New 73 Plates: What Do UK Number Plates Mean

Are you considering buying a new car in the UK? If so, you may have noticed that number plates change twice a year, in March and September. But have you ever wondered what these number plates actually mean? In this article, we will take a deep dive into the UK number plate system, explaining how it works, what the different elements signify, and how you can use them to determine a car’s age and registration location. Let’s explore the fascinating world of UK number plates together!

How Does the UK Number Plate System Work?

The UK number plate system follows a specific pattern that provides valuable information about a car’s registration. Let’s break it down step by step:

1. Local Memory Tag

The first two letters on a standard number plate are known as the “local memory tag.” These letters indicate the region where the vehicle was registered. For example, number plates starting with “LA” to “LY” cover London, while “MA” to “MY” represents Manchester and Merseyside. Each region has its own designated range of letters.

2. Age Identifier

The next two digits on the number plate are the “age identifier.” These numbers change every six months, with updates occurring in March and September. The March number is usually the same as the year, while the September number is the year plus 50. For example:

  • “17” was introduced in March 2017 and “67” in September 2017
  • “18” in March 2018 and “68” in September 2018
  • “19” in March 2019 and “69” in September 2019
  • “20” in March 2020 and “70” in September 2020
  • “21” in March 2021 and “71” in September 2021
  • “22” in March 2022 and “72” in September 2022
  • “23” in March 2023 and “73” in September 2023

By examining the age identifier, you can determine when a car was registered. For instance, a car with a “23” plate was registered between March and the end of August in 2023, while a car with a “73” plate would be registered between September 2023 and the end of February 2024.

3. Randomly Chosen Letters

The last three letters on a standard number plate are randomly chosen and allocated to a dealership when the car is registered. These letters help distinguish individual vehicles within a specific region and age identifier. It’s important to note that personalized number plates may not follow this system, as they are customized according to the owner’s preferences.

Decoding the Registration Location

The local memory tag on a number plate provides valuable information about where a car was registered. Here’s a breakdown of the key regions and their corresponding memory tags:

  • Anglia: AA-AY
  • Birmingham: BA-BY
  • Cymru: CA-CY
  • Deeside to Shrewsbury: DA-DY
  • Essex: EA-EY
  • Forest and Fens: FA-FY
  • Garden of England: GA-GY
  • Hampshire and Dorset: HA-HY
  • Isle of Wight: HW
  • Borehamwood and Northampton: KA-KY
  • London: LA-LY
  • Manchester and Merseyside: MA-MY
  • North: NA-NY
  • Oxford: OA-OY
  • Preston: PA-PY
  • Reading: RA-RY
  • Scotland: SA-SY
  • Severn Valley: VA-VY
  • West of England: WA-WY
  • Yorkshire: YA-YB

It’s worth mentioning that the letters “I” and “Q” are not used in standard number plates, while the letter “Z” only appears as a random selection at the end.

Upcoming Number Plates

If you’re planning to buy a new car and want the latest number plate, it’s important to know the upcoming plate changes. Here’s a list of the number plates you can expect in the coming years:

  • 2023: 23 and 73 plates
  • 2024: 24 and 74 plates
  • 2025: 25 and 75 plates
  • 2026: 26 and 76 plates
  • 2027: 27 and 77 plates
  • 2028: 28 and 78 plates
  • 2029: 29 and 79 plates

The pattern will continue into the 2030s, starting with 30 and 80 plates. If having the latest plate is not a priority for you, consider buying a car sooner, as dealers often offer discounted prices on old stock in February and August each year.

Determining a Car’s Age Using Number Plates

Knowing a car’s age can provide insight into its technology, capabilities, and potential insurance costs. There are two ways to determine a car’s age based on its number plate:

1. Old Number Plates

For second-hand or classic cars, you may come across number plates with a different layout. This is the old system that was phased out in 2001. In the old system, the first letter of the number plate represented the car’s age. The three digits following the letter were random numbers. Two of the final three letters indicated the area of registration, while the remaining letter was random.

From 1963 to 1983, the letter identifying the year of the car was at the end of the plate, and the once-a-year plate change system operated until 1999. This led to a surge in car sales in August each year, as drivers wanted to be seen in the newest models.

2. New Number Plates

Since the introduction of the current system in 2001, number plates have incorporated the age identifier, making it easier to determine a car’s registration year. By examining the age identifier, you can work out the year and month when the car was registered. Remember, the March number is usually the same as the year, and the September number is the year plus 50.

The Purpose of Number Plates

Number plates serve several important purposes in the UK. They are used to identify, register, and tax vehicles. Each number plate is unique to a specific vehicle and stays with the vehicle until it is destroyed or exported. It is illegal to drive without legitimate, regulation plates, so ensuring your car has a valid number plate is essential.

Can You Personalize Your Number Plate?

While the standard number plate system follows a specific format, you can personalize your number plate under certain conditions. Personalized number plates allow you to add a touch of individuality to your vehicle. However, there are guidelines set by the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) that must be followed. Your personalized plate must meet these standards and be properly registered to ensure compliance with the law.

Number Plate Specifications

Number plates in the UK have specific guidelines that must be followed to ensure consistency and readability. These guidelines cover the size and spacing of the letters and numbers on the plate. Here are the key specifications:

  • Characters must be 79mm tall and 50mm wide, with the exception of the number 1 and the letter L, which are narrower.
  • The space between characters must be 11mm.
  • Character strokes must have a thickness of 14mm.
  • The margins at the top, bottom, and sides must be 11mm.
  • The space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 33mm.

Since 2001, the Charles Wright font has been used for all number plates. If you come across a plate with a different font, be cautious, as it may be a sign of a counterfeit or illegal plate.

All vehicles manufactured after January 1, 1973, should have white number plates on the front and yellow number plates on the rear. These standardized colors make it easy to identify vehicles on the road.

The Introduction of Green Number Plates

In recent years, the UK has introduced green number plates to promote zero-emission and fully electric vehicles. These green number plates feature a distinctive green segment on one side, replacing the optional blue EU country identifier. The purpose of these plates is to make it easier to identify electric cars and encourage the adoption of greener transportation.

Local authorities can use green number plates to implement policies that benefit electric car drivers, such as cheaper parking fees or exemptions from congestion zone charges. If you own a vehicle that emits zero CO2 tailpipe emissions, you can retrofit it with a green number plate to demonstrate your commitment to sustainability.

Plate Changes and Personalized Number Plates

It’s important to note that the bi-annual number plate changes impact personalized number plates. The age identifier on a personalized plate must match the age of the vehicle or be newer. For example, if your personalized plate begins with “XX19,” the car must have been registered in March 2019 or later.


Understanding the UK number plate system is essential for car buyers and enthusiasts. By decoding the different elements of a number plate, such as the local memory tag and age identifier, you can gather valuable information about a vehicle’s registration location and age. Whether you’re buying a new car or exploring the history of classic models, the number plate system provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of UK car registration.

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