How do you read the number plate system? (2022)

Starting on Thursday March 1st 2022 the ‘22’ plate will be released, bringing a whole new range of unique letters and numbers to the automotive world. Most of us take no notice of the number plate on our cars, but did you know there is a clever system behind the random string of numbers and letters?

How do I tell how old a car is?

The ‘22’ or any other number on the plate is fairly straightforward to decrypt, it is the year the car was registered. With the date being displayed as you would on the end of a dd/mm/yy date back in school.​

However, come September it gets slightly harder. September the third and fourth digits become the year, plus 50. So for this coming September, we’ll be looking forward to a 72 gracing the front of our vehicles.

2022 UK numberplates

What do the letters on a number plate mean?

While letters on a number plate may seem random, they actually have a meaning behind them to help identify where a vehicle has come from.

The first two digits on a number plate are known as ‘memory tags’ that relate to a location, such as AA, which would be a vehicle registered in Peterborough.​

AA – AN = Peterborough

HA – HJ = Bournemouth

PA – PT = Preston

AO – AU = Norwich

HK – HV = Portsmouth

PU – PY = Carlisle

AV – AY = Ipswich

HW = Isle of Wight

HX – HY = Portsmouth

RA – RY = Reading

BA – BY = Birmingham

KA – KL = Luton

SA – SJ = Glasgow

CA – CO = Cardiff

KM – KY = Northampton

SK – SO = Edinburgh

CP – CV = Swansea

SP – ST = Dundee

CW – CY = Bangor

LA – LJ = Wimbledon

SU – SW = Aberdeen

LK – LT = Stanmore

SX – SY = Inverness

DA – DK = Chester

LU – LY = Sidcup

DL – DY = Shrewsbury

VA – VY = Worcester

MA – MY = Manchester

EA – EY = Chelmsford

WA – WJ = Exeter

NA – NO = Newcastle

WK – WL = Truro

FA – FP = Nottingham

NP – NY = Stockton

WM – WY = Bristol

FR – FY = Lincoln

OA – OY = Oxford

YA – YK = Leeds

GA – GO = Maidstone

YL – YU = Sheffield

GP – GY = Brighton

YV – YY = Beverley

The remaining 3 letters on a number plate are random and chosen by the dealership where a car is registered. Some dealerships will allow you to choose a number plate from a selection if they have some available.

Does the year on a number plate matter?

While some people don’t mind what number plate is on their car, for others, it can mean the world of difference.

If you want a car with the most up to date plate, when buying new you can arrange to have your car registered and collected after the number plate switch date. Some dealerships even put on collection events to celebrate the new number plate updates.

Equally, if you are in the crowd that doesn’t mind, some dealerships will offer discounts to buy a car on the previous plate as they may have already been registered. ​

What are green number plates?

UK 2022 Number plate with green electric marker
Number plates with a green tab on the end are reserved for electric vehicles, while it does not include any extra benefits, it will make it easier for local authorities to implement any future benefits as only zero-emission and fully electric cars can have the infamous green mark.

​​Can I have a private number plate?

UK Personalised Number Plate
In short, yes, you can purchase and apply a private registration to any vehicle, but it must follow some rules.

The most common is if the private registration still follows a dating system, then the car it is applied to cannot be older than the number plate, for example, if your plate is XX05 XXX then the car must be registered in March 2005 or later.

Other than that, a private plate must also abide by the current legislation around number plates in terms of spacing, colour and position.