How Does The Number Plate System Work?

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At first glance the UK number plate system is a bit of a mystery but it does have some structure, even if it's impossible to remember it all. Luckily we have a handy guide.

What Do The Letters And Numbers Mean?

GU
67
NBG
A
B
C

Taking the example plate or VRM (Vehicle Registration Mark) above we have three main parts:

A - Local Memory Tag - These two letters show roughly where in the UK the bike was registered e.g. GU would be Brighton. There's a full list here.

B - Age Identifier: These two are perhaps the most interesting and show how old the vehicle is. See below for how to decipher it.

C - Random Letters: These are created randomly to help uniquely identify each bike but some letters aren't used because they look too similar to numbers e.g. I / J (similar to each other and number one), O (similar to zero), Z (similar to two) and U / V (similar to each other).

They are assigned to dealers in batches and applied to the bike when it's registered. There's likely to be over 10,000 possible combinations within each local area and plate though, so more than enough for the number of bikes registered.

Bike Insurance

Which Plates Belong To Which Years?

Year
Jan-Feb
Mar-Aug
Sep-Dec
2025
74 plate
25 plate
75 plate
2024
73 plate
24 plate
74 plate
2023
72 plate
23 plate
73 plate
2022
71 plate
22 plate
72 plate
2021
70 plate
21 plate
71 plate
2020
69 plate
20 plate
70 plate
2019
68 plate
19 plate
69 plate
2018
67 plate
18 plate
68 plate
2017
66 plate
17 plate
67 plate
2016
65 plate
16 plate
66 plate
2015
64 plate
15 plate
65 plate
2014
63 plate
14 plate
64 plate
2013
62 plate
13 plate
63 plate
2012
61 plate
12 plate
62 plate
2011
60 plate
11 plate
61 plate
2010
59 plate
10 plate
60 plate
2009
58 plate
09 plate
59 plate
2008
57 plate
08 plate
58 plate
2007
56 plate
07 plate
57 plate
2006
55 plate
06 plate
56 plate
2005
54 plate
05 plate
55 plate
2004
53 plate
04 plate
54 plate
2003
52 plate
03 plate
53 plate
2002
51 plate
02 plate
52 plate

This pattern should continue until 2050. The March-August plate is simply the year and the September-February plate is the year plus 50 e.g. a 2019 bike would be a 69 plate (19+50).

How Did The Old Number Plate System Work?

In 1999 the system switched to three plates per year, shortly before the new age identifier system above launched in September 2001.

Year
Jan-Feb
Mar-Aug
Sep-Dec
2001
X plate
Y plate
51 plate
2000
V plate
W plate
X plate
1999
S plate
T plate
V plate

Before that it was a simple change to the "new plate" in August every year, which caused many buyers to hold fire on their new bike purchases until the new plate was released. It was a prefix, before the rest of the number plate, resulting in number plates like R795 ABA (for a 1997 bike). The final three letters denote where it was registered with the last one being randomly generated.

Year
Jan-Jul
Aug-Dec
1998
R plate
S plate
1997
P plate
R plate
1996
N plate
P plate
1995
M plate
N plate
1994
L plate
M plate
1993
K plate
L plate
1992
J plate
K plate
1991
H plate
J plate
1990
G plate
H plate
1989
F plate
G plate
1988
E plate
F plate
1987
D plate
E plate
1986
C plate
D plate
1985
B plate
C plate
1984
A plate
B plate

Prior to that the system simply cycled through A-Y as a suffix i.e. after the rest of the number plate:

Year
Jan-Jul
Aug-Dec
1983
Y plate
A plate
1982
X plate
Y plate
1981
W plate
X plate
1980
V plate
W plate
1979
T plate
V plate
1978
S plate
T plate
1977
R plate
S plate
1976
P plate
R plate
1975
N plate
P plate
1974
M plate
N plate
1973
L plate
M plate
1972
K plate
L plate
1971
J plate
K plate
1970
H plate
J plate
1969
G plate
H plate
1968
F plate
G plate
1967
E plate
F plate

With the plates running Jan-Dec 1963-1966:

Year
Jan-Dec
1966
D plate
1965
C plate
1964
B plate
1963
A plate

General Rules

  1. Road bikes need to have a yellow number plate at the back, with black characters in the standard type face and no measures to obscure them e.g. a fastening bolt strategically placed to make one character look like another.
  2. The material the number plate is made from has to meet certain standards and cannot be modified to obscure the plate e.g. making it hard for a speed camera to read.
  3. A silver and black plate can be displayed on bikes registered before January 1975 and which are taxed as a historic vehicle.
  4. A front plate, also known as a "Pedestrian Slicer", is allowed (but not required) on bikes registered before September 2001.
  5. "Q Plates" are sometimes used on vehicles where the age cannot be determined from the documentation.
  6. From 2021 electric bikes and scooters can display optional "green" number plates. They are just like standard number plates but have a green band on the left.