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When Do Number Plates Change?

Whether you are looking to buy a brand new car or are interested in finding out when the DVLA will release their latest batch of private number plates for purchase, then it will be useful to know when number plates change each year.

What the numbers mean

The numbers on the current style of plate denote the year, so plates with a 1 at the start are issued between 1st March and 31st August, while those with a 6 in front date from 1st September to the end of February. From 2020 to 2029, they will start with a 2 or a 7 respectively.

This system came into force after the suffixes and prefixes ran out. Before the current style plates were introduced, you could work out a car’s age from the letter which was placed at the end, or the beginning, of the number plate.

Sales of new cars often spike immediately after the change of number plates as many people wait until this point to purchase a vehicle.

What the letters mean

It’s not only the numbers that change biannually on car registration plates. Each plate now begins with two letters that precede the two-digit number. The letters are an area code that denote where the vehicle was first registered. The first letter applies to all vehicles from a wide area, and the second relates to more specific parts of that broader region.

For example, L stands for London, while E denotes Essex. The second letter then specifies the DVLA office within that area that the registration took place in. Multiple letters can signify the same office. The letters Q, I and Z aren’t used to identify local DVLA offices.

The second section

So first you have the area code, then the numbers that indicate the vehicle’s age. Then there follows a gap, after which there are three seemingly random letters. These are used simply so that enough unique number plates can be produced – apparently there are enough combinations remaining that the current system should last until 2050 or after.

The letters I and O are excluded, as they bear too close a resemblance to a number one or a zero, while Q is set aside for vehicles of undetermined origin. Any combination that spells an offensive word, in any language, is also excluded.

The rationale behind the scheme

There are three main reasons why this particular format was decided upon.

The year

It is easy to tell at a glance the age of a vehicle, which is helpful when buying a used car. This is why you may use a number plate with an older age tag if you want to, but you cannot use one that is newer as this could be misleading.

The police

Witnesses apparently find it easier to remember the two-digit area identifier, which helps in any police investigation involving a vehicle.


Current estimates suggest that there will be enough unique combinations to last until the middle of the 21st century.

Reserved letters

Some letters are held back by the DVLA, as they are reserved for special issue. Examples of these include Deeside, where ‘R’ is reserved - the combination spells ‘DR’, which would be a very desirable combination. In the Severn Valley which uses ‘V’, the letter W is reserved - no doubt because it spells a certain, very popular, German car manufacturer’s name.

Other related FAQs

Looking for more related content to this? We’ve picked a selection of related topics that you may find helpful

Creating your own personalised number plate is relatively simple, and many websites are designed to make this process easier. However, there are some rules about what you can and can’t choose for your registration number.

Much like a personalised or cherished number plate in any other part of the UK, all personalised number plates in Northern Ireland must be registered with the DVLA in Swansea. This system has been in place since 2014.

If you want to get a personalised number plate made, you must ensure you go to a registered number plate supplier. This supplier will need to see proof of your identity and proof that you’re entitled to that registration number.

The process of removing a personalised number plate from a vehicle will differ depending on whether you want to save the number plate for future use, sell it on, or immediately reassign it to another vehicle.

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It’s widely believed that you cannot add a personalised number plate to a leased car, but as long as you liaise with the lease company and take a few simple steps, you are able to change the number plates.

Acquiring a private plate won’t mean your car insurance goes up, but you’ll need to inform your insurer of the plate change and should ask for a letter confirming they have no interest in your private plate.

Personalised number plates can be a good investment as they nearly always retain their value and often increase in price. Investing in these plates is not risk free though, so it shouldn’t be undertaken without careful research.

Having an illuminated number plate is a legal requirement, so it's important that you replace your number plate bulb if it fails. This a simple process which anyone can complete, and replacement bulbs are readily available in shops and online.

You can discover certain information about the vehicle that a number plate is on fairly simply, but to find out who it actually belongs to is a little more tricky. Your best port of call is the DVLA.