How to Read UK Number Plates

To the untrained eye, a UK number plate can come across as a series of random letters and numbers, but did you know that they actually mean something? In this blog, we will show you how to read UK number plates.

Bespoke Plates is a renowned and legally certified registration platemaker and installer, with options of 3D Plates, 4D Plates, Show Plates, and regular / Electric Vehicle Plates and more. We are the one-stop shop for all things registration plates!

Whether it’s a Private Plate, Gel Plate, Standard Registration Plate or plating accessories, we have you covered.

As a certified and experienced team of plate fitters and makers, our plates are installed to the specification of UK law, provided alongside the appropriate paperwork you require. (The only exception to this is show plates.)

How are UK number plates different to other countries number plates?

How are UK number plates different to other countries number plates?

Understandably, different countries have their own databases and systems that are ordered in a way that best suits them. Number plates are no different.

For example, in France, number plates have two letters, followed by a dash, three numbers, followed by another dash, and two letters. Although they have the same amount of characters as a UK number plate, it is structured differently, in addition to the dashes that are placed between them.

Can you drive with a UK number plate abroad?

According to the government guidance, these are the rules when it comes to driving with a UK number plate abroad…

A ‘UK identifier’ must be displayed when driving a UK registered vehicle abroad. A ‘UK identifier’ is understood to be if your plate already has a Union flag (known as the Union Jack) on it.

Under the following circumstances, you must display a UK sticker on the rear of your vehicle if your number plate has…

  • A GB identifier with the Union flag
  • A Euro symbol
  • A national flag of England, Scotland, or Wales
  • Numbers and letters only, with no flag or identifier.

Why are number plates needed?

A number plate identifies the vehicle it is attached to, this identification serves to let the relevant bodies know the history of the vehicle, who owns it, who is insured to drive it etc. It can also be used to identify vehicles that are exempt in Ultra-low emission zones.

Number plates are always assigned to a vehicle that is made to be driven by the car drivers, however, private plates do not require assignment to a vehicle to purchase one. They can be assigned at a later time, this in turn created the whole private plate market.

If number plates didn’t exist, it would be near impossible to keep track of a vehicle’s history, which would create issues when trying to sell the vehicle.

How to read UK number plates.

How to Read UK Number Plates

UK number plates can be simple to read once you understand the format. The format is as follows…

  • The first two letters of a number plate tell the reader where the vehicle was first registered. In the UK, one region can have many regional identifiers. For example, a vehicle registered in London can have the following regional identifiers ‘LU, LV, LW, LX, LY.
  • The following two numbers identify the year in which the vehicle was assigned its plate. For example, a car that has a plate assigned from London in 2020, could have the following first four characters ‘LW20’.
  • The final three letters of a UK number plate are picked completely at random. This saves cars that are registered in the same place, and get their plate in the same year, from being completely the same.

Why do I need to read a UK number plate?

Understanding the number plate you read is not a requirement in order to drive, it does however allow you to understand the location and year the car was made registered. This could help you identify a suspicious road user with fake plates, unless they are a private plate.

Why do some number plates spell words?

Some UK number plates ‘spell’ words purely by coincidence. That being said, others have fewer characters than a standard number plate, or actually do spell something, why is this?

There are two reasons for this, one of which is that it is a private plate, the other is that it is a show plate.

Private plates are a legal alternative to a number plate that can be bought via the DVLA, at an auction, or through approved vendors such as Bespoke Plates. Private plates may make a word that is sentimental or relevant to the buyer, or could just be extremely exclusive, such as the ‘GB 1’ plate, which sold for over £300,000 in 2009.

Can a private plate go on any car?

Not exactly, private plate ruling states that you can not put a private plate on vehicles to make them look younger than they are. For example, a vehicle registered in 2012 would have a 12, or 62  after the first two letters of the plate. So if another plate has 16 or 66 for example, that would make the vehicle appear to have been registered in 2016, rather than 2012.

Aside from that exception, the other exception would be that someone’s personal private plate can not be attached to a government service vehicle, such as a police car or ambulance.

Funnily enough, you don’t even need a car to purchase a private plate. This is understandable in instances where you are waiting for a new car, or want to have your own plate ready for your own vehicle. It is also helpful for private plate sellers who may not drive.

How do I upgrade my number plate?

Can you add a private number plate to a lease car?

Bespoke Plates makes the hassle of getting yourself a brand-new number plate easy and efficient. This is regardless of whether you’re after a standard replacement number plate, or a gel plate. Here is the process.

By following these steps, you will also have the option to see the plate before making a decision.

Visualising how your plate can look in real-time, with the characters from your actual registration plate, saves time and makes it easy for you to know what you want before you get it. Let us walk you through the process of choosing your plate through us.

  1. Head to the Bespoke Plates website
  2. Select the plate style you want under the “Build Your Plate” tab. Alternatively, you can follow this link.
  3. Enter your registration (You can press ‘preview’ to see your registration with all the modification options you have selected.)
  4. When selecting your chosen plate, you can opt for 3D/4D options, a Hex plate, and whether you want a legal plate or a show plate.
  5. Select preferred optional accessories.
  6. Decide if you are collecting with installation, or if you want it to be delivered.

Installing through Bespoke Plates ensures the best service & secure installation for your number plate, along with guidance for any questions you may have.

Order a new number plate today

In this blog, we have highlighted our plate options, and the information you need in order to obtain our stylish customisation options for your vehicle. We aim to have shown you how to read UK number plates.

We hope that we have provided all the right answers and options for all of your plate modification needs.

Bespoke Plates has all the options you can ask for, as an approved registration vendor we can guarantee your modification abides by the DVLA rules whilst offering same-day collections and full fitting service.

To get in touch and discuss the full fitting service we offer with our plates, you can talk to one of the members of our team by:


Phone 0333 006 7878

Visit in-store

36A Broughton Street,


M8 8NN

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