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64-reg number plates

“How does the UK number plate system work?”  Asked by many people, many times, over many years…

The current number plate system in Great Britain has been around since September 2001.  Northern Ireland has its own system which is quite different, but today we’re concentrating on the GB system (England, Scotland, Wales).  We’re also not going to discuss any of the previous number plate systems before 2001.

An explanation of a UK number plate by The Car Expert
Image courtesy Wikipedia.

British number plates are arranged in the format of two letters, followed by two numbers, followed by three letters (eg – XX 00 XXX).  The first two letters are an area code, which refer to the DVLA office where the car was originally registered.

The two numbers are an age identifier, which tells you in which 6-month period the car was first registered.

The last three letters are random.

The numbers change every 6 months, in March and September.  The March codes are easy to remember as they follow the year of registration (so a car registered in March – August 2012 has the number 12, a car registered from March – August 2005 has the number 05, etc.).  For cars registered in September – February, the code is the year (as of September) plus 50.  So a car registered now (September 2012 – February 2013) will have the number 62 (=12 + 50).  A car registered in September 2008 – February 2009 has the number 58 (=08 + 50), and so on.

This system is expected to run until the end of February 2051 (number code would be 00).  Personalised number plates are a whole different story and are not covered here.

Number plate trivia

Therefore, it is possible to have an ‘old’ number plate on a ‘new’ car.  However, you cannot have a newer number plate code than the one allocated for that car’s date of registration.  (eg – you can have an ‘04’ plate on a ‘12’ car, but not a ‘12’ plate on an ‘04’ car.

When you change cars, you are allowed to keep your number plate.  It simply involves giving the DVLA an unnecessarily large amount of money, filling in an unnecessarily large amount of paperwork and waiting an unnecessarily long time for them to get around to processing it…

Z is only used as a random letter, never in an area code.

It is illegal to use different fonts or space the letters in any way other than illustrated above, despite the fact that thousands of car owners do it.  It is also illegal to alter the digits or strategically use mounting screws to make the plates look like they read something different.

Why does Britain have such a pointlessly complicated number plate system?

Technically, that’s a different question, but it very often follows the original question of “how does the system work?”.  Beats me, but I guess it gives a lot of public servants in Swansea something to do…

For a more detailed explanation of the system, and for details of number plate systems for other UK territories, Wikipedia has the full details of all area and number codes.

Jaguar with personalised number plate. The Car Expert explains how the number plate system works

36 COMMENTS

  1. I have searched through many sites trying to identify the issuing area with the codes commencing J but all state that this has not yet been allocated. I have seen three cars with area codes JT09 or JH10 and cannot believe that every site is outdated re this information. Any clues where I could find this info?

  2. Hi Stuart, I have three simple questions please:
    1. My wife bought me on 25th July 2012 a personalisd plate number SM12BAN. Now I'm looking for a car to buy, what years/months do I have to consider buying the car?
    2. How do I allocate my new personalised plate number to the newer car I purchase instead of its own standard number plate comes with it?
    3. What can I do with the plate number comes with the car I buy? Do I keep it or sell it or ? DVLA mentioned in one of their information that I need to send that plate number back to them. If that so, How can I sell this car in future without a plate number if DVLA takes it? any advice please
    Many thanks
    Sam

    • Hi Sam. You can't put that plate on any car older than a '12-plate' (no older than March 2012). Anything newer is fine, but you can't put a 'newer' plate on an 'older' car.

      You need to put the number plate on retention (google DVLA number plate retention form). It will cost you about £105 (because the DVLA are shameless thieves), and will take about 6 weeks to sort out (because the DVLA are useless). Your car will revert to its original number plate, so if you haven't kept the old plates then you will need to get some new ones made.

      If you're buying a new car, the dealer can arrange to have your new car fitted with the new plate when you collect it. If you're buying a used car, you have to arrange a number plate transfer through the DVLA (again, will take a few weeks because the DVLA apparently isn't aware that the internet exists).

