How does the number plate system work?
Confused by talk of 60-something-plate cars in September? We explain the method behind the apparent madness
Last updated: 4th October 2016
View image gallery (6 photos)
How does the current plate system work?
If we take the plate AT65 TDR as an example:
1. The first two letters represent the ‘local memory tag’ – where the vehicle was registered. For example, LA to LY cover London.
2. The third and fourth digits are numbers known as the ‘age identifier’. These are changed every six months in March and September. The easiest way to remember this is to think of March as the year and September as the year plus 50. For example:
• '14' was introduced in March 2014 and '64' in September 2014
• '15' in March 2015 and '65' in September 2015
• '16' in March 2016 and '66' in September 2016
In other words, if car has a '14' plate, it was registered between the beginning of March and the end of August in 2014, and a '64'-plate car was registered between September 2014 and the end of February 2015.
3. The last three letters are randomly chosen and allocated to a dealership when the car is registered. However, bear in mind some personalised plates don’t follow this system.
Is it worth waiting until March or September to buy a new car?
If you want to buy a new car with the latest numberplate, when you visit the dealer, arrange to wait until March or September for your new car to be registered and delivered to you.
If you’re looking for a bargain, however, it can work out best to buy sooner. Dealers occasionally get rid of old stock at discounted prices in February and August each year.
For more advice and information on buying a new car, visit the New Cars
section of our website.
What was the old number plate system?
In the old format, number plates followed this style: A 470 TDR
1. The first letter is the ‘age identifier’ – representing the year the car was registered. This originally changed each year in August, but from 1999 it was updated every six months instead.
2. The three digits are random numbers.
3. Two of the final three letters designate the area of registration, while the other is random. From 1963 to 1983, the letter identifying the year of the car was at the end of the plate, and the original once-a-year plate change system operated until 1999. As a result, dealers would see a huge increase in car sales in August each year from drivers who wanted to be seen in the newest cars, which led to lower sales during the rest of the year.
This system was phased out in 2001 and changed to the twice-yearly arrangement, which is still in place today.
The DVLA says the format will be reviewed and updated again in 2050.
How can I find out a car’s age?
Here’s the full list of number plate years and their age identifier for used cars:
• 1963 A
• 1964 B
• 1965 C
• 1966 D
• 1967 E/F
• 1968 F/G
• 1969 G/H
• 1970 H/J
• 1971 J/K
• 1972 K/L
• 1973 L/M
• 1974 M/N
• 1975 N/P
• 1976 P/R
• 1977 R/S
• 1978 S/T
• 1979 T/V
• 1980 V/W
• 1981 W/X
• 1982 X/Y
• 1983 Y/A
• 1984 A/B
• 1985 B/C
• 1986 C/D
• 1987 D/E
• 1988 E/F
• 1989 F/G
• 1990 G/H
• 1991 H/J
• 1992 J/K
• 1993 K/L
• 1994 L/M
• 1995 M/N
• 1996 N/P
• 1997 P/R
• 1998 R/S
• 1999 S/T/V
• 2000 V/W/X
• 2001 X/Y/51
• 2002 02/52
• 2003 03/53
• 2004 04/54
• 2005 05/55
• 2006 06/56
• 2007 07/57
• 2008 08/58
• 2009 09/59
• 2010 10/60
• 2011 11/61
• 2012 12/62
• 2013 13/63
• 2014 14/64
• 2015 15/65
• 2016 16/66
Meet the Auto Trader team
Editor in chief
Jon cut his journalistic teeth at Autocar Magazine, and today, he's in charge of all of Auto Trader's editorial activity.
Andy has more than 25 years' experience as a motoring journalist, with titles like What Car? and Auto Express on his CV.
Road test editor
Ivan has been testing cars and writing reviews since 2000. There aren't many motors out there that he hasn't driven.
Senior road tester
Paul has over five years experience working for titles including Auto Express, Autocar and What Car?
Video & image editor
May manages all of Auto Trader's editorial photo and video activity, along with our YouTube channel.
Pete has been in the motor industry for around 20 years, both as a journalist and as a development engineer for Jaguar.
Rachael has moved from the world of automotive business-to-business publishing to help manage and produce Auto Trader's content.