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Fun Facts about Singapore Car Plates | What Every Driver Should Know

Sun, 08/15/2021 - 12:00
DirectAsia Insurance_a car parked at the roadside, with car plate shown

Interesting Facts About Singapore Car Plates You Should Know

Reading time: 4 mins

Car number plates are mandated in Singapore to govern the use of automobiles in the country. Under the regulations of the Land Transport Authority (LTA), every car in Singapore must have an approved Vehicle Registration Number (VRN) displayed on the front and rear end of the vehicle. But, with the various types of prefixes, suffixes and colour schemes, it can be baffling if you don’t know what they signify.

So, we’ve prepared a quick guide on the various types of car registration plates in Singapore, to help you decode what they represent.

Singapore Car Plates Prefixes and Suffixes

At present day, 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 reestablished, this time with two serial suffix letters, starting from SBA.

But 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.’

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.

Special 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.
PU 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:

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Private car plates mostly display white characters on a black background. However, for reflective car plates – which are more visible and easily scanned by automated licence plate readers – the front car plate has black characters on a white background, and the car plate on the rear end has black characters on a yellow background. Pulau Ubin residents, on the other hand, have unique green car plates with white characters to identify their cars.

Different colours are used for various vehicle car plates if it's registered under a special scheme, as shown in the image above. For example, off-peak car plates display white characters on a dark red background and vintage and classic car plates have white characters on a dark red and yellow background.

You will also find that car plates of Research and Development as well as Restricted Use vehicles are bicoloured with a diagonal line separating the two colours, as opposed to a straight horizontal division, like that of classic car plates. No doubt, car plates in Singapore are unique and rather colourful but it definitely makes the vehicles easily identifiable on the roads.

Ace the Singapore Car Plate Quiz!

So, the 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, customized to your needs.