Do you know when number plates will change in 2021 and what they’ll change to? Do you even know what current number plate you’d get if you go and buy a brand new vehicle today? If your answer to any of those questions is no, then don’t worry because you’re certainly not on your own. While the current number plate system is second nature to those who are involved in the motor industry on a daily basis, it can be a bit of a mystery to a lot of the UK’s car-buying public.
Now and then
If all you want or need to know is what the number plates issued will be in 2021 and when the changes happen, that’s probably the easy part. First of all, if you buy a new vehicle and it is registered before March 1st, 2021 then the two numbers that represent the date part of the plate will be 70. Any vehicles registered between 1st March 2021 and 31st August 2021 will see those numbers change to 21, and from September 1st that will change again to 71.
This is how the 2021 registration plates will look then:
Vehicles registered before up to February 28th 2021 = **70 ***
Vehicles registered between March 1st and Aug 31st, 2021 = **21 ***
Vehicle registered from 1st September 2021 = **71 ***
Of course, this is assuming you go with the number plate issued by the DVLA. You don’t have to register a new vehicle with a number from the current registering system. If you’d prefer to take your car from day one with a plate on that doesn’t date your vehicle in any way then all you have to do is buy a private plate that was first issued at any time before the date your vehicle is to be registered.
There are thousands of registration numbers for sale at any time, and buying and assigning one to your vehicle really couldn’t be easier. However, you will still probably want to understand the way number plate systems work so that you don’t inadvertently get a plate that could end up making it look as though your car is a couple of years older than it really is.
How the current registration number system works
The system we have in the UK at the moment for number plates is to issue a new vehicle with a seven-character designation that consists of the letters followed by two numbers and ends with three more letters. The only parts of the registration that actually mean anything, in particular, are the first four characters.
The first two characters are a pair of letters that represent the geographical area where the vehicle was registered, but even that isn’t quite as simple and straightforward as it may appear. For example, and current registration number that starts with a “Y” will have been issued in Yorkshire, which is easy enough. However, the second letter can be any one of 23 different letters that cover three regions which are Leeds, Sheffield and Beverley. With Beverley being the least populous of the three Yorkshire regions it only gets W, X and Y. That means that if you see a registration number that starts with YW, YX or YY it will have been issued in the Beverley region of the DVLA.
Sheffield is an area that needs more registration numbers due to its larger population, so a plate issued in the Sheffield region will start with a Y that could then be followed by M, N, O, P, R, S, T, U or V. Leeds is the largest of the three Yorkshire reasons so its plates will be a Y followed by A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K or L.
The two numbers that follow the first two letters that show where the registration number was issued represent the date of issue as explained above. The easiest number in the current system to understand for most people is the one issued between March 1st and August 31st. This year it will be 21, last year it was 20 and next year it will be 22, which is obviously the last two numbers of the current year.
Where people usually get confused is with numbers issued from September 1st each year that continue through until 28th or 28th February the following year. It’s not actually very cryptic, to be honest, but it’s not quite as obvious as the last two numbers of the current year.
This year, the number that will be brought in from September 1st will be 71, last September (2020) it was 70 and next year it will be 72. The second of the two digits still refers to the year and the first one refers to the decade, but the first number had to be different from the ones issued in the previous period of the current year.
Therefore, if you see a number plate where the first of the two date numbers is a 7 it will have been issued in the 2020s, if the number is a 6 it was issued in the 2010s, and if the number is a 5 it was issued in the 2000s. Well, almost.
Where it all gets a little confusing
Right, so we’ve covered how the system works and you’ve probably got a good understanding of how the system works and you can probably work out roughly when a plate was issued anytime from September 1st, 2000 (51 plate) going forward? The problem comes when you’re trying to date a vehicle with a 5-, 6- or 7- plate to the exact year it was issued.
You may know that a vehicle with a 51 plate will have been registered between September 1st, 2001 and 28th February 2002, but you still don’t know if it’s a 2001 or a 2002 model, and that’s important for valuation. Regardless of what you may be told by someone trying to sell you a used car, there will be a difference in value between to identical 51 plate cars where one was registered on 31st December 2001 and the other was registered on January 1st, 2002 (if you could register a car on New Year’s Day, of course).
Why do we have 3 registrations per year?
Although we only have two plate changes each year, a car registered in 2020 could be a 69, 20 or a 70 plate, a car registered in 2019 could be a 68, 19 or a 69 plate, and so on. This is because we now have two plate changes per year instead of one to spread out the sales and registrations of new cars more evenly throughout the year. We only used to change registration numbers once each year on August 1st, and this saw a huge number of cars registered and delivered on that day while almost none were registered in the two months leading up to August.
If all this sounds like something you don’t really want to be bothered about, the easy way out of this number plate rat-race is to buy a private plate that was issued years before your car was built that quite obviously doesn’t date your car. There are other reasons to buy and use a private plate, but opting out of the registration rat-race is a good one.