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Jamie Gibbs

What year is my car?

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Your car’s number plate – demystified.

UK number plate

In the UK, car registration plates were first introduced in 1903. The system has been through several changes since then but their purpose has remained the same.

Understanding the numbers and letters included in a registration plate can give you a bit of extra information. It could even give you more bargaining power when buying a car.

How does the current number plate system work?

Before 2001, registration plates were released once a year. Since then, new registration plates are issued twice a year – in March and September.

Your car’s registration plate can give away its age and the area where it was registered. A country identifier is also present.

Here’s an example of a current number plate:

UK number plate example

The age identifier changes on 1 March and 1 September every year and with it you can work out how old the car is:

Year Registrations from 1 March to end of August Registrations from 1 September to end of February

2001/02

51

2002/03

02

52

2003/04

03

53

2004/05

04

54

2005/06

05

55

2006/07

06

56

2007/08

07

57

2008/09

08

58

2009/10

09

59

2010/11

10

60

2011/12

11

61

2012/13

12

62

2013/14

13

63

2014/15

14

64

2015/16

15

65

2016/17

16

66

2017/18

17

67

2018/19

18

68

2019/20

19

69

2020/21

20

70

2021/22

21

71

The easiest way to remember the above is that the March registration number equals the year – 2017 will be ‘17’. The September registrations is the year plus 50, so 2017 will be ‘67’.

National flags can be displayed under rules introduced in 2009, with each being accompanied by their identifier. The permitted country flags are:

  • Union Flag

  • Cross of St George

  • Cross of St Andrew / The Saltire

  • Y Ddraig Gogh / Red Dragon of Wales

The EU symbol is optional. But if you decide not to have it, you’ll need to display the well-known oval GB sticker when driving within the European Union.

UK number plate flags

These are the official country identifiers:

  • GREAT BRITAIN, Great Britain or GB

  • UNITED KINGDOM, United Kingdom or the UK

  • CYMRU, Cymru, CYM or Cym

  • ENGLAND, England, ENG, Eng

  • SCOTLAND, Scotland, SCO or Sco

  • WALES or Wales

How do older systems work?

Number plate systems before 2001 were completely different. Cars registered between 1983-2001 used a prefix format, and those registered between 1962-1982 used a suffix format.

The prefix system – cars registered 1983-2001

These plates consist of a letter showing the age identifier, random numbers and an area code:

UK number plate prefix system

The suffix system – cars registered 1963-1982

The main difference to the other systems is that the age identifier is at the end of the plate, rather than at the beginning:

UK number plate suffix system

Here’s how you can work out the age of a car registered with the suffix and prefix systems:

Age identifier Suffix system Prefix system
A 1963 1983
B 1964 1984
C 1965 1985
D 1966 1986
E 1967 1987
F 1967 1988
G 1968 1989
H 1969 1990
J 1970 1991
K 1971 1992
L 1972 1993
M 1973 1994
N 1974 1995
P 1975 1996
R 1976 1997
S 1977 1998
T 1978 1999
V 1979 1999
W 1980 2000
X 1981 2000
Y 1982 2001

When is the best time to buy a car?

As new number plates come in in March and September, that’s when many used cars come on the market. People trade up to the new-registration vehicles in those months, and you’re more likely to find a good deal.

You can also consider buying a pre-registered car, which is essentially a new car, but self-registered by the dealership.

During these two months, dealerships have a lot of stock to shift. So, in order to hit their sales targets, some sell new cars to themselves and then put it back on sale with a significant discount.

This system doesn’t apply to personalised plates as they’re an exception to the rules.

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