BC licence plates

Not all 26 letters of the alphabet appear on BC license plates. Six are missing — and the reason goes all the way back to 1970, when BC switched from issuing sequential plate numbers to an alphanumeric system.

One [story] is that the stamps used by employees of the MVB for compiling licensing documents in 1960s only had enough space for ten (10) characters. 

The other is that when the province upgraded the machinery at the Oakalla Plate Shop in the mid-1950s, it was designed to accommodate a maximum row of ten (10) different dies for each of the six columns that might be used in the license plate’s serial. 

Regardless of which, if any of these stories is the correct one, the alphabet was broken into two blocks of ten letters with the first block comprising A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, and K with “I” excluded as it too closely resembled the number one.

Christopher Garrish

The second block of letters used on BC passenger license plates was L, M, N, P, R, S, T, V, W, and X. The letters I and O were obviously too similar to 1 and 0, and Q was apparently also skipped due to its resemblance to zero1. I imagine U was excluded instead of X to minimize the number of unusable plate numbers containing rude words. Y and Z missed out just because they’re at the end of the alphabet.

BC has issued several different plate series since the ’70s and the manufacturing process has presumably changed since then, but I believe the letters have remained the same. To this day, I have still never seen an I, O, Q, U, Y, or Z on a BC passenger car.

Keep an eye out for other types of vehicles, though. Motorcycle plates starting with U, Y, and Z were issued in 2012–14, 2017–18, and 2019–20 respectively, and the letters can also be spotted on plates assigned to commercial trucks.

  1. I recall asking this at the end of my driver’s test many years ago, and being given this answer by an ICBC employee. This is supported by the fact that other kinds of plates are issued with U, Y, and Z but not the three ambiguous characters. That said, I’m a little curious why S was not also skipped due to its resemblance to the number 5. ↩︎