How Does the Number Plate System Work?

If you know a car enthusiast, no doubt they are very excited at this time of year as a new batch of cars are rolling off the production line and into showrooms. The latest cars will all have a 66 number plate which might sound like jibberish and car jargon to you at the moment, but by the end of this guide you will know what everyone is talking about.

In March and September every year, car manufacturers typically release the latest models of their cars that are currently in production. This could mean that a model is getting a major facelift or redesign, or it could be a small update to include an additional feature. New cars are given a number plate that designates which year and which part of that year they were produced in.

number plate explained

Number Plates Explained

The current number plate system was introduced in September 2001. They are arranged in the format of two letters, followed by two numbers, followed by three more letters - XX11 XXX.

In order to determine a car's age, you need to pay attention to the two numbers which are the age identifiers. They tell you in which six month period the car was first registered, either March to August or September to February.

The age identifier changes on 1st March and 1st September every year. The table on the right shows how the age identifier changes over the life of the current number plate format.

The March codes are easier to remember and identify because they follow the year of the registration. For example, a car that has been registered from March 2016 will have the number 16 as its age identifier. For cars registered between September and February, the code is the year (as of September) plus 50. Therefore, cars produced from September 2016 to February 2017 will have the number 66 as its age identifier.

What do the letters stand for?

The first two letters are known as the local memory tag and they show where the vehicle was registered. The first letter represents the region and the second letter represents a DVLA local office. For example, a vehicle registered in London will have a number plate starting with LA through to LY. 'Z' is only used as a random letter, never in an area code.

For a full breakdown of local memory tags and where cars were initially registered, click here.

The last three letters are chosen randomly and are allocated to a dealership when the car is registered. The random nature of these letters and specific allocation to a dealership gives each vehicle a unique identity.

Age Identifiers

Year1st March - August End1st September - February End
2001/02 51
2002/03 02 52
2003/04 03 53
2004/05 04 54
2005/06 05 55
2006/07 06 56
2007/08 07 57
2008/09 08 58
2009/10 09 59
2010/11 10 60
2011/12 11 61
2012/13 12 62
2013/14 13 63
2014/15 14 64
2015/16 15 65
2016/171666
2017/18 17 67
2018/19 and so on until 50/00 in 2050/51

How did the old number plate system work?

From 1983, number plates followed the format of X111 XXX. In this system the first letter acted as the age identifier by representing the year that the car was registered. Originally, this changed each year in August, but from 1999 it was updated every six months instead until the entire number plate system was revamped in September 2001.

In order to avoid any confusion, the letters I, O, U and Z were never used as year identifiers because of their similarities to numbers of other letters. I is too similar to one; O is too similar to zero; U is too similar to V and finally, Z is too similar to two.

Much like the last three letters in the new system, the three numbers in the old system are just randomly selected. The first two letters of the final three letter series designated the area of registration while the third letter was again random.

A similar system was in place between 1963 and 1983 but the age identifying letter was at the end of the plate.

Earlier Age Identifiers

LetterOld SuffixOld Prefix
A Jan '63 - Dec '63 Aug '83 - July '84
B Jan '64 - Dec '64 Aug '84 - July '85
C Jan '65 - Dec '65 Aug '85 - July '86
D Jan '66 - Dec '66 Aug '86 - July '87
E Jan '67 - July '67 Aug '87 - July '88
F Aug '67 - July '68 Aug '88 - July '89
G Aug '68 - July '69 Aug '89 - July '90
H Aug '69 - July '70 Aug '90 - July '91
J Aug '70 - July '71 Aug '91 - July '92
K Aug '71 - July '72 Aug '92 - July '93
L Aug '72 - July '73 Aug '93 - July '94
M Aug '73 - July '74 Aug '94 - July '95
N Aug '74 - July '75 Aug '95 - July '96
P Aug '75 - July '76 Aug '96 - July '97
R Aug '76 - July '77 Aug '97 - July '98
S Aug '77 - July '78 Aug '98 - Feb '99
T Aug '78 - July '79 March '99 - Aug '99
V Aug '79 - July '80 Sept '99 - Feb '00
W Aug '80 - July '81 March '00 - Aug '00
X Aug '81 - July '82 Sept '00 - Feb '01
Y Aug '82 - July '83 March '01 - Aug '01