The Ultimate Guide to UK Registration Plates

You’ve probably noticed that number plates are launched each spring and autumn. But do you know how the number plates system works? Britain is probably one of only a few countries to issue age-related number plates, a tradition that began in 1963. The age of the vehicle in the beginning was denoted by a letter from A to X, located either at the beginning or at the end of the plate. This method was rather arcane and it is surprising that it became so familiar since the only way to understand the system was to memorize what each letter meant.

A better simpler system was introduced in 2001 and the fact that it uses numbers rather than letters to denote the age of the car, makes it easier to follow. But this doesn’t mean that this new system doesn’t have its own complications, especially for cars that are registered between September and the end of February.

Number Plate Legislation

The legal requirement to display a number plate on a vehicle has been the law since 1903. The DVLA issues and registers all number plates in the UK. The stipulation is that the front plates must be white and the back plates must be yellow and contain black letters in the prescribed font known as “Charles Wright, 2001.”

In September 2001, registration plates in the UK changed. They are now comprised of 7 characters, divided into 3 groups. The first two characters indicate where the car was first registered. For example, a number plate with the letters “LA” would indicate that the car was registered in London with the “A” further narrowing down the area.

Cars that are registered between 1 September and 28 February follow a different format. In the first decade of the system, these cars would gave a “5” year prefix, the following decade a “6” year prefix was issues. This means a car that was registered on 21 October 2013 would have a “63” registration.

You may also see a number place with the letter “D” sandwiched between 6 numbers. This is a diplomatic car that belongs to a foreign embassy or consulate. The letter “X” in the same position can indicate a car that is registered to an embassy or consulate staff member who is not a diplomat themselves.

Before 2001, number plates comprised of a single letter followed by two or three numbers and then three letters. The numbers 1-20 were reserved for personalized number plates although they also had to follow the same format.

Personalized Number Plates

Today, personalized number plates and replacement number plates are big business, but it wasn’t until 1989 that the DVLA realized the potential for big business the personalized plates held. The DVLA began to release plates that are designed to resemble certain words. Before then, any combination of number plates that spelled a particular word did that by accident.

Today, personalized number plates range in price from a few hundred to several thousand pounds. You can get a personalized number plate with your initials relatively cheaply, but the closer the plate is to spelling your name the more expensive it will be.

Personalized number plates have a few restrictions. For example, plates that bear a resemblance to offensive or vulgar terms are often not issued. You are not also allowed to use a number plate that indicates your car is younger that it is. You are also not allowed to use any other font style other than “Charles Wright, 2001” and you may not add fitted screws to alter  a number to look like a letter (“6” to look like a “G”.)

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