Car insurance California

Auto insurance rates in California are among the most expensive in the nation, on average, but costs vary widely between different cities and insurers. Our team analyzed cost data to provide drivers in California with better information in their search to find affordable car insurance quotes from the best-rated companies.

Our analysis found that, depending on where you live, the cost of insuring a car can range by over a thousand dollars between companies. This is why, to get low rates, consumers should shop around and compare quotes. Enter your zip code above now to compare auto insurance rates among top U.S. insurers in your area, or read more by jumping directly to each section in our study.

  • Cheapest Auto Insurance Companies
  • Best Car Insurance Rates: by City
  • Best Car Insurance in California
  • Average Cost of Auto Insurance: by City
  • Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements

Cheapest Auto Insurance in California

We averaged rates for single 30 year old male, with a clean driving record across 142 cities in California to arrive at annual premiums by company. Here are the top ten car insurance companies with the best rates in the Golden State, in order from lowest to highest.

If you’re looking for cheap car insurance in California, getting the best deal may require some patience. Rates can vary from one company to the next, so it pays to compare as many estimates as possible.

To make things easier, NerdWallet has done the heavy lifting for you. We researched rates from the largest insurers in the Golden State and found the cheapest options for several common driver types.

No matter what California city or town you live in, Liberty Mutual rewards your responsible choices with Car Insurance Discounts that could help you save hundreds of dollars a year. As a proud member of the California community, we offer exclusive savings to members of various college alumni groups, employers and associations across the state, including: the alumni associations of UCLA, USC, San Diego State, Fresno State; the Oracle Corporation; and employees of the City and County of Sacramento.

California Auto Insurance Information
As with most states, in order to register and drive your car in California, the state requires that you have a minimum level of certain types of auto insurance coverage. These include:

  • Bodily Injury to Others: $15,000 per person / $30,000 per accident
  • Property Damage Liability: $5,000 per accident

Most people opt for higher amounts of auto insurance coverage than the state minimum in order to protect themselves in case of an accident. To learn more about California auto insurance minimums, visit the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Did You Know?

  • Liberty Mutual opened its first California office in 1925.
  • Today Liberty Mutual has more than 25 local sales offices across the state.

Get California Home Insurance & Save
Purchasing a Home Insurance policy along with Car Insurance from Liberty Mutual could qualify you for a multi-policy discount. Learn more about our California Home Insurance.

California Car Insurance

Are you shopping for affordable car insurance quotes? California insurance companies are required to offer you a good driver’s discount if you have a clean driving record. Read more to learn about California car insurance rates, laws, and programs.

Car Insurance Requirements

California law requires that you have a way to cover costs related to damages or injuries you may have caused in a car accident. Purchasing liability car insurance is the simplest and most common way people choose to meet this requirement.

The minimum amount of liability insurance you must have on your policy is:

  • $15,000 for injury/death to one person.
  • $30,000 for injury/death to more than one person.
  • $5,000 for damage to property.

Other Car Insurance Coverage

While liability coverage is the only type of car insurance coverage you are required to carry in California, there are several other types of coverage available to you, including:

  • Comprehensive coverage – This coverage insures you against damages that might occur to your car that do not involve traffic accidents such as theft-related damage.
  • Collision coverage – This insures you against damages to your car that occur as a result of a traffic collision such as an accident with another driver.
  • Medical and funeral services coverage.
  • Uninsured/Underinsured motorist coverage – According to the latest statistics from the California Department of Insurance (CDI), in 2004, 14.43% of California drivers had no car insurance. Uninsured/underinsured coverage can cover damages caused by one of these drivers.
  • Rental car coverage.
  • Towing and labor coverage.

Note: Adding comprehensive and/or collision coverage is generally optional. However, if your car is being financed, your lending or leasing company will require you to purchase comprehensive and collision coverage.

Other Forms of Financial Responsibility

Buying car insurance is the most common way to fulfill your financial responsibility requirements, but it isn’t your only option.