  3. When I was a young lad living in England I had a book that told me the area codes for rego numbers e.g VJ CJ Were Herefordshire , DD DF Were Gloucestershire FK Was Worcestershire Does this still apply and where can I get a list of these area codes?

  4. Hello British friends from the USA. I agree that the yellow plates are pretty ugly. You make such classy cars; your license plates should enhance them. The black and white ones, or the real old silver and black ones are nice. Yellow, not so. But that’s your business, not mine!

  5. Hi there, I was thinking of purchasing a private plate using the 58 as the year identifier. However my car is currently a 2008 car but has an 08 plate, would it still be possible to put my new number plate on this car? Thanks!

    • Hi Bally. Unfortunately this will not be possible. With a private plate, you cannot have a year identifier that is newer than your car. Therefore you could have an 08 identifier or anything older, but not 58 or anything newer.

  6. Thanks Stuart. The car has been fixed on a 4 year finance package. In which case, I note there is not much of a difference with the March OR Sept plates.

  7. How much does the resale of a car differ if choosing plates from a march to sept slot as compared to sept to march?

    I have a choice between a march plate or wait till the 1 sept??

    Whats your advise.

    • Hi Sid. It really depends on how long you are going to keep the car. If you plan to keep it for 4-5 years, it will have no real difference to its value by then. If you only plan to keep the car for 1-2 years, a 14-plate car (current plates) would be worth a little bit less than a 64-plate car (new plates from September).
      New car sales plummet in August and February, the two months immediately prior to the plate changes. But this is largely because new car customers prefer to have the latest plates on their car. However, it can mean that there are some good deals to be had if you are buying the car this month.

  8. @ winston, that’s exactly what I was thinking the other day.

    They’re getting rid of the paper tax disc soon, so why not number plates.

    Think about it… a chip could be hidden somewhere in the car during manufacture that could be read easily by the authorities.

    But, then how could I identify a car that was razzing away from a bank robbery if it didn’t have plates on it. Again, though, aren’t they either always stolen or have a false set of number plates on them anyways…

    You can see what keeps me awake….

    • You can assign a registration OLDER than your car, you cannot assign a registration that would make it appear newer

  9. I understand that a purchaser of a new vehicle can sometimes select the last three letters of the registration subject to their availability, but I am still waiting for someone to tell me how the second letter (the local office identifier) is determined, and whether the purchaser of a new car can chose it.

    • As far as I know, Mike, the second letter is chosen by the DVLA and not the dealer or the purchaser. The last three letters can sometimes be chosen from a relatively small selection, but the DVLA will hold back any combinations that they deem to be potentially offensive or confusing. Also, popular combinations of letters (eg – SAM or TOM) are usually held back by the DVLA and sold separately for higher profits.

    • I can advise as someone that once worked in a LVLA that the second character is not selectable. Say for example my office area code was ‘A’ then we would issue all plates from AA?? ??? to AZ?? ???

  10. I understand the area codes of the current registration system, where the first letter is the official local mnemonic, and the second a local office identifier, but how can I find out what second letter is to be used in, say, 2014 and 2015, for a particular area?

  11. I just wish we didn’t have to have yellow plates on the rear. I would much rather have white for both front and rear, yellow just looks stupid on pretty much any car.

    • The White and yellow scheme is so you know what direction a vehicle is travelling in or parked in when no lights are displayed

  12. The second number relates to the last digit from the year. The first number (either 0 or 5) relates to its registration date (march & september respectively). the first 2 letters vary depending on WHERE the car is registered ie FX/FY tend to be the lincolnshire ones. The final letters are a random combo. Not sure what will happen in 2010 in regards to the numbers…. ive heard that it will revert to 0-9 again but the march/september numbers will become 1/6 respectively!

  13. How long before number plates become irrelevant due to GPS tracking of every car by the government anyway? Surely it’s the next step in the war on motorists.

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