UK Car Number Plates Explained

Updated November 21, 2016

The number plate of a car in America is called a "number plate" or "registration plate" in Great Britain. The British plate has a longer, narrower shape and uses another system of identification. The codes on the plate are a mix of letters and numbers with seven figures in a grouping of four and then three, separated by a space. The figures are always black and in the same font, on a bright yellow or white background.

System Change

The number plate system in the UK was changed in 2001 to make it easier for the police and eyewitnesses to remember them, according to a BBC report. (reference 1) The new numbering system combines a two-letter location code, a two-digit age identifier and three random figures generated by a computer. The old system was entirely random except for one letter, which represented the year the car was registered.

Local Identifier

The new system shows where the car was registered by using one letter for the district. For example, "L" is London, "E" is Essex and "O" is Oxford. The second letter on the number plate identifies the local transport office that took the registration. In the code "LA," the car was registered at the Wimbledon transport office in the district of London. The code "GP" means that registration took place in the transport office in Brighton and the "G" stands for "Garden of England," a general name for the area south of London.

Age Identifier

The third and fourth figures are used together to show the year the car was registered. When the system began in September 2001, cars registered were given the code number "51" for the next six months, then the code changed to "02" from March to August 2002. Again in September 2002, the identifying code went up to "52" and to "03" in March 2003. The system will restart when all the two-digit combinations have been used up in 2051.

Random Figures

The last part of the number plate is a group of three letters generated by the computer, and inappropriate letter combinations have been removed from the system. The UK's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency can keep this system for number plates in place for 50 years, whereas the last one had to be changed after only 20 years because of repetition. Vehicle owners still have the option to purchase personalised number plates from a dealer or an individual, subject to extra fees and forms to fill out reporting the change.

Country Identification

In order to drive around Europe, each number plate should be clearly marked with the registered country. Each car travelling outside England and Scotland should be marked with a "GB" for Great Britain. Newer plates include a space for country identification to the side of the figures, with a blue background. The country letters are printed on the blue in white with a national symbol above them, usually the flag. Some plates have the symbol of the European Union, a circle of yellow stars, printed above the white "GB," and if the country is not specified on the plate then the owner needs to use a standard white sticker on his car with the letters. Black number plates with white or silver letters can be used on cars made before 1973.

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