Types of number plates in India and their meaning

Team AckodriveJul 13, 2022

As per The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, all vehicles (four-wheelers and two-wheelers) must be registered with the RTO (Regional Transport Office). Driving an unregistered vehicle on public roads is illegal and can attract hefty penalties. All registered vehicles also need to have number plates that display the vehicle's registration number. You may have seen vehicles with number plates of different colours such as white, yellow, green, etc. So, what do these colours mean? Read on as we throw light on different types of number plates in India.

Types of number plates in India and their meaning

Different types of number plates in India

You may have seen vehicles on the road with number plates in different colours. Some car number plates in India are yellow, while others have white licence plates. Some vehicles also have a green number plate. So, what do these different colours mean? In this section, we throw light on different types of vehicle number plates in India.

1. White number plate

White number plate

It is the most common type of number plate in India. All private or non-commercial vehicles (two-wheelers and four-wheelers) bear white number plates. A vehicle bearing a white licence plate with black lettering means it is for private/personal use only. One cannot transport goods or carry passengers in a vehicle with a white registration number plate.

2. Yellow number plate

Yellow number plate

You may have observed that all auto-rickshaws, taxis, trucks and buses have yellow number plates with black lettering. That’s because all commercial vehicles must have a yellow number plate. It’s not just the colour difference; commercial vehicles also have a different tax structure than private vehicles. The yellow number plate vehicle drivers must also possess a commercial vehicle driving licence.

3. Black number plate

Black number plate

In India, all self-driven or rental vehicles (two-wheelers and four-wheelers) must bear a black number plate with yellow lettering. These vehicles are registered as commercial vehicles. However, one does not need a commercial vehicle driving licence to drive a black number plate car. Usually, you find these number plates on rental vehicles and luxury hotel transport vehicles.

4. Green number plate

Green number plate

Green number plates are exclusive to Electric Vehicles (EVs). All EVs registered in India must bear a green licence plate. However, there is a difference in the lettering colour depending on whether it’s a private or commercial vehicle. All private electric vehicles get a green number plate with white lettering, and commercial EVs get a green number plate with yellow lettering.

5. Red number plate

Red number plate

All brand new vehicles in India get a temporary registration number. A red licence plate displays the temporary registration number in white lettering. You can use the red number plate in India till you get the permanent registration number from the RTO post vehicle’s registration. Once you get the permanent number, you can replace the red plate with a white/yellow/green number plate, depending on your vehicle. 

The temporary number plate is valid for only one month. However, some states in India do not allow red licence plate vehicles to ply on public roads. For more details, you can visit the official website of your state’s transport department or visit the Parivahan portal.

6. Blue number plate

Blue number plate

A vehicle reserved for foreign diplomats bears a blue number plate with white lettering. The blue number plates bear alphabets such as CC (Consular Corps), UN (United Nations), DC (Diplomatic Corps), etc. Also, these number plates do not have a state code. Instead, they display the diplomat’s country code.

7. Upward arrow number plate

Upward arrow number plate

All military vehicles registered under the Ministry of Defence have a unique style for licence plates. They feature an upward arrow in the beginning or after the second character. The upward-pointing arrow is also called a Broad Arrow. The two digits following the upward arrow denote the year of the vehicle purchase; the alphabet next to the two digits represents the base code, and the numbers after the base code are the serial number. The last alphabet on the licence plate indicates the class of the vehicle.

8. Plain red/Red number plate with the national emblem

Plain red/Red number plate with the national emblem

The vehicles used by the governors of the states bear plain red number plates. A red number plate with the golden national emblem means that the vehicle belongs to the President of India.

Components of a vehicle number plate

A vehicle number plate comprises a combination of alphanumeric characters. It may be confusing to read the licence plate if you do not know what the alphabets and numbers stand for. To understand the components of a number plate, let’s take an example registration number.

Example registration number: DL01AB1234

Components of a vehicle number plate

Below are the details of different components of a licence plate.

  • The first component of a number plate is the first two letters, in this case, 'DL'. It denotes the state or union territory in which the vehicle is registered. Here DL refers to Delhi.

  • The second component of the licence plate is the two digits that follow the state/union territory code. The two digits, 01, denote the RTO code in which the vehicle is registered. Each district has a different RTO code in a state/union territory. Hence, the number differs with every district. You can refer to your state's RTO website to find out the RTO codes.

  • The third element of a number plate is the unique alphanumeric code, AB1234. Each vehicle has a unique code. The combination can vary, but usually, it comprises four digits and one or two alphabets.

  • The fourth element of a number plate is the IND logo which denotes the international registration code for India. You can find this symbol on all High Security Registration Plates (HSRP). We will elaborate on HSRP in the following sections of this article.

Number plate rules in India

As per The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, all motor vehicles plying on public roads must obtain a registration number from the RTO and should have a licence plate. Below are the important rules related to vehicle number plates.

  • The registration number lettering should be black on white background for two-wheelers and Light Motor Vehicles (LMV).

  • All commercial vehicles must have a licence plate with black lettering on a yellow background.

  • The number plate and lettering size should be as per the given pamphlet for each vehicle category.

  • All motor vehicles should display the licence plate at the front and rear, and it should be clearly visible.

