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How Does the Number Plate System Work? (2020)

Car enthusiasts often look forward to March and September of each year. Why? Because it’s in these months that the latest batch of cars is rolling off production lines and into showrooms. The next decade of plate changes sees vehicles released from March adopt the year they’re produced in, while those produced from September 2020 adopt a number in the 70s (see the table).

March and September are the months in which car manufacturers typically release the latest version of the cars in their line-up. 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. For many buyers, this is the ideal time to secure a new vehicle.

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. An example of 2020 number plates might be AB20 CDE or AB70 CDE.

The number on the plate refers to the year and six-month period in which the vehicle 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 2020 will have the number 20 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 2020 to February 2021 will have the number 70 as their age identifier. Similarly, 2021 number plates will feature 21 and 71 as their age identifiers. 


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 End

1st 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
2016/17 16 66
2017/18 17 67
2018/19 18 68
2019/20 19 69
2020/212070*
*and so on until 55/00

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.

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 random.


LetterOld SuffixOld Prefix
AJan '63 - Dec '63Aug '83 - July '84
BJan '64 - Dec '64Aug '84 - July '85
CJan '65 - Dec '65Aug '85 - July '86
DJan '66 - Dec '66Aug '86 - July '87
EJan '67 - July '67Aug '87 - July '88
FAug '67 - July '68Aug '88 - July '89
GAug '68 - July '69Aug '89 - July '90
HAug '69 - July '70Aug '90 - July '91
JAug '70 - July '71Aug '91 - July '92
KAug '71 - July '72Aug '92 - July '93
LAug '72 - July '73Aug '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

New vehicles from Wilsons

At Wilsons, we have a selection of vehicles with the latest 2020 car reg plates. We represent Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Dacia, Fiat, Hyundai, Jeep, Nissan, Nismo, Peugeot and Renault, and will be happy to help you find your perfect model from among these acclaimed manufacturers. You can even buy your new car online or apply for car finance deals from the comfort of your home thanks to our new tool. Contact us today for details about buying cars online or to book a test drive.