Everything you need to know about car number plates

Detail of a British vehicle registration plate

Number plates are not only an essential part of any registered vehicle, they can also be a status symbol and a reflection of a driver’s personality. Number plates are an extremely useful tool for the police and essential for tracing a vehicle to its owner. Here’s a guide to everything you need to know about UK number plates:

How are number plates determined?

We all have one but not many people know exactly what each part of their number plate means. Number plates are made up of three important parts:

Here’s an example number plate: BD51 SMR

  • The local memory tag – BD
  • The age identifier – 51
  • Random element – SMR

The local memory tag indicates where a vehicle was registered. The first letter is the region and the second the DVLA office.

A 6-month period determines the age of the vehicle, either from March to August or September to February. This system was introduced for cars registered in 2001 onwards and any cars dated before this use a different system.

The random component is always three letters in any order which give the vehicle a unique identity. Some number plates also include the GB country identifier and the Euro symbol, which means that when driving through Europe you won’t need a separate GB sticker on your vehicle in countries which are part of the European Union.

What are number plates used for?

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) is technology that the police use to detect and deter criminality throughout the UK.

The ANPR cameras read a number plate and can instantly check it against a database of records to check whether a vehicle is:

  • Stolen
  • Uninsured
  • Being used as part of an organised crime

ANPR cameras tend to be at fixed locations which are undisclosed. They can be used to chase criminals, assess whether a known criminal was present in the area at the time of a crime and generally to disrupt criminality. 

How can you get a private number plate?

Buying a personalised number plate is a great way to put a personal stamp on your vehicle and ensures that you’ll be recognised wherever you go. The DVLA have over 45 million private registration plates available to buy online. You can also buy private plates on sites like eBay and from private sellers, but there are some important rules and regulations to be aware of.

The cost of a private registration plate can vary hugely, with 3 main different styles of private plate available.

  • Prefix style – still includes the date of the vehicle in the first half of the registration but with personalised letters around it
  • Suffix style– includes the date in the second half with personalised letters around it.
  • Dateless – A dateless style private plate is the most expensive as it means the age of the car is not openly displayed on the license plate.

Once you purchase a private number plate you’ll receive a certificate of entitlement and then it can be transferred on to your vehicle by contacting the DVLA. You will need the V750 certificate of entitlement in order to do this and an online reference number.

It’s a criminal offence to rearrange the letters in a number plate or to misrepresent the numbers and letters to form different names or words. Fines for this kind of offence can be up to £1000 and it’s easy to get caught if you’re driving around with an illegal number plate on display.



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