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About number plates

A selection of number plate typesCar number plates in the UK serve to give not only an unique identifier, but also give some useful information about the vehicle (except for personalised number plates, which give out their own type of information!). From a standard number plate on a post-2001 manufactured vehicle, you can easily work out it's age, and whereabouts in the UK it was registered.

Before 1999, new registrations had a different plate every year. These registrations were simply a letter from A to Z, ignoring I, O, Q, U, and Z for readability reasons. Since 1999 new registration plates have changed twice a year, in March and September. The current standard number plate format that we use in the UK was introduced in September 2001, and consists of the following identifiers:

1) An area code, also known as a local memory tag. These first two characters must be letters, and indicate the location that the vehicle was registered. The first letter indicates the region it was registered, for example A is Anglia, whilst the second indicates the DVLA office. Some examples: BD would be Birmingham, SK would be the Edinburgh office in Scotland, and PE would be Preston. The letters I, Q and Z are not used here.

2) The age identifier. The third and fourth characters must be numeric, and can give the vehicles age within about 6 months. This identifier changes twice a year, on the first of March and first of September. View the table below to see how each pair of numbers equates to a year of registration.

3) Three random letters. The last three characters must be numbers, and this is to uniquely distinguish the vehicle from others featuring the same first four characters. The letters I and Q are not used here.

A breakdown of number plate identifiers

Age identifiers

Year
1st March - 31st August
1st September - 28/29th February
2001 - 2002
N/A
51
2002 - 2003
02
52
2003 - 2004
03
53
2004 - 2005
04
54
2005 - 2006
05
55
2006 - 2007
06
56
2007 - 2008
07
57
2008 - 2009
08
58
2009 - 2010
09
59
2010 - 2011
10
60
2011 - 2012
11
61
2012 - 2013
12
62
2013 - 2014
13
62
2014 - 2015
14
64
2015 - 2016
15
65
2016 - 2017
16
66
2017 - 2018
17
67
2018 - 2019
18
68
2019 - 2020
19
69
2020 - 2021
20
70
2021 - 2022
21
71
2022 - 2023
and onwards
until 50/00

Are your plates legal?

The vast majority of all number plates are perfectly legal, but we've all seen at least one that looks like it has been drawn with a market pen. There are a number of guidelines as to the appearance of a number plate, and these came into force back in 2001.

Firstly, all plates must utilise the official font, known as 'Charles Wright 2001'. The standard size of this font is 79mm in height, but there is no actual legal size specified. Industry standard for number plate size is 520mm x 111mm, but many are bigger. The plates on vehicles registered before the changes in 2001 do not have to be replaced unless the font they use differs greatly.

Number plates that have been customised with a stylised font, or non-standard characters, or with screws surreptitiously placed to make existing letters look like other letters are all illegal. Driving around with such plates, and not replacing them can result in prosecution against the owner of the car.

National emblems

Since April 2009 number plates have been allowed to display the national flag of the area in which they were registered, to the left of the existing registration mark. So, Welsh drivers can display the Red Dragon, Scots can display the Saltire, English drivers the Cross of St George, and all may display the Union Flag. There are no other flags that may be displayed, and other symbols are similarly disallowed.

If a car owner wishes, they may also have the European Flag displayed to the left of their registration mark with the letters 'GB' if they do not wish a national flag. By doing so you can travel in the European Union without having to brand your car with a 'GB' sticker. However, if you simply display a national flag, you must still have the 'GB' sticker adorned on your vehicle when travelling in the European Union.


I'm sure we've all seen some fool with their silly personalised plate with screws in all the wrong places and non-legal fonts. These people deserve to have their cars taken off the road.

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