Car number plates explained: 2021 edition

Following the release of 21 plates in March 2021, we thought we’d cut through the confusion around the current car number plate system – as well as the old – and how you can quickly calculate the age of your car.

The current number plate system

The current system was introduced in 2001, with plates changing twice annually – on the first day of March, and then again on the first day of September. They’re made up of three parts, as follows:

Current example: YH21 JCT

1. The first two letters of your car number plate represent where it was registered. The first letter is for the region and second for the local DVLA office.

2. The two numbers following this are an age identifier, changed every 6 months at the beginning of March and September. March represents the year and September the year plus 50; March 2021 = 21, and September 2021 = 71.

3. The last three letters are chosen randomly and provide the vehicle with a unique identity.

Worth knowing: This system is expected to run until 2051.

The old number plate system?

The old ‘prefix’ number plate system began in August 1983 as a once-annual plate change. In 1999, this was updated every six months which then continued as the new system came into action in 2001.

Prefix example: A678 WRL

1. The first letter shown was the age identifier and represented the year the car was registered i.e. ‘A’ = 1983.

2. The three numbers following were chosen randomly.

3. Two of the final three letters represented the area of the registration of the vehicle, while the other was a randomly chosen letter.

Before this, there was a ‘suffix’ number plate system from 1963-1983, which worked in a similar way to the ‘prefix’ system – the letter which identified the year [in this case ‘A’] was at the end of the number plate, rather than at the beginning. The registration year first ran from 1 January to 31 December up until 1967, when it was moved to 1 August.

How can I calculate the age of my car?

The table below shows the full list of number plate years and their age identifier so you can calculate the age of your car:

Suffix system
Prefix system
Current system
1963 A1983 Y/A2001 X/Y/51
1964 B1984 A/B2002 02/52
1965 C1985 B/C2003 03/53
1966 D1986 C/D2004 04/54
1967 E/F1987 D/E2005 05/55
1968 F/G1988 E/F2006 06/56
1969 G/H1989 F/G2007 07/57
1970 H/J1990 G/H2008 08/58
1971 J/K1991 H/J2009 09/59
1972 K/L1992 J/K2010 10/60
1973 L/M1993 K/L2011 11/61
1974 M/N1994 L/M2012 12/62
1975 N/P1995 M/N2013 13/63
1976 P/R1996 N/P2014 14/64
1977 R/S1997 P/R2015 15/65
1978 S/T1998 R/S2016 16/66
1979 T/V1999 S/T/V2017 17/67
1980 V/W2000 V/W/X2018 18/68
1981 W/X2001 X/Y/512019 19/69
1982 X/Y 2020 20/70
1983 Y/A 2021 21/71

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