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When do number plates change?

While France was the first nation to introduce licence plates in 1893, the United Kingdom caught up in 1904 when the Motor Car Act made registration plates a legal necessity. Ever since, vehicles across the country have had to wear individual number plates, containing a series of specific characters designed to help the authorities identify them in the event of their involvement in accidents or criminal activity.

A plate belongs to the vehicle,not an owner, and there’s much we can tell from today’s car number plates, from where a vehicle was registered to how old it is. Plates carry a series of characters that includes both letters and numbers helping both officials and owners identify and keep track of them. Being able to tell so much about a car just from its number plate can be invaluable, particularly if you’re looking to purchase one. Not only can you quickly assess its age, but by entering the registration number into the DVLA search engine online you can access all kinds of information about it, from when its MOT or tax expires to the size of its engine.

Here in the UK, newly registered number plates change on two dates every year to make it easier for both the authorities and buyers to identify a car’s age, and it is strictly prohibited by law to put a new number plate on an older vehicle to make it seem younger than it actually is.

If you’ve ever wondered when and why number plates change in the UK, read on for a full explanation. You’ll also find out how number plates changing can affect the price you pay for a new car.

New number plates

Since their inception, number plates have been through a variety of different formats. The first plates featured the smallest number of characters. They began with one or two letters indicating the local authority in which the car was registered followed by a number in a sequence, running from 1 to 9999. The letters used corresponded to a code, based often on the importance or size of a local council, for example, London was denoted by an A.

By the year 1932, the number of free codes had diminished, and a new system was put in place acting as an extension. A serial letter was added before the letters, and the number would now only go up to 999. Due to the popularity of cars, by the 1950s this series had already run out of road. The next scheme was known as prefix registration. This featured a letter which indicated the year, for example an X reg indicated the year 2000, followed by a number, of one to three digits and finished with a three-letter code to identify where the car was registered to.

From 2001 to the present day, number plates feature two letters to show where the car was registered followed by two numbers to indicate its age and then the last three letters are randomly issued to car dealerships to identify an individual vehicle.

When looking into how number plates change and how often this takes place, it’s the two numbers showing a car’s age that are important to study. Twice a year, once in spring and then again in autumn, these numbers will be different on new registration plates issued.

When do number plates change?

Every year the new number plates issued in the UK undergo a change, so when do new number plates come out? New number plates are issued in two sets each year throughout the UK.

On March 1st, the first new plates for the year will come out. Then in autumn, on September 1st, the second set are released. Since the system for number plates was initiated back in 2001, the first set of new plates issued from March to September feature the last two digits of the year as the third and fourth character displayed.

Plates issued from March 1st until August 31st will take these two characters from the last two digits of the year. For example, for the year 2019 all number plates issued will have 19 on them.

From September 1st until the end of February each plate will take the last two digits of the year and add 50. Therefore, for the year 2019 all new plates issued from September 1st until 2019 will feature the number 69. From the March 1st, 2020, the new plates will then feature the number 20 and after September the number 70 and so forth.

This means that plates issued in January and February of any year, will bear the numbers of the previous period, i.e. the number issued in September.

Why do UK number plates change after 6 months?

Unlike many other licence plates around the world, UK registrations include an age identifier. The system isn’t just an effective way of ensuring a constant supply of new numbers for the ever-expanding car market; it’s also an easy way for car buyers and authorities to assess how old a vehicle is. With number plates changing the characters that indicate a car’s age, we can work out how old a vehicle is to within six months at a glance. For example, if you see a car with 18 on its plate you know immediately it’s from 2018 and if it has a 68 on it, the same is also true but it was issued after September.

Due to the popularity of finance deals in today’s economy, car buyers are often letting go of brand new cars within the first few years of possessing them. This means the term ‘used cars’ is no longer the stigma it perhaps once was. Often in perfect working order, sometimes still inside their original warranty, used cars are a more financially viable solution for many when buying personal transport. With new cars facing a drop of value of up to 60 percent in their first three years, many car buyers are happy to let someone else take the hit and purchase a second hand car instead. With this growing market for used cars, the ability to identify vehicle age accurately has never been more necessary.

When is the best time to buy a new car?

There are lots of tips and strategies offered by experts when it comes to the best time on your calendar for purchasing a brand new set of wheels. When the new number plates are issued, it’s always worth looking at them because this can have an impact on the kind of deals available.

In the months prior to a change in number plate, you may find that dealerships are often slashing their prices and offering considerable bargains. Why is this? To answer that question, we need to remember that many buyers in the market for a new car, as opposed to a used one, are looking for the very latest model available. Whether they plan to keep the car or trade it in after a couple of years, they want to ensure that it’s as up to date as possible to add to its value. Many buyers will wait for the new plates issued in March and September, which causes a lull in sales in the immediate months prior, February and August. Picking up a car in either of these months could save you money on a new car while sales at the dealership are slow and they’ll often be offering discounted deals.

However, only buy during this time if you’re seeking a bargain and don’t need the very latest vehicle to be content or have concerns about your car depreciating in value.

Sales employees at dealerships work on quarterly sales to get their commission, so every three months you’ll find more deals offered. June and December are historically the best for discounted prices as dealers face the halfway and end point of their sales year and are eager to meet their targets.

Just what kind of car you’re looking for and what season of the year it is can also have an impact when you’re seeking the ideal time to buy a brand new vehicle. Convertibles are a popular purchase in summer, so if that’s what you’re looking for try buying in winter and you’re likely to be offered better deals. In turn, four-wheel drives tend to peak in sales in the colder months of the year, so if you’re after a vehicle with a bit more traction and need to get off road, visit the dealerships over summer.

2020 number plates

The first 2020 number plates were issued on March 1st and featured the number 20 to mark the new year. Number plates issued in the autumn of 2020 from September 1st until March of 2021 will have the number 70 displayed.

Plates issued in January and February of 2020 will still feature the numerals to indicate the second half of 2019 and will display 69.