How To: Read a Car Registration Plate

Have you always wondered what the combination of numbers and letters means on your cars’ registration plate? This is our quick guide to identifying where a vehicle has originated from and what year it was released.

Taking the registration below as an example:


BD- The area code or ‘local memory tag’ is unique to the area that the vehicle was first registered. This vehicle was registered in Birmingham (BD), the area codes from MA- MY cover the Manchester to Merseyside area.

51- The age identifier ’51’ means that this vehicle was registered between 1st September 2001 to 28th February 2002. More about this below.

SMR- The last three letters are randomly generated, dealerships tend to have sequential random letters.

How often do the number plate numbers change?
New number plates are released twice a year in the UK, on 1st March and 1st September.
The 19-plate, released 1st March 2019 will apply to any vehicle registered up to 31st August 2019. The 69-plate will be released on 1st September. The second number plate released in a year is the same as the first plus 50 i.e. 19+50=69.

How have number plates evolved over the years?
In 1963 the first alphabetised, prefix registration, number plate was released with the first letter of the reg identifying the year the vehicle was released. 1963 was ‘A’, 1964 ‘B’. In 1967, it was decided that two letters would be released per year, one in March and one in September. When the end of the alphabet was reached in 1983, this system was repeated bringing us to 2001.

In 2001 the new system was brought into place and the first numerical registration was released. The current system will remain in place until all possible combinations have been used.
2002- March 02, September 52
2003- March 03, September 53
2004- March 04, September 54

2011- March 11, September 61
2012- March 12, September 62
2013- March 13, September 63

2020- March 20, September 70
2021- March 21, September 71
2022- March 22, September 72

How does this affect personalised or private plates?
When a personalised registration number has an age identifier, you can make your car seem older than it actually is, but not younger. So if you own a 19-plate, released March 2019 you may put it on any vehicle registered after this date, but not before.
This also applies to the old style registrations too, if you wish to use a registration starting with a singular letter you must make sure your vehicle was made in or after the year that letter was released.

Can I change the lettering or spacing on my vehicles number plate?
The DVLA have very specific rules for the lettering and spacing on number plates. There is a standard font, making number plates easier to be read. You can’t change the spaces, distort the letters or numbers or change the standard colouring in any way, doing this could result in a fine.

Is it worth waiting until March or September to buy a new car?
As the new registrations are released on the 1st of March & September many buyers of new vehicles wait until these dates to purchase. Generally, the newer the vehicle the more expensive it is meaning that dealerships may have offers on their ‘old stock’. In turn, this may also bring down the price of the vehicle which you are replacing.

Where can I get a registration plate made?
At John Delany Motors we are a registered number plate supplier (RNPS). You can only get a number plate made up by a RNPS and they would need proof of name and address and proof that you’re allowed the use the registration number, such as a V5C log book, before supplying. 

If you are having car troubles, we have a variety of servicing options available, dependent on your vehicle requirements and budget.


Multi-millionaire Lord Sugar has ‘AMS 1’ displayed on his Rolls Royce Phantom, which represents the initals of his name, Alan Michael Sugar, and his company name Amstrad.