License plate mystery is solved

I was just wondering how license plate numbers are applied in Oregon. I bought a new car in Medford in March and my plate starts with a 4, however, a neighbor bought almost exactly the same car in Klamath Falls one week later and that license-plate number starts with a 0. Are numbers applied according to county?

— Sue B., via e-mail

The assignment of license plate numbers to vehicles is simpler than would be expected. To get the scoop, we contacted David House, a spokesman from the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division in Salem, who had a very to-the-point answer.

"We assign them in order," he said. A little prodding from our ever-inquisitive SYA sleuths determined that the "order" is, in fact, done in a wholesale manner, with a case of plates shipped off when requested by a field office. A case consists of 50 sets of plates, two plates per car. House said that since 2000, three numbers have preceded three letters in Oregon, while before that, it was the other way around. He suspects the current arrangement to last for another 20 to 30 years, at which time the state will have to find another solution for assigning numbers to license plates.

But for now, "we order them by the case and put them out there in order based on when the field office needs it," House said.

The license plates are manufactured in Portland, then are shipped out by the case to whomever happens to need a case, whether it be headquarters or one of the field offices located around the state. Whenever an office is running low on plates, the main office, which keeps track, automatically sends that place another case of plates.

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