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23 Apr 2015 | Text by Nicholas Low, Photos by Low Fai Ming | Category: Miscellaneous Advice

Ever wondered what different letters and colours on a vehicle number plate stand for? We bring you the 101 on car plates in Singapore.

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Vehicle number plates are a vital part of governing the use of motor vehicles in Singapore. To the untrained eye, however, the various types of prefixes, suffixes and colour schemes may be misleading and mind-boggling.

Let us bring you through the different types of number
plates in Singapore and help decipher their purpose, and more importantly, what they stand for.

Early car plates, like this on the classic Mercedes-Benz, do not come with a checksum letter

Prefix and Suffix

License plates for private cars started with a single prefix 'S'. But it wasn't long before the growing car population imposed a need to increase a suffix letter after the 'S' - from 'SA' to 'SY' - with the exception of SH, which is reserved for taxis.

After the single suffix was exhausted, private car plates began to start with a single 'E', running up to 'EZ' before the 'S' series took over again - this time round with two serial suffix letters, starting from 'SBA'.

This system runs to this date, with the exception of the following:

SBS: Buses operated by SBS Transit

SEP: Short for Singapore Elected President, it is the official state car for the nation

SMB: Buses operated by SMRT buses. Before the merger of SMRT and Trans Island Bus Service, the latter carried the prefix 'TIB'

SJ: Cars for Judges from the Supreme Court. SJ1 is used by the Chief of Justice

SPF: Car for the Commissioner of the Singapore Police Force.

To avoid forming words that may lead to objectionable opinions, the Land Transport Authority decided to skip the use of vowels in the second letter of the three-letter suffix. For example, when the 'SDZ' sequence ran out in 2003, the 'SE' series was skipped and 'SFA' was used.
The 'SI' series was skipped a few years later, and likewise, 'SO' and 'SU' will not be implemented in the future. However, besides running in alphabetical and numeric order, car owners can also choose to bid for a previous plate number or one that carries an auspicious number. In any case, if you are looking to purchase a car plate number of your choice, feel free to refer to our page on Car Plate Numbers For Sale.

Car plates on vehicles operated by the Singapore Armed Forces carry a 'MID' suffix and up to five digits

In addition, there is a range of special prefixes and suffixes for vehicles used for specific functions.

LTA: Bikes operated by the Enforcement Department of the Land Transport Authority

MID: Vehicles operated by the Singapore Armed Forces. Up to five digits are used before this suffix

MP: Vehicles operated by the Military Police Command from the Singapore Armed Forces

PA, PB, PC, PH, PZ: These were used to separate private buses, private hire vehicles and so on, but later on all private hire vehicles were issued with PA plates

PU: Vehicles that are tax exempted and used exclusively on the island of Pulau Ubin

QX: Vehicles operated by emergency and law enforcement agencies, such as the Singapore Police Force and Singapore Civil Defence Force

RD: For cars used in Research and Development projects, such as fuel cell and electric cars

RU: For Restricted Use vehicles that are exempted from road tax. These vehicles are only allowed within certain areas, such as motorised trams that are used to ferry visitors at the zoo

S, ending with CD: Vehicles used by foreign diplomats

TP: Bikes operated by the Traffic Police Department of the Singapore Police Force
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