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The shiny new ‘63’ pate cars are about to hit showrooms and forecourts across the country - but do you actually know how to read a car’s registration plate?

If not, you’re in luck, as I’m about to decode those letters and numbers…

A lot on your plate

A car’s registration plate is a unique identifier used to associate a vehicle with its owner and to identify the car as it was first registered.

For example, if you type your registration number into our car insurance channel, we’ll be able to pull the registration data and tell you what type of car it is, including details such as its age, make, model, engine size and number of doors.

The current UK registration plate system was introduced on September 1, 2001, so unless you’re looking at a car which was registered before then, it should look like the example above (the rear registration plate should, anyway).

First off, a UK registration plate should begin with two letters, in this case FV.

The two letters indicate the general area in which the car was first registered and the specific DVLA office to which it was registered. The car above was registered to the DVLA office in Lincoln and so carries the FV mnemonic to signify the office (V) in the Forest and Fens (F) region of the West Midlands.

Next should be two numbers, which indicate when the car was registered. When the new system started in September 2001, new cars were christened with 51.

In the UK, new registration plates come out twice a year. Six months after the 51 plates came out (March 2002), the 02 plates arrived. Six months after that, the 52 plate came out, and the system has continued like this for the past 12 years.

So, in the example above, you can see that the 12 indicates it was registered in the first half (March) of 2012. Cars registered in the latter half (September) of 2012 would have had the 62 plate.

As cars from March this year were 13 plates, those coming out in September will be 63 plates.

Now, there were probably a lot of cars registered in the Forest and Fens region in March 2012, all of which will have a registration plate which will begin FV12 – so a three-letter suffix is added to make each one unique – in this case AYA.

This system is predicted to have sufficient variations to last until February 28, 2051 – when the government will have to come up with a new system to avoid duplicate registration numbers being produced.

One of the benefits of this system is that, in the event of a crime, people tend to only remember parts of a registration number and perhaps the make, model and colour. With this system, if a witness only remembers the first two letters, police can start searching records of the office where a car was registered.

Some registration plates may have a vertical blue bar on the far left side, indicating which country the car comes from – in our case, GB. This is entirely optional for UK vehicles.

Personalised plates

Of course not all registration plates will look exactly like this. Those registered before September 2001 still use the old system, which used letters of the alphabet to indicate the period in which the car was registered.

Then there are people who pay for personalised registration number plates, also known as vanity plates.

Some people use their names or initials for their personalised plates, while others go for something to do with their profession – such as hairdresser Nicky Clarke’s H41 RDO (hair do) and professional boxer Amir Khan’s B0X 11G (boxing).

The most sought after plates go for huge sums of money, and even plates as silly as PR08 LEM (problem) go for as much as £23,000!

Sales of personalised registration plates raised £67million for the DVLA in 2012. The most expensive DVLA plate ever was 1D, which was sold for £352,000 in March 2009.

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