How Does The Number Plate System Work?
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?
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.
Which Plates Belong To Which Years?
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.
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.
Prior to that the system simply cycled through A-Y as a suffix i.e. after the rest of the number plate:
With the plates running Jan-Dec 1963-1966:
- 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.
- 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.
- A silver and black plate can be displayed on bikes registered before January 1975 and which are taxed as a historic vehicle.
- A front plate, also known as a "Pedestrian Slicer", is allowed (but not required) on bikes registered before September 2001.
- "Q Plates" are sometimes used on vehicles where the age cannot be determined from the documentation.
- 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.