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Your Ultimate Guide to Car Licence Number Plates in Singapore

DirectAsia Insurance_a car parked at the roadside, with car plate shown

Car licence number plates in Singapore are more than just a way to identify vehicles on the road. They carry important information such as vehicle category, special designations, and even serve as a status symbol for some. Understanding the system behind Singapore licence plates can be helpful for car owners and enthusiasts alike. In this ultimate guide, we will explore the different aspects of car licence number plates in Singapore, including how they are decided, the prefixes and suffixes used, the colours of licence plates, and special designations.

What is a vehicle registration number?

A vehicle registration number, commonly known as a car licence plate, is a unique combination of letters and numbers assigned to a motor vehicle for identification purposes. In Singapore, all motor vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, and commercial vehicles, are required to display a licence plate on the front and rear of the vehicle.

The vehicle registration number serves multiple purposes, including identification, registration, and enforcement of traffic rules and regulations. It allows authorities to track and monitor vehicles, identify vehicle owners, and enforce traffic laws such as parking regulations, tolls, and road pricing.

How are number plates decided?

In Singapore, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is responsible for assigning and regulating vehicle registration numbers. The format of Singapore licence plates follows a strict alphanumeric system with specific prefixes and suffixes indicating different categories of vehicles. 

In the present, all car licence plates begin with the prefix ‘S’ that simply stands for Singapore. In the 1900s, car plates for private cars started with a single 'S' prefix, but eventually, the growing car population imposed a need to include a suffix letter after the 'S' – from 'SA' to 'SY' - with the exception of SH that is reserved for taxis and SZ used for older rental vehicles and chauffeur-driven private hire cars.

In the 1970’s, once the single ‘S’ prefix ran out, the LTA decided to use the ‘E’ prefix with an added suffix, going up to ‘EZ’. In 1984, the ‘S’ series was re-established, this time with two serial suffix letters, starting from SBA.

These systematic car plate registration prefixes, suffixes and their numbers are typically disbursed in alphabetical and numeric order. However, if you own a car and want a specific registration number, you can choose to bid for a previously issued car plate number or one that carries an auspicious number. Do you know that a unique car plate bid can go up to $250,000? This depends on the exclusivity and type of registration number required.

To note, this car plate prefix and suffix system is implemented to date, with the exception of the following:

SEP: for the official state car of the Singapore Elected President.

SJ: Cars for Supreme Court judges. SJ1 is reserved for the Chief of Justice.

SPF: Car for the Singapore Police Force Commissioner.

SBS: Buses operated by SBS Transit.

SMB: Buses operated by SMRT.


Singapore Car Plate Number Special Prefixes and Suffixes

In addition to the regular prefixes and suffixes, there’s also a range of special prefixes and suffixes for vehicles used for specific functions.

Car Plate Prefix and Suffix What It Stands For
LTA Bikes under the purview of the Enforcement Department of the Land Transport Authority.
MID Vehicles under the purview of the Singapore Armed Forces.
MP Vehicles under the purview of the Military Police Command from the Singapore Armed Forces.
PA, PB, PC, PH, PZ Used to identify private buses, and other private hire vehicles, but currently all private-hire vehicles have been issued with PA plates.


Tax exempted vehicles used exclusively on the island of Pulau Ubin.
QX Vehicles under the purview of the emergency and law enforcement agencies, such as the Singapore Police Force and Singapore Civil Defence Force.
RD For cars operated for 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 after the digits Vehicles used by foreign diplomats
TP Bikes under the purview of the Traffic Police Department of the Singapore Police Force


Checksum letters

Another interesting element in Singapore car plates is the letter that is listed at the end of the registration number – after the string of prefix and suffix letters as well as the digits. Did you know that this is called a checksum letter?

Oddly enough, 'F', 'I', 'N', 'O', 'Q', 'V' and 'W' are not used as checksum letters, because this letter is generated via an algorithm, and therefore it does not come up.

If you’d like to find out the checksum letter of any car plate in Singapore, there is an online calculator that can help you do that, as long as you key in the prefix and suffix letters along with the digits that follow. This tool could come in handy if you are planning to bid on a car plate!


The Colours of Singapore Licence Plates

If you’ve driven on Singapore roads, chances are you would have also noticed that the licence plates are coloured differently and they represent different types of cars or vehicles! 

Here’s a quick summary of the different coloured licence plates in Singapore:

Regular Cars: Most cars have a black background with white letterings or the front plate is white with black letterings and the back plate is yellow with black letterings.

Off Peak Cars: these are cars that have a restriction on their usage hours. They have red coloured car plates with white letterings. 

Research and Development Cars: Cars that are currently in testing and research. They have yellow and blue in the plate, separated in half diagonally. The characters are also in white. 

Vintage and Classic cars: The vehicle plate for vintage and classic cars will have the top half being red-ish orange and the bottom half yellow. 

Pulau Ubin vehicles: These motor vehicles used here have green coloured with white letterings. They are exempted from tax and are used exclusively on the island of Pulau Ubin. 

Restricted Use: These vehicles are restricted to certain locations; such as trams in zoos that are used to fetch visitors around. These vehicles are also exempted from road tax. They are green and red that are split in half diagonally.

Hazmat Vehicles: These vehicles have orange coloured car plates. This is to indicate that it is licensed to carry dangerous cargo.


Ace the Singapore Car Plate Quiz!

Do you know why ‘SAA’ was not used in the ‘S’ series with a double suffix? Well, simply because the LTA resolved to skip the use of vowels in the second letter of the three-letter car plates to avoid forming words that may be distasteful. So, when the ‘SDZ’ sequence ran out in 2003, what do you think followed after? Yes, ‘SFA’ was used instead of ‘SEA.’

Next time someone asks you about Singapore car plate numbers and colours, you should be able to answer them with confidence. Of course, it may take a bit of time to fully remember all the varieties, but you should be familiar with private car plates and off-peak car plates, at the very least.

Did you learn something new in this article? Or do you know of any other fun facts about Singapore car plates that we may have missed? Let us know in the comments below. This article is brought to you by DirectAsia, Singapore’s only insurer with NCD60 that offers flexible car insurance, customised to your needs.