British Columbia Registration Decals

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The year 1970 marked a watershed in the history of British Columbia license plates. For almost four years the province had been preparing for the exhaustion of the six digit, 000-000 format in use, almost continuously since 1912. While the selection of a new format was an important decision, equally significant was the introduction of a registration system that implemented the use of decals. Almost every year, BC motorists had to line up at the Motor Vehicle Branch (MVB) to receive new date-stamped plates to replace their expired ones. Editorial writers across the province bemoaned the costs, and unnecessary labour expended to remove old, rusted-on plates every year, pleading with the government to introduce what was commonly referred to as a perma-plate. The 1970 base plate was designed, in part, to address these criticisms and introduce B.C. motorists to a more long-term plate.
Actual registration practices would remain unchanged, as motorists could begin to renew in the first week of January, but were given a grace period of two months before the previous year’s plates expired. Accordingly, all decals expired at the end of February. The new plates came designed with a box located on the bottom-center in which the reflective decals were to be affixed. The 1970 decal is itself, unique in that it did not contain a registration number to identify it with the plate. As 1970 required a complete re-issuance and every motorist had to have the new base plate to be on the road, decal fraud was not a pressing concern.
1970 - 1972
Only one year into this experimental plate run, the 1971 decal was chosen as the best means in which to celebrate the centennial of Confederation with Canada on B.C. a plate. Bearing the centennial logo, the decal also possessed the first registration numbers to prevent theft by tying a decal with a specific vehicle.

Strip of Unissued 1971 Decals
With the successful conclusion of this first run, the province undertook a new phase in 1973, one that was to last five years. Minor modifications were made to the plate to improve upon the style of the previous issue. Following complaints that trailer hitches were obscuring the decals , plates were designed with decal boxes in the upper-right corner (similar in position to the date stamp found on plates from the late 1960s). As it was another general re-issue, no decals were produced for 1973.
1974 - 1978


1977 1978
1974 marked a new change in the appearance of decals. The New Democratic Party (NDP) had been elected the year before on a platform that included the promise to introduce a compulsory government insurance scheme. One of the steps implemented in the creation of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) was a simplification of the licensing system. Starting March 1, 1974, all cars and trucks would be issued decals as many of the vehicles that had previously carried commercial plates were switched to passenger. In conjunction with this move, validation decals expiring February 28, 1975 appeared bearing the words pass (denoting passenger), and comm (commercial). A move, one would conclude, was necessitated by the folding of two previously separate plate types into one? This trend would be continued until 1978, while both the 1976 and 1977 decals would also be adorned with an image of a dogwood; the provincial flower.

Strip of Unissued 1976 Decals
For the third time in less then a decade British Columbia issued a new base plate in 1979, one that was proclaimed to finally last a lifetime. However, as it was a new issue there would be no validation decals issued as all motorists required new plates either way. With this latest series of decal validated plates, the province sought to break a long tradition of end-of-the-year-rushes in February for renewals by introducing staggered registration. Applying to all those owning a new car for the first time after April 1, 1979, or purchasing a vehicle requiring license plates, a decal would be issued that would remain valid for twelve months, or until the last day of the month preceding issuance. As the majority of driver’s registration expired on February 28, 1980, they would only receive a 1981 decal, making a 1980 dated plate relatively rare.

1980 - 1988: Various Styles
Over the next five years the style of decals would change almost year over year, as both the 1982 and 1982 issues had no borders and alternating locations for the registration numbers. 1983 decals came with a white center block, while the 1984 style employed white bookends, and the 1985 decals had no border at all. In 1985 the province undertook another re-issuance of base plates using, for the first time since plates were manufactured at the Oakalla prison, a B.C. company. The rollout plan called for the plates to be ready by January 1985 so that all motorists would receive a pair in the same calendar year. Production delays at the factory of the Surrey manufacturer, however, pushed back introduction to August of 1985, as a result, both the blue-base plate and the new flag graphic can be found with the 1986 validation decal celebrating the World's Exposition in Vancouver that year.
By 1989 ICBC had standardized the style of their decals with coloured lettering, and border on a white reflective background. An alternating colour scheme of green-red-blue-black was also adopted – although, having said that, 1990 was more pinkish then the red of 1994 and 1998. For reasons covered under the “Forged Decal” section, two different coloured decals were issued in 1996; black-on-white for January to October and pink-on-white for November and December.
1989 - 1999: Thick Border


