dealership when the car is registered at one.

What number plates are legal?

You can find a full list of official number plate rules on the government’s website, but we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked queries below.

A lot of people ask: “Are 4d number plates legal?” While 4d number plates are legal, you must ensure that they adhere to the rules (e.g. they cannot be reflective or removable).

You can also personalise your number plate but this must be done via the DVLA (there are rules around what you can and cannot use as a personalised number plate).

It’s also worth noting that prior to Brexit you could have a blue vertical “flash” strip down the left side of the number plate with the EU logo and the letters “GB” underneath. These are no longer available for new cars but it is still perfectly legal if you already have them.

When do number plates change?

The age identifier on number plates changes on 1st March and 1st September every year.

What is the latest number plate update?

The latest number plate update was a 22 plate, but the 72 number plates launches on1st September 2022.

How do I get a number plate?

If your car needs a number plate, you need to go to a Registered Number Plate Supplier (RNPS) and provide documents in order to request for them to be made.

UK Car Number Plates