Other options to meet the requirement include:

  • A $35,000 cash deposit with the CA Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • Certificate of Self-Insurance from the DMV.
  • surety bond of $35,000 from any company licensed to do business in CA.

Proof of Insurance

You must be able to prove you have auto insurance to register your car or renew your registration. Your insurance company will give you an insurance card that can serve as your proof of insurance. Your car insurance card will have:

  • Your car’s information.
    • Make.
    • Model.
    • Year.
    • Safety rating.
    • Value.
  • Your name and the name of any other drivers under your car’s policy.
  • The expiration date of your insurance policy’s term.

You will receive a new card every time you renew your car insurance policy.

Additionally, insurance companies in California are required to electronically report your insurance information to the DMV. The California DMV can use these electronic records to verify that you have car insurance.

Getting Pulled Over in California

If you are pulled over by a police officer, you must show your proof of insurance, along with your driver’s license and car registration.

Violation Fines and Penalties

If you are pulled over in California without proof of car insurance or any other form of financial responsibility, you may face the following fines:

  • $100 — $200 for your first offense.
  • $200 — $500 for each offense within 3 years after your first.

The court may impound your car and hold it until you are able to show a proof of insurance.

Suspended Registration

Not having car insurance in California can also result in a suspension of your car’s registration if:

  • The CA DMV is notified of your insurance cancellation and you have not replaced it within 45 days.
  • Your car insurance information is not given to the DMV within 30 days of your car’s initial registration or transfer of ownership.
  • You registered your car with false evidence of insurance.

The DMV will send you a letter if your registration has been suspended due to not having car insurance. You can re-register your car with a proof of insurance at the cost of $14. You can apply for reinstatement:

  • Online at the DMV’s Vehicle Registration Suspensions Insurance Program page.
  • By mail with your notification letter to: DMV
    PO Box 997405
    Sacramento, CA 95899
  • By mail without a notification letter to: DMV VRFRP Unit
    PO Box 997408 N305
    Sacramento, CA 95899-7408
  • By phone at (800) 777-0133.

California’s Proposition 103

Before 1988, California was among only a small handful of states that had no state-governed regulations on the insurance industry. As a result, California auto insurance rates kept climbing to levels that were not affordable to many people.

To combat what many saw as arbitrary insurance rates, Californians voted into law Prop 103 on November 8, 1988, which called for consumer-driven regulation on insurance companies.

Under Prop 103, insurance companies were required to cut their rates to 20% less than what they were in 1987. Any rate changes from that point would have to be approved by the California Department of Insurance.

Among the provisions of Prop 103 are rules regulating how insurance companies determine your car insurance premiums and the Good Driver Discount policy.

Good Driver Discount Policy

Because of Prop 103, California law requires insurance companies to offer a 20% discount to good drivers. You qualify for this Good Driver Discount policy in California if:

  • You have been licensed to drive for the past 3 years.
  • During the past 3 years you have not:
    • Had more than 1 point on your driving record due to a violation(s).
    • Taken traffic school because of a traffic violation more than once.
    • Been the at-fault driver in an accident that resulted in injury or death.

Determining Your Insurance Premium: Credit Score

Prop 103 makes it illegal for insurance companies in California to use your credit history as a factor in determining the cost of your car insurance premium. Because of this, other factors may carry more weight.

These factors may include:

  • Your driving record.
  • Your age.
  • Where you live.
  • The make/model of your car.
  • The purpose of your car (e.g., commuting or personal use).

California’s Low Cost Auto Insurance Program

The Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program (CLCA) was established in California in 1999 to give income eligible drivers a way to get car insurance at an affordable price in order to combat the high number of low-income drivers without car insurance.

To qualify for the CLCA you must:

  • Have a valid California driver’s license.
  • Own a car with a value of $25,000 or less.
  • Be at least 19 years old.
  • Meet the income requirements

California’s Automobile Claims Mediation Program

If you have a dispute over a claim with your insurance carrier, you may be able to take advantage of California’s Auto Claims Mediation Program, which provides a way to help settle claim disputes with the assistance of a third-party mediator at no cost to you.

