Spanish number plates – what do the letters and numbers actually mean?
Plus other trivia …
If you have just registered your vehicle onto Spanish plates, you may be interested to know what the numbers and letters mean (yes, they do mean something!).
A bit of history
The first system for registering vehicles in Spain using combinations of numbers and letters started in 1900 (a world first!) and lasted all the way to 1971. Made up of one, two or three letters representing the province and then up to six numbers, not including zeros, you can still see some cars with this format driving around today.
By October 1971, this old alphanumeric system was running out of combinations, (too many new cars in Madrid – Valencia was still only half way through their number allocation.) A new format was introduced with two letters to start (indicating the province), then four numbers and either one or two letters at the end, running from A to ZZ.
Some more well known province prefixes are: A – Alicante, AL – Almería, B – Barcelona, GR – Granada, M – Madrid, MA – Malaga, SS – San Sebastian, CA – Cadiz, although there were 72 different prefixes in total. “Guess the province” was a great way to teach kids about Spain’s geography on long car journeys!
Finally in September 2000, Spanish number plates were Europeanised and adopted the format you see today.
With the gold stars of the EU and the letter E to signify ‘España’ in the vertical blue band to the left hand side, this is the standard EU format for all countries. The four numbers and three letters format allows for 40 million combinations, (so that should last a while). While the numbers run from 0000 to 9999, the letters are a bit different as they range from BBB to ZZZ and don’t include any vowels or the Ñ or Q – this is to stop words being created and because the Ñ and the Q are non-European standard.
Standing out from the crowd
There is no such thing as personalised number plates in Spain, everyone uses what they are given. However, there are some special plates for specific government departments, diplomatic service officials and the armed forces – for example “DGP” prefix is Direccion General de la Policia (Spanish Police), “CNP” is Cuerpo Policia Nacional (National Police) and “PGC” is Parque de la Guardia Civil. The Spanish King however doesn’t have a number – he just has a crimson registration plate with the royal crown.
Some other coloured plates you may see around are the white on dark green “P” or “provisional” plates of course, the white on blue taxicab plates and the black and yellow “C” plates for mopeds and microcars
But how do you tell how old a car is?
A lot of countries’ registration plate systems allow for a general estimate of the age of the vehicle – not so in Spain. While it’s possible to estimate the age of a car based on the last three letters, the rate at which the number plates are issued depends on car sales, not the age of the vehicles concerned.
Fortunately, there are plenty of online resources to check the age of a car – like MOTORGIGA where you just put in the registration number and it tells you how old the car is, or this link to the ITV.com website, which actually gives a rough list of the year and relevant registration plates. And of course, there’s an app for that, with VerificaMat being the new kid on the block.
Good to know
If you have a Digital Certificate, Trafico’s MiDGT app (Android and Apple) is fantastic for checking everything about cars (including getting a report about a vehicle you are considering buying) and driving in Spain. Although the DGT website looks a bit dated, it’s a goldmine of information and is available in English, French and German as well as the Spanish national languages (click on the Google Translate link on the top right of the main landing page).
Ok, that’s it, anoraks off and back to the real world – if you need anything car related in Spain from first time vehicle registration to ITV advice and all things in between, Book a Call and an Upsticks specialist will be happy to help.
The information in this article was current on the date published.
Article last reviewed/updated 10.08.2022