Vehicle registration plates of Spain
|E 0000 AAA|
Vehicle registration plates are the mandatory number plates used to display the registration mark of a vehicle, and have existed in Spain since 1900. Most motor vehicles which are used on public roads are required by law to display them. The government agency responsible for the registration and numbering of vehicles is the Directorate General of Traffic.
They currently use the format L nnnn LLL where:
- nnnn is a sequence number from 0000 to 9999,
- LLL is a "counter" comprising three letters, which increments after the sequence number reaches 9999. The consonants B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, R, S, T, V, W, X, Y and Z are used, which allows for 8,000 possible combinations (from BBB to ZZZ) and hence a total of 80 million possible registrations in the system.
- L see Colour plates. It is not used in private vehicles.
This format, introduced on 18 September 2000, is used nationwide, so there is no way of knowing where the vehicle was registered. The "counter" gives a rough idea of when the vehicle was registered, but is less reliable for determining its age, as imported second-hand vehicles are registered in the same way as new models.
As of April 2012, the "counter" combinations are at the H series, which began in late December 2010 with HBB. At the current rate of approximately five series per decade, the system will be exhausted around 2040.
The plates themselves are white with black characters, front and back, with a blue strip on the left containing the 12 stars of the flag of Europe and the country identifier E (for España). This strip is compulsory. The plates are usually rectangular and wide in shape, but there are also square-like plates for motorcycles, while some cars have a narrow plate inset (such as at the back of the SEAT 600).
Two previous systems have been used, both of which were province-based.
1900 to 1971
The first system, introduced in 1900, consisted of a letter code denoting the province the vehicle was registered in (the full list of codes appears below), followed by a sequence number of up to six digits (XXX-NNNNNN). The codes were normally made up of the first one or two letters of the province name or the name of the provincial capital (many provinces are named after their capitals), under the provisions of a 1926 regulation. In the earliest days, some provinces used three-letter codes, but these were abolished after 1926.
This system came to an end in October 1971, by which time both Madrid and Barcelona were approaching the number 999999. Older vehicles with such registrations, usually with five- or six-digit numbers, can still be seen on Spanish roads.
In the later years of this system, many plates were white with black characters. Today, there are a few rare cases where the blue EU country identifier strip is also carried.
1971 to 2000
The second system used the format XXX-NNNN-YY, where XXX was the province code or a one- two- or three-letter special code (such as ET for army cars and DGP for police cars), NNNN was a sequence number from 0000 to 9999 (always four-digit numbers, padded with leading zeroes if necessary), and YY was a "counter" series consisting of one and then two letters, which incremented after the sequence number reached 9999.
No "counter" series used the consonants Q and R (and Q has never been allowed in any way, the apparent reason for this being its resemblance to the vowel O and the digit 0), while two-letter combinations ending in the vowels A, E, I and O were also forbidden, apparently to avoid the forming of potentially offensive Spanish words when combined with some province codes (such as MA-LA, meaning "bad one", or CU-LO, meaning "arse"). This meant that, for instance, Z was followed by AB, while AN was followed by AP and then AS, and PZ was followed by SB.
Other potentially offensive combinations, however, were allowed, such as KK (resembling caca, meaning "shit") and PN (resembling pene, meaning "penis"). Also allowed were combinations with potential political connotations, such as HB (cf. Herri Batasuna) and PP (cf. Partido Popular). All these combinations would eventually be issued in Madrid and Barcelona. Finally, some otherwise "forbidden" combinations (particularly those containing R or ending in one of the skipped vowels) were exceptionally used in a few particular cases, such as on some special types of cars (e.g. RA, RB... for some police cars, and EA for Spanish Air Force land vehicles).
This system lasted until September 2000, by which time Madrid was again running out of registrations, its "counter" reaching series ZX. Barcelona reached series XG, while the next province by registration volume, Valencia, was far behind at series HJ. The allowed combinations ZY and ZZ were therefore never issued in any province.
Under this system, plates usually consisted solely of black characters on white, though the blue EU country identifier strip became an option in the 1990s.
Both systems were susceptible to problems with rivalries between regions, that caused trouble for motorists travelling out of their provinces or trying to sell their vehicles second-hand. The second system also suffered when the major languages of Spain were co-officialized, with the renaming of some provinces resulting in mismatches between the name and the code. For instance, the GE code for Gerona became mismatched when that province was renamed Girona after Catalan became co-official — so it was replaced with the GI code (even though it could have been replaced simply by G, which would have fitted both the Catalan and Spanish versions of the province name, but the Catalan nationalists' goal was to state clearly that the name was in Catalan and not in Spanish). Similarly, the OR code for Orense was replaced with the OU code for Ourense (Galician nationalists similarly wanted to make the province code unmistakably Galician rather than ambiguously Galician/Spanish, since "Orense" and "Ourense" both contain the letters O and R and therefore the change would not have been strictly necessary). There were also unsuccessful movements to have other province codes changed, such as replacing the Asturias code O (from its capital Oviedo) with AS, this movement being prompted by the rivalry between Oviedo and the province's largest city, Gijón, some of whose residents chose to register their vehicles in Girona, the GI code also being the first two letters of "Gijón". Finally, the La Rioja code LO (from its capital Logroño) was slated for replacement with LR on the same day that the current system entered use.
