Since number plates became a legal requirement in the UK in 1903, there have been several systems in place to identify different vehicles. The current system that we use today has been in place since September 2001 follows a specific format. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the current number plate system and when they change each year.
How to identify the age of a plate
Since 2001, the format of number plates in the UK has remained the same. 7 characters, two letters followed by two numbers and then three other letters. The first two letters are known as the memory tag and reveal the local area that the vehicle was first registered. The two letters following highlight the age of the vehicle, and the last three letters are a random variation which will make the plate unique.
Previous number plate systems
Before the system we use now, there were other systems in place that eventually became redundant.
Suffix: The suffix system came into place in 1963 and ended in 1983. The dateless system that was in place beforehand was no longer possible to use as many local councils were running out of number plates to assign. Up until this point, number plates only had 3 characters, therefore it was a massive change when this became 7 characters with the suffix system. A letter was added to the end of the plate to indicate the year that the vehicle had be registered. For example, in 1963 a plate would read AAA 111A and 1964, AAA 111B and so on.
This was a mammoth task for local councils, and in 1974 there finally became a centralised system that we today known as the DVLA. It was also during the suffix system that the colour of plates changed and the front plate became white and the rear reflective yellow.
Prefix: Following on from the suffix system, the prefix system came into place in 1983 and lasted until 2001. There were very few changes between the two systems, as the letter that indicated the age of the vehicle was simply moved from the back to the front of the plate. Vehicles registered in 1983 would begin with the letter A and follow on from that.
As the suffix system only lasted 20 years, it was clear to see that the prefix system would follow suit, therefore authorities spent many years in the 1990s trying to create a new system before prefix ran out.
When do current number plates change?
As of September 2001, we have been using the same system which is due to run out in the 2050s. Now, a new number plate is no longer launched annually, but twice a year, in March and September. Many people that are looking to purchase a new vehicle will wait until the launch of the new number plate each year so that they can flash their brand-new plate too.
In-order to determine a vehicle’s age you need to look at the two numbers on the plate. The first number reveals which half of the year the plate was launched, and the second number highlights the year. For example, a plate made in March 2002 will have the numbers 02, and a plate made in September 2002 will be 52.
In 2020, the first plate to be launched in March will be 20 and from September onwards it will be 70.