How have number plates changed in the UK since 2001?

Here in the UK we are one of the few countries that issues age-related numbers to the cars that it registers. This is something that we have done since 1963, but over the time things have changed and developed.

In the earlier stages, the age of a vehicle was shown by a letter. This ranged from A to X and would be found either at the end or the beginning of the entire registration number.

This system stuck around, despite it having some flaws (mainly that you needed to remember which letter accounted for which year) and it was only in 2001 when the system was changed. Some may say for the better.

What was changed?

The biggest chance to come in for number plates during 2001 is that there would be a new way to identify the age of a vehicle. Gone were the days of memorising which year a particular letter was assigned to, instead things were much easier.

Every March and September cars that have been registered have a number assigned within their number plate. Those that are registered in March will have two simple digits that relate to their year (a car from 2019 will have a 19 on their number plate). A car that is registered in September will have a number that is the year that they are registered in plus 50.

Another addition was that a number plate would also represent where the car was registered. The first two letters of the number plate link to an area, which will give you some idea on where it came from.

Why was this?

Back in the old system the new letters for registration plates were assigned once a year. This meant that on one particular month (maybe even narrowed down to a week) people who were looking to own the newest car, would rush out to the car dealers.

Not only did this have an impact on the car dealers themselves, but it also could really have an impact on the statistics of the car manufacturers too.

As the new system assigns an age identifier twice a year, there is less pressure placed on the release of a new car and they are sold more steadily throughout the year.

What about personalised number plates?

You might wonder how personalised number plates fit into these particular guidelines. Whilst there is some freedom as to how personalised number plates are put together, there are still some restrictions that need to be taken into account.

Number plates should never have vulgar or offensive words in them and you should never use a number plate that would lead people to believe that the car is younger than it is.

Another important thing to remember about number plates is that you should never place the fastenings on the plate in such a way that it changes the way that the letters or numbers look, or could mislead people when they look at your number plate.


Award-winning writer, blogger, social media consultant and charity campaigner. Social Media Manager for BritMums, the UK's largest parent blogging network Freelance clients include Firefly Communications and Save the Children UK. Works with brands on marketing projects. Examples include Visit Orlando, Give As You Live, Coca-Cola and Kodak. Cambridge Law graduate with many years experience working across three sectors in advice, media relations, events, training and project management. Available for hire at affordable rates.

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