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UK number plates: What do they mean?

It can be interesting to know exactly where a car is from and how old it is.

All British number plates are unique and you should be able to identify where a car was first registered and its age. Each standard number plate has seven characters.

Their purpose is to act as a form of identification as and when required, not only for the vehicle itself, but for the driver, particularly for tax, insurance, and if an offence is committed.

Personalised number plates can be purchased - although they can be quite expensive - and are a cool way to make your vehicle stand out and give it some character. 

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Of course, personalised number plates are regulated. You can view what is available or request your own to be made, but any plates deemed rude or offensive will not be approved for sale.

We take a look at how you can identify cars from its registrations birth and overall age, as well as when the new plates come out and what they mean.

How to read number plates

While out on the roads, it's very easy to take no notice of number plates because you will be so used to seeing them every day. But seeing and memorising them could be crucial in certain situations, particularly if you witness or are involved in an accident where the motorists drove away.

Of course, the frequency of this happening is very low, but keeping your wits about you and taking notes every so often could do you a favour down the line.

Number plates are split into three parts. Two letters, followed by two numbers, followed by three letters. This isn't a random sequence of characters, there is a reason for this and they do have a meaning.

The first two letters are the area where the car was first registered. For example, LA-LZ is any car from the London area, RA-RZ covers Reading, and MA-MZ is Manchester and Merseyside.

The second section is the two numbers, and these tell you the age of the car. This can be a little confusing as depending on whether the car was registered between March-August or September-February will depend on what the number is.

The last three letters are randomly computer-generated and each dealer around the country will be given sets of these to go on each new car registered at their dealership.

When are new registration plates released?

New reg plates get released twice per year, in March and in September, hence why it can sometimes be a bit confusing as to what each number means.

Depending on when you buy and register a new car will depend on the two numbers that you will see on your registration plate after the first two letters.

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If your car is registered between March-August, the two numbers you have will be the last two numbers of the year we are in. So for example, if you registered a new car on March 1, 2022, you would have 22 on your plate.

If however, you register your car on September 1, 2022, you would take the same number you would have got in March, so 22, and add 50. This would give you 72 as the number on your plate.

The second plate release of the year is certainly a little more confusing than the first, but ultimately, both 22 and 72 would show anyone seeing your number plate that your car was registered in 2022.

What will new number plates look like?

Here is what you can expect the number plates to look like this year and the following three years up until March 2026.

  • 22 plate - March 2022-August 2022
  • 72 plate - September 2022-February 2023
  • 23 plate - March 2023-August 2023
  • 73 plate - September 2023-February 2024
  • 24 plate - March 2024-August 2024
  • 74 plate - September 2024-February 2025
  • 25 plate - March 2025-August 2025
  • 75 plate - September 2025-February 2026

Discover below if you could change your finance deal and get into a newer car.

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Why does the number plate affect me?

If you were to buy a used car, then it's very important to look at the number plate to identify just how old that particular car is. 

If you ever wanted to part-exchange your car, too, you could get a significantly better deal depending on the time of year you are trading your old car in.

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