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Tyres  /  Tyre NewsMotoring  / The Curiously Interesting World of Vehicle Registration Numbers

The Curiously Interesting World of Vehicle Registration Numbers

The Curiously Interesting World of Vehicle Registration Numbers

My name is James and I find vehicle registration numbers and number plates curiously interesting. There – I said it.

No less than a day ago this sentence was perhaps one of the least likely things I would have imagined writing. However as February comes to an end, March is soon to begin.

Now March brings with it many things – St David’s Day, Johnny Appleseed Day and – most pertinent for the purposes of this article – the release of new vehicle registration numbers by the DVLA.

This fact, lead me down the path of reading about the history of the scheme, as well as the evolution of the format.

Anyway, I wrote that vehicle registration numbers and number plates were interesting, so I better lay down so cold hard interesting points to back that up.

History Of Vehicle Registration Numbers

All registration numbers are owned by the Secretary of the State – and assigned to vehicles when they are registered and taxed. Just as they can be assigned, they too can be withdrawn.

But one may enquire - why do we even need vehicle registration numbers? Which is fair enough. But short-sighted. Like a mole.

Following the Motor Car Act 1903, motor vehicle registration was introduced as a means of identifying vehicles.

The original registration numbers consisted of just one letter or two letters – followed by a random number between 1-9999.

Of course, vehicles caught on and became increasingly popular – leading to this system becoming rather restricted in its capacity.

Since its inception the system and format of registration numbers has undergone several changes – either in response to all the combinations being used up or to the numbers affecting sales.

For example, in the 1960 and 70s, when the age identifier was at the start of the registration plate, consumers were put off buying a new car until the new year.

A trend of car sales achieving high numbers in the early months, followed by a decline throughout the rest of the year was an issue.

Deciphering the Reg Plate

The current format we know today was introduced in 2001. This consists of the following:

Registration plate

(source: DVLA)

‘Huh memory tag? Wassat?’

Good question, I can’t remember. Joke. 

The DVLA memory tag is a system that helps to determine the area in which a vehicle was originally registered.

The system breaks down as follows:

Letter

Representing

Postal Area

DVLA Memory Tag

A

Anglia

Peterborough

Norwich
Ipswich

AA AB AC AD AE AF AG AH AJ AK AL AM AN
AO AP AR AS AT AU
AV AW AX AY

B

Birmingham

Birmingham

BA – BY

C

Cymru

Cardiff

Swansea
Bangor

CA CB CC CD CE CF CG CH CJ CK CL CM CN CO
CP CR CS CT CU CV
CW CX CY

D

Deeside to Shrewsbury

Chester

Shrewsbury

DA DB DC DD DE DF DG DH DJ DK
DL DM DN DO DP DR DS DT DU DV DW DX DY

E

Essex

Chelmsford

EA – EY

F

Forest & Fens

Nottingham

Lincoln

FA FB FC FD FE FF FG FH FJ FK FL FM FN FP
FR FS FT FV FW FX FY

G

Garden of England

Maidstone

Brighton

GA GB GC GD GE GF GG GH GJ GK GL GM GN GO
GP GR GS GT GU GV GW GX GY

H

Hampshire & Dorset

Bournemouth
Portsmouth

HA HB HC HD HE HF HG HH HJ
HK HL HM HN HO HP HR HS HT HU HV HW HX HY

K

 

Borehamwood

Northampton

KA KB KC KD KE KF KG KH KJ KK KL
KM KN KO KP KR KS KT KU KV KW KX KY

L

London

Wimbledon
Borehamwood
Sidcup

LA LB LC LD LE LF LG LH LJ
LK LL LM LN LO LP LR LS LT
LU LV LW LX LY

M

Manchester & Merseyside

Manchester

MA – MY

N

North

Newcastle

Stockton

NA NB NC ND NE NG NH NJ NK NL NM NN NO
NP NR NS NT NU NV NW NX NY

O

Oxford

Oxford

OA – OY

P

Preston

Preston

Carlisle

PA PB PC PD PE PF PG PH PJ PK PL PM PN PO PP PR PS PT
PU PV PW PX PY

R

Reading

Theale

RA – RY

S

Scotland

Glasgow
Edinburgh
Dundee
Aberdeen
Inverness

SA SB SC SD SE SF SG SH SJ
SK SL SM SN SO
SP SR SS ST
SU SV SW
SX SY

V

Severn Valley

Worcester

VA – VY

W

West of England

Exeter

Truro
Bristol

WA WB WC WD WE WF WG WH WJ
WK WL
WM WN WO WP WR WS WT WU WV WW WX WY

Y

Yorkshire

Leeds

Sheffield
Beverley

YA YB YC YD YE YF YG YH YJ YK
YL YM YN YO YP YR YS YT YU
YV YW YX YY

 So, in the example image – that one up there |^|^| - the registration plate BD51 SMR tells us that the vehicle was registered in Birmingham, sometime between Sept 2001 – Feb 2002. A bang up to date example.

Number Plate Standards

For a number plate to legible for use in the UK, it has to follow certain rules.

To meet the British standard, each number plate put into circulation needs to display the following information:

On top of this, any vehicles which were produced from 1973 onwards, must display number plates:

Changes in 2022

In 2022, the numbers used to represent the year a car was registered will be:

The latest batch of plates will be known as “BS AU 145e” standard plates – with rules set up to ensure they adhere to the new “British Standard for Retroreflective Number Plates”.

Not much will change to the naked eye – but the latest generation of plates are set to be manufactured from tougher material, making them increasingly resistant to scratches and other damage.

As well, two-tone plates which use altering shades of black and white to give the illusion of a 3D effect have been banned – in a bid to make it easier for Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras to read a plate.

Registration Plate Quiz

I hope you were paying attention, as the test is about to begin - and this will count towards your final grade for the year.

Nah, not really. Given the incoming registration numbers, we are currently holding a competition for one lucky winner to receive a £250 voucher towards their own personalised registration plate.

To enter the competition, simple take part in our 'reg plate quiz'. Anyone who scores 7 or more points will automatically be entered into the prize draw! It's not all car tyres here.

Enter here via our quiz page.

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