Car Registration – How do UK vehicle license plates work?

November 15, 2021 by Zoe Hicks – 8 mins read

The vehicle license plate also referred to as plastic plate, number plate, registration number, is a legal requirement on UK roads and this has been the rule since 1903.

Even though many types of number plates are available for different cars, stringent laws are dictating how a licence plate should be and what it should contain.

As per DVLA rules and records, all UK number plates ought to be white at the front of the car, yellow at the rear, and incorporate black lettering, in special and a prescribed font which is known as “Charles Wright, 2001”. 

The area code allocations are based on the location of the DVLA’s regional offices. If you see a post-2001 vehicle whose number plate starts with the letter ‘G’, this tells you it was once first registered in what the DVLA quaintly calls the ‘Garden of England’ – specifically Maidstone and Brighton.

Electric cars will have their registration plates starting in the autumn of 2020, with an initial period to highlight their environmental merits. The new green license plates for the electric car have been delivered to elevate the profile of EVs and allow incentive schemes to speed up the uptake of these zero-emission cars. The present-day license plate system was introduced in 2001. Current license plates are organized to be two letters, accompanied by two numbers, followed by a space, and then three letters (eg – XX20 XXX). Before Brexit, you ought to have a blue vertical stripe (known as a ‘flash’) down the left facet of the plate, with the EU brand and the letters ‘GB’ underneath. These are no longer received for new cars; however, they are legal if you already have them in your current car.

How was the old number plate system?

The old ‘prefix’ number plate system started in August 1983 as a once-annual plate change. In 1999, this was once updated every six months which then endured as the new system got into motion in 2001.

  1. The first letter used to be the age identifier and represented the year the vehicle used to be registered.
  2. The three numbers following have been chosen randomly.
  3. Two of the closing three letters represented the area of the registration of the vehicle, and it was chosen randomly.

Prior to this, from 1963 to 1983, there was a ‘suffix’ plate system, which was similar to the ‘prefix’ system in that the letter indicating the year used to be at the end of the licence plate, then at the beginning. The registration year first ran from 1 January to 31 December up until 1967, when it was once moved to 1 August.

How to read a Vehicle License Plate?

The first two letters indicate the place the car was first registered. This is recognized as the plate’s ‘memory tag’ or its area code. The first letter is for the location and 2d for the nearby DVLA office. This used to be decided via the DVLA workplace, the place the registration took place, however, the DVLA closed all its regional workplaces at the end of 2013 and now handles new car registrations immediately with car dealerships through an online system. 

The numbers exhibit when the automobile used to be first registered. The two numbers in the centre exhibit the age of the automobile down to a six-month period – March to August or September to February. The age identifier modifications were on 1 March and 1 September. Other matters to reflect on consideration on about quantity plates

In theory, the current system will run till February 2051 until future authorities bring modifications.

The final three letters are chosen randomly and grant the car a special identity. The final three letters are formally random. In practice, dealerships are allotted batches of car registration numbers, so your neighbourhood supplier will possibly have a run of consecutive numbers. When they have used up all of that allocation, they will be assigned another batch. So it’s no longer technically random, however, close enough.

 The letters I and Q are no longer used due to the fact they can be pressured with 1 and zero or O, and the DVLA withholds any mixtures that may also be regarded as offensive.

What are the Number plate specifications?

For cars made after 1 January 1973, the front license plate needs to have a white background while the rear plate at the rear has to be in a yellow background.

There are strict guidelines regarding the specification of the letters and numbers on the license plate.

These include:

  • Characters should be 79mm tall
  • Characters are 50mm broad (except the 1 or letter I)
  • The thickness of the character stroke needs to be 14mm
  • The area between characters have to be 11mm
  • The area between the age identifier and the random letters ought to be 33mm
  • The margins at the top, bottom, and side should be 11mm
  • Between the age identifier and the random numbers the vertical space should be 19mm
  • The font used in the license plate has been in use since 2001 and is referred to as the Charles Wright font.


What are Illegal number plates?

