Number plates are the alphanumeric plates used to display a vehicle’s registration mark, and are required to be visible on all vehicles travelling on UK public roads. The characters and numbers on a number plate have meaning and are used as a form of identification — they provide each vehicle with a special combination of characters that can be used to identify it when necessary.

Number plates in the UK serve as proof of registration and assist law enforcement in keeping an eye on every vehicle on the road, particularly in terms of adherence to or disregard for traffic laws. With just a quick glance at a car’s number plate, you can learn a lot about it. If you’re curious about what a number plate can reveal, this article will provide you with details that can help you clarify what information you can get from a number plate.

How Does the Number Plate System Work?

It’s essential to know how the number plate system works in order to properly understand the information a number plate can provide. The existing number plate system in the UK was initially implemented in September 2001. Number plates have a format displaying two letters, followed by two numbers, then another three letters. An example of an alphanumeric combination in a number plate in the UK is XX12 XXX or AB12 ABC. This is the format that you typically encounter on vehicles on UK roads, just with different numbers and letters. See our number plate guide for more info

The First Two Letters of the Number Plate

So, what do the letters and numbers on a number plate mean? The first two letters displayed on the number plate are known as memory tags — they are used to identify where the vehicle was registered. The first letter signifies the region, and the second letter identifies the postal area within the region. The DVLA keeps a list of letters and numbers along with their definitions, including the region and postal code.

The Two Numbers of the Number Plate

The two numbers on the number plate are what is known as the age identifier — they tell you which six-month period the automobile was initially registered. The six-month period is either March to August or September to February. Every year, the age identifier is changed on the first of March and the first of September. For a better understanding of the age identifier, you can check out the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency age identifiers lists.

The Last Three Letters of the Number Plate

The last three letters displayed on the number plate will identify which dealership the vehicle was obtained from. Generally, the last three letters are officially chosen at random. These numbers are distributed to dealerships in groups and will be assigned to a number plate once the vehicle is registered.

What Other Information Can You Get From a Number Plate?

Typically, the purpose of the number plate is to identify the vehicle and provide information about it. Additionally, the UK has strict privacy regulations to guarantee individuals’ rights to privacy. However, the authorities do have the power to use the number plate to gather personal data about people if they are suspected to have engaged in illegal behavior or been in an accident. Since the number plate must be registered and allocated to a certain vehicle, authorities can use the number plate to acquire information about the owner of the vehicle and the number plate. Nevertheless, it’s important to take note that only absolutely essential access to the number plate owner’s private information is permitted.

The Bottom Line

You can learn a lot about a vehicle by looking at its number plate online, including when it was purchased and where it was registered. You can learn if a vehicle is taxed, what its current tax rate is, and when it will expire using the age identifier. Additionally, you can find out exactly when the vehicle was first registered and when its MOT expires. It essentially gives you information about the car, but if required, authorities can get authorisation to examine the number plate owner’s personal data.