In 1993 the Lower Mainland was introduced to AirCare; a testing system designed to keep high smog producers off the road (and thereby improve air quality standards). Motorists could not obtain their validation decals until they received a clean bill of health from an AirCare center. Even though staggered registration had been introduced thirteen years earlier, February still remained the busiest month for renewals and in typical fashion most drivers waited until the last possible day of the month before seeking AirCare certification. To ease these end-of-the-month rushes, staggered registration at a daily level was introduced. It is now a mandatory feature on all B.C. plates that a date decal, such as the one pictured above be displayed.

Type I

Type II
A little known problem occurred with the 1998 decals whereby the production process resulted in the "Type I" decals becoming brittle and prone to splitting along the line stamped into the peel tabs found on the back of the decal.
1999 - 2003: Thin Border



2004: No Border (long)

2005 - 2008: No Border (short)


2009 - 2013: Bar Code


Dual Decal Box
In addition, with the introduction of the two most recent plate types, being the Olympic and Consular in 2007, new embossed decal boxes are being provided which clearly indicate where each type of decal is now to be stuck:

Olympic Base (2007)

Consular Base (2007)

Commercial Truck Base
(limited issuance - 2008 / re-appeared in 2013)

Prorate Base
(limited issuance - 2010 / 2011)

Passenger Base (2013)

Commercial Trailer Base (2013)
It is assumed that it is only a matter of time before all of the bases are provided with this configuration of decals boxes, stay tuned...

Due to an apparent confusion amongst some motorists who mistakenly believed that the last two numbers of the registration decal denoted the day of the month their registration expired as opposed to the year, ICBC made a change to rectify this by including the full year on the decals. In doing so, however, the reference to "BRITISH COLUMBIA" had to be rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise in order to still fit on the decals..
2014: Full Date
In February of 2016, ICBC released a Bulletin advising of changes to the design of its decals starting in July of 2016 (which will be for decals with a July 2017 expiry). What prompted the change appears to be a desire to have the underlying hologram be more visible, but the Corporation also used the opportunity to bring back the rounded corners seen between 1999-2009, to reduce the size of the fonts and to introduce a slightly different shade of green. Why? Well, when we know more we will let you know. For posterity, we have archived the Bulletin and to access it just Click Here!

Disappearing Ink - 2017 Decals (and 2018 Decals!)
According to a Bulletin released by ICBC on February 6, 2017, the ink is "fading" on a small batch of decals and motorists who find themselves affected are being encouraged to come in for free replacements.

Apparently this problem is not as prevalent as the sheeting peeling off plates with "approximately 100 incidents of fading decals [having] been brought to ICBC's attention out of more than 2 million active number plate insurance decals currently on B.C. vehicles."
"Fading" is certainly one way to describe the problem, but we here at think "disappearing" ink to be a more accurate description as the first instance of this we saw was a decal that had lost about 95% of its ink - leaving only a green rectangle.
Moreover, once we began to look for these decals, they were not too hard to find (but not easy to photograph), making us query the number of vehicles that might actually be affected (more likely in the thousands, if not tens of thousands).
We here at even conducted a controlled experiment with the decal on one of our fleet vehicles at the end of 2017 (after the decal had expired) to see how easily the ink would come off. The video below shows what happened:
For posterity, we have archived a copy of the Bulletin No. 17.
The problems with the 2017 decals prompted ICBC to recall and replace all the decals for July to December of 2017 with a third type (what we are going to call "Type 3") of decal design:
Decal Problems

Type 1 - January to June

Type 2 - July to August

Type 3 - July to August
The problems with the 2017 decals also occurred with the 2018 decals, prompting ICBC to similarly recall and replace all 2018 decals:

Type 1 - Not applicable for 2018 decals

Type 2 - January to June

Type 3 - January to December

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© Copyright Christopher John Garrish. All rights reserved.