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New registration plates explained and what this means for you if you’re looking to buy a new car

If you are considering buying a new car you may have noticed that twice a year, in March and September, new number plates start to appear on our roads. In this article we decode the numbers and explain how the new registration might affect your car search.

Firstly why are there new registration plates every March and September?

Until March 2001 there was only one new registration plate a year, this annual event was a very big deal for carmakers and the car buying public, in the past people would queue round the block to get there hands on the latest model with the newest plate. But for the DVLRA it must have been an administrative nightmare because the vast majority of new car registrations for the year arrived in one calendar month!

The old registration number and letter system was running out of combinations so a new system was required, 2001 seemed like a perfect opportunity to introduce a new biannual system and balance out the demand to two times a year.

A guide to how the new registration plates work

UK registration plates consist of seven characters, grouped into a set of 4 and then a set of 3 characters. The first 2 characters identify the area, the second 2 the age of the vehicle. Because we’ve moved from 1 registration a year to 2, when it comes to the age of the car there are 2 rounds each year:

  • from March to September which has the year as it’s unique identifier i.e. 17 for 2017
  • from September to February which has the first digit of the year plus 5 as it’s unique identifier i.e. 1 (from 17) + 5 = 6 making the unique code 67

Confused? Here are the numbers for the next two years to help you get your head around it:
18 from March 2018 - 68 from September 2018
19 from March 2019 - 69 from September 2019
The second set of 3 characters is a 3-letter code unique to the vehicle, so that it can be identified among cars registered at the same time and in the same place.

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So can I get a better deal if I buy a newly registered car in March or September instead of at other times of the year?

Not really, there maybe some great deals in the new registration period but because offers from dealers and manufacturers typically appear quarterly, the same or even a better deal may be available at a different time of year anyway.

Why do so many people buy new cars in September and March?

Because if you’re looking for a car with the latest gadgets, safety features and upgrades then typically they are released to coincide with the new registration plates. Also if you bought your last car at the time of a new registration plate, then your finance agreement will typically be up for renewal around the time of another new registration plate.

Even if you’re not looking for a brand new car it is still useful to know when the registration plates become available. The reason is simple, because so many new cars are registered in March and September and many of the people who buy them are trading in a car that’s only a few years old, there are lots of relatively new used cars on the lots following new registration period. So even if a new car is beyond your means you can still benefit from the new registration plate.