California’s license plates are made by the thousands each year at Folsom State Prison.

And the inmates make all kinds, considering that, as of a year ago, there were 31,916,865 registered vehicles in the state.

There’s the basic plate for cars, which now starts with the number 6 followed by three letters and three numbers. DMV spokeswoman Jan Mendoza says the state issued six-digit plates from the 1950s or so through the late 1970s until it ran out of combinations and started putting a number at the beginning. The first permanent license plate was issued in 1914 by the state.

There are plates for pickups, panel vans and other “commercial” vehicles that start with a number, then a letter and five numbers. But there are so many of those vehicles that the DMV recently ran out of that license configuration and now is issuing the reverse configuration: Five numbers, a letter and a number.

The “special interest” plates, of which 852,037 are active:

A sample personalized plate

–Personalized basic plates, which the DMV checks forward and backward for offensive or inappropriate meanings. These cost extra and the money — $629,844,229 from 1990 to June 2010 — is used on environmental issues by the state resources agency.

Arts plate sample

–Arts, which supports the state Arts Council.

You've got to be a firefighter -- or retired -- to get one of these.

–Firefighter, which only current or retired firefighters are eligible for. About 22,000 have been issued.

A sample for the California Memorial plate.

–California Memorial, started after the 9/11 attacks and the money goes to the Anti-terrorism Fund and the California Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Coastal plate with the whale tale

–Coastal, with a whale tale on the plate: The money goes to the state Coastal Commission for maintaining beaches and for education programs.

Collegiate plate

–Collegiate. Currently only a plate for UCLA is available. Just why only UCLA the DMV couldn’t really answer.

A kids plate sample

–Kids plate, which supports the Child Health and Safety Fund for child-care licensing and safety.

Lake Tahoe plate

–Lake Tahoe, with the money goes to preservation and restoration projects in the Tahoe area.

Olympic sample

–Olympic, with the money going to the California Olympic Training Center Fund.

–Prisoner of war. This one’s free but you have to prove you were a POW.

A veterans sample

–Veterans. The money benefits county veterans service offices.

The Yosemite plate

–Yosemite, with the money going to Yosemite National Park restoration projects.

Most states issue more than 100 special interest plates, but Mendoza says most states don’t have as stringent requirements as California where at least 7,500 applications must be received for a special interest plate before it’s issued.

As a result, some proposed plates were scraped, including ones regarding Ronald Reagan, breast cancer, Rotary, Girl Scouts, San Francisco Bay Conservancy, emergency medical services and Sierra Nevada Conservancy. Others were issued for a while before being discontinued, although the plates remain valid, including the Los Angeles Olympic Games for 1984; bicentennial of the Bill of Rights, issued in 1990 and 1991; and citizens band radio operators, which stopped being issued in 1983.

Three new plates have been proposed but haven’t been issued pending achieving the 7,500-application mark: Agriculture, Snoopy and veterinary.

Then there are the “special” plates:

Amateur radio plates include the owner's call letters

–Amateur radio

–Antique motorcycles, for those made in 1942 or before.

–Medal of Honor recipients, also free.

Gold Star Family plate

–Gold Star Family, also free, for family members of an active-duty service member killed in the line of duty.

–Historical vehicle, for those made after 1922 and at least 25 years old and of historic interest. Driving limited to exhibitions, parades and such.

–Horseless carraige, for those made in 1922 or before or made with 16 or more cylinders before 1965. Driving also limited to exhibitions, parades and such.

In this sample Legion of Honor plate, the Distinguished Service Cross is shown.

–Legion of Honor, also free, for those who have been awarded the Army, Navy or Air Force medal of honor, Army Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross or Air Force Cross.

–Pearl Harbor survivor, also free

A sample press photographer plate

–Press photographer

–Purple Heart medal recipients, free.

And then there are even more plates, including if you’re a member of Congress or the Legislature, you’re disabled or you’re an official at a foreign consulate in California and for trailers and park trailers.

If you’re interested in one of these plates, more information is available at the DMV by clicking here.

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  1. Cathy

    That would be: Medal of Honor Recipient, not winner!

    March 7th, 2011 8:11 am

  2. wayne

    a bar code with your name in it so it can be registered with police fills and when stoped then police can check if car is stolen or the lisence plate is stolen just by bar code only ,police do not have to call in everytime to check on liesence plates, cuff him dano

    March 7th, 2011 8:17 am

  3. Sonoma Sam

    I’m just glad we got rid of Davis before he could restore the registration fees on cars back to normal. To heck with the California economy. Just bought a new vehicle and the DMV fees were under $500. Arnold was too much a wussy to restore the fees even when faced with bankrupcy (yes, I know it would only bring in a billion or so).

    Well, Jerry? Can we afford to have the least expensive DMV rates or will you face the angry public and do whyat is right.

    March 7th, 2011 9:30 am

  4. Safedriver

    LOL Cathy, yes you are right! Medal of Honor is no contest winner but given to recipients who earned it. Anyway I appreciate the low-down on all the different plates. Very informative and interesting.

    March 7th, 2011 5:35 pm

  5. Safedriver

    Oops, I meant to refer to the Purple Heart “winners”

    March 7th, 2011 5:38 pm

  6. George White

    I have a Veterans plate. I don’t see any problems with the special plates as long as they follow the numbers correctly.

    March 7th, 2011 6:48 pm

  7. Tom

    California has another license plate on the way! The California Pet Lover’s License plate is currently available for pre-order. Currently, we have ~2,600 of the 7,500 pre-order required by the DMV. The proceeds generated from the plate will be used to help provide low-cost and free neuter/spay services across the state. You can find out more about it at http://www.caspayplate.com!

    March 8th, 2011 11:00 am

  8. M.C Rider

    The cheapist planest plate is fine with me ,no need to spend more tha i have to.

    March 9th, 2011 12:49 am

  9. lilbluegirl

    Wow…brilliant Wayne…

    March 9th, 2011 1:45 pm

  10. Susan

    To Cathy: that would be a good idea but a lic plate isn’t linked to the owner or driver of the vehicle. its linked to the vehicle and can be sold along with the car or given up to which DMV recys them to another vehicle or person if wanted (if personal plate)

    March 9th, 2011 1:45 pm

  11. Jim Sig

    There is no need for a bar code, since cities like San Bernardino have their police cruisers equipped with computerized scanners that scan every license plate on the road to see if the car has been reported stolen (and I assume that it also checks the registered owner for wants and warrants).

    June 19th, 2011 1:08 pm

  12. M.Grace

    Can somebody please explain why the DMV has a requirement that there must be 7500 applications before it will create a new Special Interest license plate? Manny states have less restrictive requirements and issue more plates, which helps them raise funds for worthy causes. My alma matter (a non-California school) is interested in ordering a Collegiate Special Interest License late for alumni of the school who reside in California, but would never be able to secure 7500 applicants.

    January 18th, 2013 1:33 pm

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