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

Category: Miscellaneous Advice

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.

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'.

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

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

Special letters

There are also temporary plates specially issued for events. Some examples include AIRSHOW, which is used during the Singapore Airshow and YOG, for vehicles used during the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics.

Temporary plates such as the 'WTAF' prefix on this BMW limousine, was used during the Women's Tennis Association Finals in Singapore

Checksum letter

For normal registration plates, with the exception of special government plates and events vehicle plates, there's also a checksum letter at the end. 'F', 'I', 'N', 'O', 'Q', 'V' and 'W' are not used as checksum letters.

This means that the letter is generated via an algorithm, and is not randomly assigned as what was commonly believed. The formula works by converting up to two letters of the prefix to numbers (A=1, Z=26). Next, each individual number is multiplied by a set of fixed numbers - 14, 2, 12, 2, 11 and 1.

The results are then added together and divided by 19. The remainder will then be used to find the corresponding letter in a string of 19 (A, Y, U, S, P, L, J, G, D, B, Z, X, T, R, M, K, H, E, C), with 0=A, Y=1, etc.

Take for instance, SFA1234 will have 'J' as its checksum letter.

Types of colours used in number plates

Besides the use of letters, colours are used to differentiate the types of scheme that a specific vehicle is registered under. Normal private registered car plates come in two types of colour schemes - either black with white writing on both front and back, or white plate with black writing at the front and yellow plate with black writing at the rear.
For cars registered under the off-peak scheme, they will bear red plates with white writing on both front and rear. These cars pay lower road tax and are only allowed on the roads during off-peak hours, which is before 7:00am and after 7:00pm on weekdays, before 7:00am and after 3:00pm on Saturdays, and full days on Sundays and public holidays.

A revised off-peak scheme has also been offered to allow motorists to use their cars full days on Saturdays.

Cars registered under the off-peak car scheme carry red car plates, and have serialised seals affixed for inspection purposes

Vehicles registered under the 'Classic Car' scheme carry ordinary registration numbers, but have diagonally bisected plates that are half yellow and half red in colour. Restricted Use vehicles with the prefix 'RU' also have a half green and half red plate in the same format. Similarly, RD-plate vehicles have a half yellow and half blue colour scheme to differentiate it from common private registered cars.

Unique plates

Some unique plates you might find on the roads, if you're lucky enough to, are combinations like EV1L, EK80Y and Q69M, which were previously registered as company cars. Company cars nowadays run regular 'S' plates.

Now, the next time a unique car plate catches your attention, you will know what it means.

*This article was updated on 28th March 2018.
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