According to DVLA, registered organizations are selling vehicle number plates except for carrying out crucial checks. As a result, there have been cases whereby registered owners have faced fines or arrest when their cloned plates have been concerned with a crime. To make certain you’re on the proper aspect of the regulation, be conscious of the scams.

If the vehicle was previously involved in a crime, number plate vendors who no longer perform necessary inspections are likely to produce cloned plates, which can result in fines or arrests for the registered keeper of the car. If this illegal driver speeds and receives a parking penalty, the licence number plate’s registered (and rightful) owner will receive a nasty surprise in the mail.

Is your number plate legal?

Provide your driving license, national identity card, utility bill or bank statement to prove your name and address. Produce the original documents and prove that you are allowed to have the car registration number. You can make sure that your number plate is legal by showing your car registration certificate, certificate of entitlement, or retention document. You can get more information through government websites.

A legally registered number plate should include the British Standard on the backside right-hand nook of your license plate (BSAU145d). If you suppose that your vehicle number plate has been cloned, you ought to contact the police and the DVLA at once.

Are gel license plates legal?

Gel number plates are famous amongst drivers who are searching for methods to get noticed on the road. Using polyurethane gel the letters and numbers are covered on a gel plate. This gives a raised profile for the number plate. Gel plates are legal if they meet the UK authority’s requirements. And you should not mess up with your number plate.

What are ‘D’ number plates on a car registration?

If you see a car with a strange-looking licence plate with the letter “D” sandwiched between six numbers, it’s probably a diplomatic car maintained by an embassy, consulate, or high commission in another country. A letter ‘X’ indicates that the car is registered to a member of the embassy or consulate staff who isn’t a bonafide diplomat.

What does the green number plate suggest on your car registration?

The green flash on the left of the license plate is a new initiative for zero-emission motors which currently means electric cars. The green flash is to permit authorities to identify electric-powered cars, which may also be eligible for more cost-effective parking, priority parking, or use of precise lanes, exemptions from taxes like London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, and so on. It’s not a must to have these “green plates” on your electric-powered vehicle if you don’t favour it, but uptake appears to be a growing EVs profile.

How many sorts of car registration are there?

You may also have heard many phrases used to describe a license plate. These index marks are also known as treasured car registrations, DVLA number plates, dateless plates, vanity car registrations, prestige plates, or personalised plates.

New policies about typefaces and ‘GB’ plates got here with the introduction of the new plates. All new license plates have to show the new mandatory font. Existing plates can no longer be modified; the font used is notably identical to the new one. Personalized number plates with stylized letters, figures, or with number plate bolts that change the look of numbers or letters have to be changed. Failure to exchange such plates may also result in keepers risking prosecution. National flags on range plates display different symbols or flags are not allowed on number plates.

You can nevertheless choose to show the blue European Flag with “GB” inside the circle of stars on your license plates. This permits you to travel inside Europe besides the want to show the traditional oval sticker to become aware of the member state in which the car is registered. When travelling in Europe, even if your licence plates feature a national flag and identity, you must still display the typical oval GB sticker. 

How do license plates work after registering your car?

The UK’s license plate system is an easy way of registering all automobiles on the road. This makes use of a logical system (described in the Number plate codes and location). Every automobile has a special car registration number that the DVLA makes use of to screen it. They share databases with the police and insurers so that the DVLA (and applicable authorities) be aware of whether or not your car has a present-day MOT and is insured. Your number plate can additionally identify the vehicle (although now not the driver) if you are captured through any installed speed cameras or police cameras.

Britain is one of the few international locations to provide age-related car registration numbers to its vehicles – back again to 1963. Vehicle age was once denoted through a letter from A to Y determined both at the beginning or end of the registration number. With its particularly secret nature, it’s remarkable that the system grew to become so acquainted, the only way to apprehend it was once to memorize what every letter meant.

The current system was introduced in 2001. The reality is that it makes use of numbers (e.g. 17 for an automobile built-in 2017) to be simpler to understand, however, there are problems – especially on vehicles registered between September and the end of February. 


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