car money-2

Number crunch: Almost a quarter of drivers do not understand UK number plates

Over a third of people don’t even look at number plates when purchasing a car and 14% said they didn’t “have a clue” how many times a year UK registration plates are updated

Go.Compare car insurance has released a survey that reveals mass confusion among drivers when it comes to a car’s number plates and their meanings.

The research quizzed more than 1,700 people with a driver’s licence about their understanding of the current number plate system and found that 22% of drivers do not understand how they work. This number rose to over a quarter (27%) when it came to motorists aged over 65.*

When asked about the breakdown of a number plate, the survey found that even fewer people understood the significance of the letters and the numbers on a number plate. The first two letters of a number plate indicate where a car was registered and just over a third (34%) of drivers said they didn’t know what these letters meant.

When asked about the third and fourth digits of a number plate – also known as the ‘age identifier’ of a car – nearly a third (29%) said they didn’t know what the numbers signified. These numbers indicate the year your car was made and whether it was registered in the March or September of that year.

The survey also questioned people about how many times they thought number plates were updated in a year, to which 16% believed it was just once a year. 60% of people knew that they are updated twice a year, in March and September, and 14% said they didn’t have a clue how often they’re updated.

So, how does the UK number plate system work?

The current registration format is two letters and two numbers followed by three letters. The first two letters are known as a 'Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) memory tag' and identify where in the UK the vehicle was registered.

The two numbers are known as the 'age identifier'. The first number indicates whether the car was registered in March or September. From 2020 to 2030 the first digit is either two (for March) or seven (for September). The second number tells us what year the car was made. The last three letters at the end are random.

For example, the number plate CA22 ABC is a vehicle registered in Cardiff, in March 2022.

Commenting on the research, car insurance spokesperson for Go.Compare, Tom Banks, said: “As we approach March 1st and the launch of the new ’24 number plates, it’s interesting to see how many motorists actually understand how a registration plate works, despite the fact that they probably drive every day and see hundreds if not thousands of them every year.

“Even if you aren’t plate aware, it is important that you are insurance aware. Therefore, if you are lucky enough to be picking up a ‘24-plate car in a few weeks don’t forget to shop around for insurance. You may find that your current insurance provider will simply change the details of your policy to cover your new vehicle, but this may not always be the cheapest option – so it’s always worth comparing the price you have against the rest of the market to see if you can get a better deal elsewhere.”

Go.Compare car insurance has also compiled a list of legal requirements when it comes to a vehicle's number plate. They must: 

  • Be made from a reflective material
  • Display black characters on a white background (front plate)
  • Display black characters on a yellow background (rear plate)
  • Not have a background pattern
  • Failure to show your number plate can incur a £1,000 fine and your vehicle will fail its MOT

Motorbikes only need to display a number plate on the rear.

There are also some rules around the characters on the number plates:

  • Characters (except the number 1 or letter I) must be 50mm wide
  • The character stroke (the thickness of the black print) must be 14mm
  • The space between characters must be 11mm
  • The space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 33mm
  • The margins at the top, bottom and side of the plate must be 11mm
  • Vertical space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 19mm

For more information about UK number plates, please visit

Contact Information

Rubie Barker

Notes to editors


For further information please contact:

*These findings are from a study released by Sago between February 12th-14th, 2023, among a random selection of 2,304 of GB adults ages 18+ who are online panelists of Sago’s Community.

The results were weighted by age, gender, region, and ethnicity to match the population, according to Census data. For comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size has an estimated margin of error (which measures sampling variability) of +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals when compared to the data tables are due to rounding. Excerpts from this release of findings should be properly attributed, with interpretation subject to clarification or correction.

Sago is the global research and data partner that connects human answers to business questions. Combining a legacy of impact, global reach, and innovative spirit, Sago enables clients to solve business problems through extensive audience access and an adaptive range of qualitative and quantitative solutions.”

About Go.Compare

Go.Compare is a comparison website that enables people to compare the costs and features of a wide variety of insurance policies, financial products and energy tariffs.

It does not charge people to use its services and does not accept advertising or sponsored listings, so all product comparisons are unbiased. Go.Compare makes its money through fees paid by the providers of products that appear on its various comparison services when a customer buys through the site.

When it launched in 2006, it was the first comparison site to focus on displaying policy details rather than just listing prices, with the aim of helping people to make better-informed decisions when buying their insurance. It is this approach to comparing products that secured the company an invitation to join the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) in 2008, and it is still the only comparison site to be a member of this organisation.

Go.Compare has remained dedicated to helping people choose the most appropriate products rather than just the cheapest and works with Defaqto, the independent financial researcher, to integrate additional policy information into a number of its insurance comparison services. This allows people to compare up to an extra 30 features of cover.

Go.Compare is part of Future Plc and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

More information can be found here or here