New number plates come out twice a year. You need to know how the number plate system works if you want to pick the right time to buy a car with the most up to date registration.

Of course, your registration number isn’t the whole story. You’ve also got the option of upgrading your number plate to something distinctive, such as a 3D or even 4D design.

Also, you should understand how to read a number plate to get valuable information about a vehicle’s age, if you’re buying second-hand.

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Dates for New Number Plates

The two times of year marking the release of new number plates are:

  • 1 March
  • 1 September.

The first batch of plates, released in March, will carry the last two digits of the year of release.

For example, number plates from March 2021 will display the digits 21.

For the second batch of plates, released in September of the same year, the numbering is different.

This is where the +50 rule applies.

In September, you take the last two digits of the year then add 50 to get the plate number. So, for September 2021, all number plates will display the digits 71.

This is also a hand way of working out a car’s age. This is essential if you’re buying a used car, to help you gauge its likely condition.

For example, a number plate where the second two digits are 18 indicates a car manufactured in 2018. If the plate’s digits read 68, you’d know the car was from the latter part of 2018, from 1 September onwards (but before 1 March 2019).


How Far Back Do Number Plates Go?

Number plates are pretty much as old as vehicles themselves. France introduced the first vehicle number plates in 1893. The UK was a bit late to the idea, bringing in number plates with the Motor Car Act 1903 (plates were a legal requirement from January 1 1904).

From the 1950s, number plates have had a prefix registration format, showing the car’s age with an identifying character.

It is only since 2001 that the age identifier has been a two-digit number. Before this, it was a letter.

There are enough numbers for the current format to run until 2051.


Where to Get a New Number Plate

With a wide range of plate designs to choose from, visit Number Plate Clinic for your new vehicle 3D or 4D number plates.

A class 3d number plate

How to Read a Vehicle Number Plate

The standard vehicle number plate consists of seven characters in total. This is a group of four, followed by a group of three:

  • The first two digits are a location code with letters showing where the vehicle has been registered
  • The next two digits are the numbers that show the car’s year of manufacture
  • The final three digits are a random selection of letters, which dealers have assigned to them at the time a vehicle is registered.

For example, a number plate reading:

  • NA19 GEB

Indicates a vehicle registered in Manchester, manufactured in 2019 (March 1 to August 31).


What Happens with Personalised Number Plates?

Personalised or private number plates may be different, depending on how much customisation they have.

Generally, if you don’t want to spend too much on a personalised plate, you’re better off sticking to the seven-digit format.

However, if you do this, you cannot use a number plate on a vehicle that is older than the number on the plate signifies.

If, for example, your personalised number plate includes a 66 digit, you couldn’t use it on a car originally registered in 2015. But you could use it on a more recent vehicle.

You must also use the standard font for your number plate, and it must conform to BSI standards. This is the Charles Wright font.

The first version adopted by the then Ministry of Transport was known as Charles Wright 1935. The characters were slightly wider than the standard version of the font now in use.

What Makes September 2021 Number Plates Different?

The second batch of number plates for 2021, released from 1 September, will need to stick to a different set of DVLA rules.

Any plate released from this date must have only one single shade of black for its lettering, and be made of a tougher, more resilient material.

This should ensure that numbers show up better on ANPR cameras.

Providing you stick to the DVLA rules, there’s still plenty of scope for you to have a number plate that helps you stand out from the crowd and adds that something extra to your vehicle.