Number plates, everything you need to know

5 minutes

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From personalised number plates to the most pricey plates of all time, here's everything you need to know about car registration plates...

  • The most expensive number plate in the UK is ‘25 0’, worth £518,000! 
  • Number plates can be an attractive target for thieves
  • Every year, the DVLA bans a number of controversial number plates

What is a number plate and why do we have one? 

Brought into legislation in 1903, number plates show that a car is officially registered and consists of a series of letters and numbers that sit at the front and back of a car. In the UK, number plates placed at the front of a vehicle are white, and at the back, yellow. Why? These colours allow other drivers to assess at a glance if they're looking at the front or rear of a vehicle. 

How do you read a number plate?

The first two letters represent the area code. These are regional identifiers, determined by the area a vehicle has been registered in. For example, a car with a number plate beginning with HA-HW will have been registered in Hampshire and Dorset. 

The first two numbers represent the vehicle's age. The two numbers represent the year the car was registered. To read this correctly, you’ve got to factor in the two new registration periods in March and September. Those registered with March’s number plates will feature the last two digits of the year. September number plates will be the same, plus 50. 

The last few letters are randomly generated, so they don’t really mean that much.

What is the donned green symbol? If you see a number plate that was registered after 1 March 2021 with a donned green symbol on the edge, you’ve spotted an electric vehicle and won yourself some number plate bingo bonus points! This was introduced to raise awareness of electric vehicles and encourage motorists to make the switch to more environmentally friendly vehicles.

And for the really old cars or those well-loved vintage vehicles, if you spot a number plate which uses three numbers and three letters, it will pre-date 2001. The letter at the beginning identifies the year of registration and the last two letters, the location.

Road-trip party trick

Being able to read a number plate can help you impress your fellow passengers on a long, boring road trip, or even at the pub if the conversation really runs dry. But best of all, creating a fun, number plate game will help you keep the back-seat drivers and kids distracted on long journeys. 

According to Dr James Hind, having plenty of games and activities organised for a long road trip can help keep your journey tantrum free. Check out some of our game ideas in this article. From treasure hunts and eye spy, to screen time and wheels on the bus, we’ve got you covered! 

Not-so-fun: Number plates are an attractive target for thieves

Over the past few years, the UK has seen a surge in vehicle number plate thefts. But what would anyone want with your car's number plate? There can be a number of reasons for stealing a number plate, but one of the most common is that the thief is trying to cover up for another crime they have or are planning to commit. 

By putting your number plate on their vehicle, thieves can drive around care-free carrying out crimes, in the knowledge that the police can’t link the number plate back to their identity therefore, reducing their chances of getting caught.

It may even be so they can try to get away with not having to buy their own insurance and take advantage of you being a responsible road user and insuring your car.

If your number plates have been stolen, the police could think that you are responsible for any acts carried out by criminals using your number plate. So, what should you do?

  • Inform the police of the theft immediately
  • Don’t drive your vehicle as it’s illegal to drive your vehicle without number plates
  • Order replacement number plates as soon as possible

Did you know? If your number plate is dirty, you’ll want to get the bucket and sponge out. Motorists can be fined £1,000 for having a dirty number plate, so make sure to give it a wipe regularly and ensure the letters and numbers can be clearly read.

Personalised number plates 

Unique and rare number plates can be worth even more than the vehicle itself, with some popular and famous number plates selling for hundreds of pounds, even thousands.

Remember, it's important you let your car insurance provider know if you purchase a personalised number plate, and to keep them updated with any changes to it.

Top tip: To help protect your personalised plates, replace the existing screws holding the plates in position with security screws. Typically, number plates are held on by a Phillips head screw, which means that all thieves need is a simple screw driver to steal your number plate.

If possible, you should also store your vehicle in a secure location overnight, such as a garage. For cars left out on the driveway or roads, make sure it is well-lit and busy, and use a car cover to hide your personalised plates. If you’re considering getting a personalised number plate, there’s a few things that you can do with the old one. 

  • Recycle - An easy and environmentally friendly way to dispose of the old number plate is to recycle it, and most recycling centres will accept number plates. This is also a great way to avoid your old number plates getting stolen and used by criminals.
  • Sell - Although the DVLA doesn't buy old number plates, there is the option to make a couple of extra pounds towards the personalised plates by selling the old one online or with an auction house.
  • Surrender - If you’re switching from one personalised plate to another, you can give the old number plate to the DVLA. With the latest V778 or V750 documents, you could get a refund of up to £80.
  • You may want to keep hold of the old plates so when you sell the car, you can put the original plates back on and keep your personal plate.

Facts about number plates

Did you know, there are lots of interesting facts about number plates that most people aren’t aware of? Here’s some of our favourite facts for car fanatics, pub quizzers and bored road-trippers.

What about the future of number plates? 

Although current number plates are set to continue until 2099, we may see features evolve as technology develops. For example, some parts of the world are already creating number plates with microchips embedded, containing chassis numbers, owner’s personal identification information, past traffic offences and contact information. 

This means that if you wanted to change your number plates, you’d simply request this change and have it take place wirelessly. It would also stop thieves stealing number plates for use on their own vehicles, and if a vehicle was reported as stolen, the number plate will flash a warning message calling for attention.  Whilst this isn’t planned to be rolled out in the UK any time soon, we could one day have these features in place.

So, fancy getting your hands on one of the new 72 plates or tempted by a personalised plate? Make sure to let your insurance provider know about your new purchase… and whilst you’re at it check that your car insurance is up to date.