  • The LMVs may fit the registration plate (number plates of cars, vans, taxis, etc.) in the centre with illumination.

  • Two-wheelers should display the registration mark parallel to the handlebar on any vehicle part like mudguard.

  • Transport vehicles should exhibit the rear number plate on the right side at a height not exceeding one metre  from ground level.

  • Transport vehicles also need to paint the registration mark on the left and right sides of the body.

  • Stage and contract carriage vehicles need to paint the registration number on the partition between driver and passengers or on the front left side interior facing the passengers. One can also paint the registration number on the dashboard in case of a taxi or motor cab.

  • The alphabets on the number plate should be in English and numbers in Arabic numerals.

  • One must display the registration number in two lines, with state and RTO codes forming the first line and unique alphanumeric codes forming the second line. However, one can display the number in a single line at the front of all motor vehicles and two-wheelers that do not have sufficient space.

  • The number plate should not display fancy lettering, pictures or other names.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) recently brought in some changes to the existing number plate rules. The changes came into effect after the 1989 amendment. Below are the updated rules that are effective from October 1, 2020.

  • Driving a brand new motor vehicle with a paper-printed temporary registration number plate is an offence.

  • The temporary number plates will come with a new colour scheme: red lettering with a yellow background.

  • The number plate cannot have characters in regional languages. Also, usage of fancy/VIP registration numbers sold/auctioned by states/Union Territories is banned. Using such fancy licence plates can attract hefty fines.

  • As per the new rules, the size, thickness and spacing between the characters in the licence plate should be 65 mm, 10 mm and 10 mm, respectively. This rule applies to all motor vehicles except two and three-wheelers.

  • BS-VI four-wheelers (petrol/diesel/CNG) should have a 1 cm green colour layer on the number plate.

  • The BS-VI four-wheelers should also have stickers attached to the green layer on the registration plate. Diesel vehicles should have an orange colour sticker, and petrol/CNG vehicles will have a blue colour sticker.

How are number plates assigned in India?

As mentioned earlier, the district-level RTO of the respective state/union territory issues the registration number. The components of the number plate vary as per the location of registration. The first two letters are the state/union territory code followed by the RTO (district) code. The following six characters (two alphabets and four numbers) are your vehicle's unique code.

Example: KA01AB1234

Here, KA is the state (Karnataka) code, 01 is the RTO (district) code, and AB1234 is the unique alphanumeric code assigned to the vehicle.

The alphanumeric code starts with A 0001 to 9999. The first character is incremental in alphabetical order, A, B, C, and so on. Once all the characters are exhausted, the sequence starts with two characters, AA 0001 to 9999. Once all the digits are exhausted under the combination of two characters (AA), the three characters (AAA) sequence starts, and it goes on.

Process for obtaining a vehicle number plate

The process for obtaining a number plate involves going through the new vehicle registration process. If you buy a new vehicle, the dealer will take care of the vehicle registration and number plate procurement process. However, if you wish to register the new car yourself, you can follow the below steps.

  • Step 1: Visit the RTO with your new vehicle.

  • Step 2: Submit all the duly filed forms and documents.

  • Step 3: The RTO official (superintendent) will verify all the forms and documents.

  • Step 4: Pay the road tax and the registration fee at the cash counter.

  • Step 5: An Inspecting Officer will physically inspect the vehicle to verify the details mentioned in the documents.

  • Step 6: After the successful inspection, the RTO will issue the registration number and receipt.

Once you get the registration number, you can obtain a number plate (HSRP). You can buy the HSRP number plate at the RTO or any other RTO-authorised seller.

What is a temporary number plate?

A temporary number plate is a licence plate that a dealer issues to a brand new vehicle. As the name suggests, it’s a temporary registration number, and you can use it until you register the vehicle at the respective RTO. The validity of the temporary licence plate is one month. As per the updated number plate rules, a temporary registration number plate will feature colour-coded lettering depending on the type of vehicle.

Also, read: How to Get a Temporary Vehicle Registration Number?

What is the HSRP number plate In India?

The HSRP number plate is a tamper-proof number plate made out of aluminium. As per The Central Motor Vehicles Rule 1989, all motor vehicles registered after April 1, 2019, must have a High Security Registration Plate (HSRP). The same applies to old vehicles fitted with old licence plates.

The HSRP features a unique laser-etched code below the international registration code (IND) and Ashoka Chakra hologram. The number plate is hot stamped and secured with snap locks. It makes it non-reusable if someone tampers with it. HSRP can also help prevent vehicle theft as only RTOs issue them.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below are some of the most common questions and their answers related to the number plates of cars in India.

Can I have a custom number plate for my car?

As per the updated number plate rules, all vehicles should have HSRP number plates. Also, you are not allowed to use fancy fonts, regional language, stickers or art on the number plate. Hence, you cannot customise the licence plate.

What type of number plate should I fit in my car?

You can only use High Security Number Plate (HSRP) in your car as it is mandatory as The Central Motor Vehicles Rule, 1989.

What letters can I use on a car number plate?

A vehicle licence plate must contain only English letters and Arabic numerals. You cannot use other characters or regional language in a number plate.

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