Old provincial codes
|AB||Albacete||ALB used until 1926, correlative|
|BI||Bilbao (capital of Biscay)|
|C||A Coruña / La Coruña|
|CC||Cáceres||CAC used until 1926, correlative|
|CE||Ceuta (Spanish exclave in North Africa)||from 1922|
|CS||Castelló / Castellón||CAS used until 1926, correlative|
|FP||Fernando Po ("Spanish island of Guinea")||1961–1969, one of two replacements for TG|
|GC||Las Palmas (Gran Canaria)||from 1926, one of two replacements for TE|
|GE||Gerona (Girona)||replaced by GI in 1992|
|GI||Girona / Gerona||from 1992, replacement for GE, correlative|
|I||Ifni (former Spanish province in Morocco)||1951–1961, replaced by IF|
|IB||Islas Baleares / Illes Balears (not only Ibiza)||from 1997, replacement for PM, correlative|
|IF||Ifni||1961–1969, replacement for I|
|L||Lleida / Lérida|
|LO||Logroño (capital of La Rioja)|
|LR||La Rioja||replacement for LO, but never entered|
|ME||Marruecos Español ("Spanish Morocco")||used for Ceuta and Melilla, replaced by CE and ML in 1922|
|ML||Melilla (Spanish exclave in North Africa)|
|NA||Navarra||from 1918, replacement for PA, correlative|
|O||Oviedo (capital of Asturias)|
|OR||Orense (Ourense)||replaced by OU in 1998|
|OU||Ourense / Orense||from 1998, replacement for OR, correlative|
|PA||Pamplona (capital of Navarra)||replaced by NA in 1918|
|PM||Palma de Mallorca (capital of Islas Baleares)||replaced by IB in 1997|
|RM||Rio Muni ("Spanish Guinea")||1961–1969, one of two replacements for TG|
|S||Santander (capital of Cantabria)|
|SG||Segovia||SEG used until 1926, correlative|
|SH||Sahara Occidental ("Spanish Sahara")||the previous code was AOE, which stood for Africa Occidental Española. Discontinued 1976|
|SS||Donostia / San Sebastián (capital of Gipuzkoa)|
|TE||Territorio Español ("Spanish Territory")||used for Islas Canarias, replaced by GC and TF in 1926|
|TE||Teruel||TER used until 1926, correlative|
|TF||Santa Cruz de Tenerife||from 1926, one of two replacements for TE|
|TG||Territorio Español de Guinea ("Spanish Guinea")||TEG used until 1926, replaced by FP and RM in 1961|
|VI||Vitoria (capital of Álava)|
These keep the old system of letter code plus numbers.
- CME – Cos dels Mossos d'Esquadra (Corps of the Mossos d'Esquadra). The autonomous police force of Catalonia
- DGP – Dirección General de la Policía ("Spanish Police")
- CNP – Cuerpo Nacional de Policía (since 2008) ("Spanish Police")
- E – Ertzaintza (Autonomous police force of the Basque Country)). The E on the plate is in a special Basque font.
- EA – Ejército del Aire ("Spanish Air Force")
- ET – Ejército de Tierra ("Spanish Army")
- FN – Fuerzas Navales / Armada ("Spanish Navy")
- GSH – Gendarmería del Sahara ("Spanish colonial police on Sahara"). Not longer existing
- PGC – Parque de la Guardia Civil ("Spanish civil guard", a militarized police force similar to French "Gendarmerie Française" or Italian "Corpo dei Carabinieri")
- MF – Ministerio de Fomento ("Public Works Ministry") (no correlativity with MOP)
- MMA – Ministerio de Medio Ambiente ("Environment Ministry")
- MOP – Ministerio de Obras Públicas ("Public Works Ministry") (now replaced by MF)
- PME – Parque Móvil del Estado (state owned vehicles)
- PMM – Parque Móvil del Ministerio (state owned vehicles, on a Ministry) (now replaced by PME)
Diplomatic plates are either red, yellow or blue and start with the letters "CD" (red), "CC" (green), "TA" (yellow) or "OI" (blue). The first set of numbers stands for the embassy or organisation and the second for the specific car from an organisation.
List of codes (incomplete):
Up until 1972 U.S. Military personnel were required to have special plates.
There are other plates with different background colours for trailers and the so-called "touristic plates", provisory plates that allow foreigners to use a vehicle bought in Spain before registering it in their country. The trailer plates begin with the prefix R signifying remolque, the Spanish word for trailer, caravan or literally "on tow". The tourist plates begin with the prefix P signifying provisional, usually issued to vehicles for export or until the registration process has been completed. They are sometimes seen on manufacturer's prototypes. An additional series exists for historic vehicles with the prefix H followed by four numbers and four letters, making a nine digit plate which can be difficult to fit onto some historic vehicles.
|C||Mopeds and Microcars||Black on Yellow|
|E||Agricultural||Red on White|
|H||Historical||Black on White|
|P||Provisional||White on Green|
|R||Remolque||Black on Red|
|S||Temporary Plates||White on Red|
|T||Tourist plates||Black on White|
|V||Vehicle Dealers||White on Red|
- Media related to License plates of Spain at Wikimedia Commons
- Spanish webpage with information and photos of all provinces of Spain