What’s the Difference Between Your Number Plate and VIN?

Some posts here on ARoseTintedWorld may contain affiliate links. This means that if you click a link and buy a product or register, then I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. I may also use products from the companies mentioned in these posts. Thank you for supporting my blog!

A car has two numbers that identify it. The VIN and the Number plate. But what’s the Difference Between Your Number Plate and VIN? 

*This is a collaborative post – for more details, see my Disclosure Page

What’s the Difference Between Your Number Plate and VIN?


When you think about it, a car registration number and the VIN are both unique ways in which to identify a vehicle. So it might seem rather strange that there are two different ways of logging details about the same car. So just what is a registration number, what is the VIN and how are they different?


Your Registration Number


When manufactured, each car is issued with a unique registration number. The information is actually more than a random sequence of letters and numbers. The first two letters indicate where the vehicle was registered. The first letter gives the region code while the second indicates the nearest DVLA office.

Next, you will see two numbers and these represent the year the car was first registered. In the UK we have two new intakes of registration every year. So, if the vehicle is registered in April (the first cohort of the year) the numbers are simply the year, for example, 20 would indicate that the car was registered in April 2020. For vehicles registered in the second half of the year, the September registration, 50 is added to the number of the year, so a car registered in September 2020 will display the number 70 after the first two letters.

Finally, the last three letters are actually totally random and just used to create a unique identifier. It is just there to make up the complete legal number plates. However, because of the popularity of customised private plates, people may request to keep a number plate and transfer it to a different vehicle. This system is fallible and cannot be a guarantee of the vehicle identity, only the vehicle ownership, so we also have a VIN.

Vehicle Identification Number


Now, this really is the unique identifier for each vehicle and cannot be changed. A VIN usually is 17 characters long although cars made before 1981 can have a shorter one. Again while this looks like a random string of letters and numbers, they are all actually meaningful and help to identify key facts about the vehicle.


The VIN number offers insight into the following:


  • Where the car was built
  • The serial number of the vehicle
  • Who the manufacturer was
  • The plant that assembled the vehicle
  • Whether it is flexible fuel
  • The vehicles brand, engine type, and size
  • The official security code from the manufacturer
  • The model year of the car


This number cannot be changed or moved from vehicle to vehicle and acts as a way to track cars, warranty claims, insurance coverage and many more things. It is also instrumental in cutting down on vehicle crimes with things like vehicle cloning.

When purchasing a used car, you should always look at the VIN number which is found in the engine bay, mirrored in other places and etched into the metal, a missing or erased VIN number should raise red flags, and you should not touch the vehicle. When a car is scrapped, this VIN dies with it and will never be used again to identify a car.

*This is a collaborative post – for more details see my Disclosure page