Car numberplates

What numberplates mean and buying a personalised plate: the full guide

BuyaCar team
Jan 19, 2017

What the numbers and letters on a numberplate mean

Under the current system a standard registration plate includes two letters, two numbers, a space and three letters, in that order.

Numberplate memory tag

The first two letters are the DVLA ‘memory tag’ showing where the vehicle was registered. The first letter is the region, the second is a DVLA local registration office. The memory tags are listed here. You’ll see, for example, that BD indicates the vehicle was registered in Birmingham, or at least the West Midlands because Birmingham is a pretty wide catchment.

Numberplate vehicle age identifier

More important to car buyers are the two digits that follow these letters. They identify a six-month period in which a vehicle was registered.

The periods are always the same, running from March 1 to August 31, then September 1 to February 28/29

The first of the two digits is currently 1 for the March to August period, followed by a digit for the year (this year it’s 17). For September to February, the first digit is 6, followed by the year (it’ll be 67 this year)

From 2020 to 2029, the first digits will change from 2 to 7.


The last three letters of a numberplate

The final three letters that follow the space on the numberplate are much easier to explain: they’re entirely random.

Change numberplate spacing

It’s an offence to tinker with the appearance of a registration number, although people do. For example, you can’t place fixings to change the look of a letter or number, or alter the groupings to spell words. Get caught and you could be fined up to £1000.

Personalised numberplates

Instead of accepting one of the DVLA’s registration numbers you can buy a personalised registration number from independent companies as well as from the DVLA’s Personalised Registrations department. The DVLA’s prices start at £250. It also holds regular auctions of numbers with reserve prices starting at £70. The DVLA claims that over the past 25 years its sales of personalised numbers have raised over £2 billion.

Why buy a personalised numberplate

Some people buy them to disguise the age of their car and avoid the pressure of feeling they must be seen in a newer vehicle.

For other people they have a commercial value. Pimlico Plumbers, a London-based plumbers, has a fleet of vans with personalised registration numbers that reflect its business. They include 1 BOG, C15TERN and TAP 15 ON.


Most expensive numberplates

Desirable personalised registration numbers also have real investment value, and prices for the best can be astronomical. For example, 25 O sold for £518,000, while F 1 went for £440,000. S 1, claimed by its seller to be Scotland’s first numberplate, went for £404,000, while 1 D sold for £352,000.

Naughty numberplates

A special panel of experts meets twice a year at the DVLA to consider the appropriateness of new registration numbers. Those likely to cause general concern, offence or embarrassment, or be politically or racially insensitive, are likely to be withheld.

However, some edgy numbers still get through with those currently for sale including AFF 41R, BA51 ARD and SHT BO55.

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