Vehicle registration plates of Spain

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Spanish plates with format, 1234 ABC

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.

Current system[edit]

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 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,[1] 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 August 2015 the "counter" combinations are at the J series, which began in late 2014 with JBB. 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).

History[edit]

Two previous systems have been used, both of which were province-based.

1900 to 1971[edit]

The first system, introduced in 1900,[2] 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[edit]

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). 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 name was 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 officially in Catalan and not in Spanish). Similarly, the OR code for Orense was replaced with the OU code for Ourense (Galician official name for the province). 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". Unfortunately, the La Rioja code LO (from its capital Logroño) was finally slated for replacement with LR on the same day that the current system entered use.

Old provincial codes[edit]

Alicante province registration
Girona license plate.
Madrid license plate. The "ZX" was the last series from this province.
Code Province Notes
A Alicante
AB Albacete ALB used until 1926, correlative
AL Almería
ALB Albacete Until 1926, replaced by AB
AOE Africa Occidental Española Replaced by SH
AV Ávila
B Barcelona
BA Badajoz
BI Bilbao (capital of Biscay)
BU Burgos
C A Coruña / La Coruña
CA Cádiz
CAC Cáceres Until 1926, replaced by CC
CAS Castellón Until 1926, replaced by CS
CC Cáceres CAC used until 1926, correlative
CE Ceuta (Spanish exclave in North Africa) from 1922
CO Córdoba
CR Ciudad Real
CS Castelló / Castellón CAS used until 1926, correlative
CU Cuenca
FP Fernando Poo ("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
GR Granada
GU Guadalajara
H Huelva
HU Huesca
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
J Jaén
L Lleida / Lérida
LE León
LO Logroño (capital of La Rioja)
LR La Rioja replacement for LO, but never entered
LU Lugo
M Madrid
MA Málaga
ME Marruecos Español ("Spanish Morocco") used for Ceuta and Melilla, replaced by CE and ML in 1922
ML Melilla (Spanish exclave in North Africa)
MU Murcia
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
P Palencia
PA Pamplona (capital of Navarra) replaced by NA in 1918
PM Palma de Mallorca (capital of Islas Baleares) replaced by IB in 1997
PO Pontevedra
RM Rio Muni ("Spanish Guinea") 1961–1969, one of two replacements for TG
S Santander (capital of Cantabria)
SA Salamanca
SE Sevilla
SEG Segovia Until 1926, replaced by SG
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
SO Soria
SS Donostia / San Sebastián (capital of Gipuzkoa)
T Tarragona
TE Territorio Español ("Spanish Territory") used for Islas Canarias, replaced by GC and TF in 1926
TE Teruel TER used until 1926, correlative
TEG Territorio Español de Guinea Until 1926, replaced by TG
TER Teruel Until 1926, replaced by TE
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
TO Toledo
V Valencia
VA Valladolid
VI Vitoria (capital of Álava)
Z Zaragoza
ZA Zamora

Special plates[edit]

State codes[edit]

These keep the old system of letter code plus numbers.

Mossos d'Esquadra police plate.
Ertzaintza police plate.
Code Organization Meanings Notes
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 No longer exists.
PGC Parque de la Guardia Civil Spanish civil guard These were a militarized police force similar to French "Gendarmerie Française" or Italian "Corpo dei Carabinieri".
MF Ministerio de Fomento Public Works Ministry No correlation 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[edit]

Diplomatic registration from Spain

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.

U.S. military[edit]

Up until 1972 U.S. Military personnel were required to have special plates.

Colour plates[edit]

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. Mopeds and microcars with cylinders under 50 cc were not required to have a national plate and town and city administration tax them and issued their own yellow plates.

Code Signified as Color
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

Diplomatic codes[3][edit]

This is a table of country codes on Spanish diplomatic and consular car number plates, i.e. the first group of two or three numbers and mainly sorted by Spanish alphabetical order.

Code Country or Organization Code Country or Organization Code Country or Organization Code Country or Organization
01   Vatican City (Holy See) 35  Equatorial Guinea 69  Sweden 144  Ukraine
02  Germany 36  Haiti 70   Switzerland 145  Macedonia
03  Saudi Arabia 37  Honduras 71  Thailand 148  Estonia
04  Algeria 38  Hungary 72  Tunisia 150 International Olive Council
05  Argentina 39  India 73  Turkey 151  ?
06  Australia 40  Indonesia 74  Russia 152 United Nations World Tourism Organization
07  Austria 41  Iraq 75  Uruguay 153 European Union European Commission/European Parliament
08  Belgium 42  Iran 76  Venezuela 154  ?
09  Bolivia 43  Ireland 77  Serbia 155 Arab League
10  Brazil 44  Italy 78  Democratic Republic of the Congo 156  ?
11  Bulgaria 45  Japan 80  Slovakia 157 Ibero-American General Secretariat
12  Cameroon 46  Jordan 81  Qatar 159 United Nations International Labour Organization
13  Canada 47  Kuwait 82  Croatia 160 International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas
14  Colombia 48  Lebanon 83  Israel 162  ?
15  South Korea 49  Libya 84  Malaysia 164 Ibero-American Youth Organization
16  Ivory Coast 50  Morocco 85  Angola 165  ?
17  Costa Rica 51  Mauritania 86  Luxembourg 200  Palestine
18  Cuba 52  Mexico 88  Bangladesh 303  ?
19  Czech Republic 53  Nicaragua 93  Gambia 304 European Union European Space Agency?
20  Chile 54  Nigeria 96  Guinea 310  ?
21  China 55  Norway 101  Malta 311 Conference of Ministers of Justice of Ibero-American Countries?
22  Denmark 56 Sovereign Military Order of Malta 104  New Zealand 400  Kenya
23  Ecuador 57  Netherlands 107  Senegal 405  Sudan
24  Egypt 58  Pakistan 118  Yemen 406  Afghanistan
25  El Salvador 59  Panama 122  Vietnam 411  Mozambique
26  United Arab Emirates 60  Paraguay 124  Cape Verde 414  Uzbekistan
27  United States 61  Peru 128  Albania 415  Armenia
28  Philippines 62  Poland 131  Lithuania 419  Azerbaijan
29  Finland 63  Portugal 132  Latvia
30  France 64  Kazakhstan 133  Slovenia
31  Gabon 65  Dominican Republic 135  Georgia
32  United Kingdom 66  Romania 140  Andorra
33  Greece 67  Syria 142  Bosnia and Herzegovina
34  Guatemala 68  South Africa 143  Ghana

References[edit]

External links[edit]