You may be eligible for the program if the dispute with your insurance provider involves:

  • The extent or amounts of damages.
  • Methods of repair.
  • Cause of damage.
  • Prior damage vs. recent damage.
  • Total loss.
    • This is when an insurance company declares your car not repairable and reimburses you the estimated value of the car instead of repairing the car.
  • Value of a total loss.

You are not eligible for the mediation program if the dispute involves the following issues:

  • Coverage issues.
  • Legal interpretations of your policy.
  • Statute of limitations and contractual limitations on claim filing periods.
  • Agent or broker actions.

For more information about CA’s Auto Claims Mediation process, visit the CA Department of Insurance website.

Automobile Assigned Risk Plan

The California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan (CAARP) is a program to help get all drivers properly insured. If you cannot find a car insurance company, due to a poor driving record, you can apply for liability insurance through CAARP.

All California car insurance companies must accept a certain amount of CAARP applicants depending on their share of the market. The higher the amount of standard customers they have, the higher amount of CAARP applicants they must take.

Once you have a clean driving record for a consecutive 3 years, you can purchase your car insurance outside of CAARP.

California at a Glance

Electronic Insurance Cards

California’s Vehicle Code states that if you do not have your car insurance card, you may be able to pull up your insurance information on your smartphone. Several car insurance carriers have smartphone apps that allow you to access an electronic insurance card.

Car Theft In California

California is the car theft capital of America. In 2011, according to a report issued by the California Highway patrol, 156,796 vehicles were stolen, at an estimated cost of one billion dollars.

Car Theft and Your Car insurance Rates

When calculating a policyholder’s insurance rate, many car insurance companies consider the risk of car theft in a given area. Since car theft rates in California are high, you pay a higher rate.

California car theft hurts everyone that has car insurance. By educating yourself about the types of cars and trucks that are stolen and learning simple ways to prevent your car from being stolen, you’re taking positive steps toward keeping car insurance rates low for everyone.

Most Stolen Cars in California

Driving a car that is often targeted for theft may increase your car insurance rates.

The following is a list of the most commonly stolen cars in California for 2013 according:

  1. Honda Accord.
  2. Honda Civic.
  3. Chevrolet Pickup (Full Size).
  4. Toyota Camry.
  5. Acura Integra.
  6. Ford Pickup (Full Size).
  7. Toyota Corolla.
  8. Nissan Sentra.
  9. Nissan Altima.
  10. Toyota Pickup.

Reporting Accidents

According to the California DMV, every driver will be involved in a car accident at least once in their life, so you should be aware of how to handle such an incident.

When involved in an accident:

  • Try your best to pull out of traffic and onto a safe spot at the side of the road.
  • Never flee the scene. You may risk a hit-and-run conviction.
  • Check for any injuries to anyone involved.
  • Report the accident immediately if anyone is injured or killed.
  • Exchange car insurance information with other drivers involved in the accident.

If you are in an accident that causes more than $1,000 in damages, you must report the accident within 10 days by completing a Traffic Accident Report (Form SR 1).

Cell Phone Use

Even with hands-free devices, studies have shown that cell phone usage is highly distracting.

For safety measures, the state of California has made it illegal to text or use hand-held cell phones while driving. If you are over 18 years old, you may use a hands-free device to make phone calls.

If you must make a call while driving, follow these tips to help you stay safe:

  • Try to pull off the road when possible.
  • Do not get involved in emotionally heated discussions.

California law states if you are under 18 years old, you are NOT allowed to use a cell phone for any reason while driving, including texting and making calls this includes a hands free device.

Remember, all violations can affect your car insurance premiums. Stay safe and keep your car insurance rates low.

California is known for being larger than life, and the state’s auto insurance premiums are no exception. With a statewide average premium of $1,962, the Golden State is amongst the most expensive places to insure your vehicle. However, you shouldn’t fret. With some thoughtful shopping, you can save yourself a pretty penny in no time.

I ventured out to find the best car insurance policy the state had to offer that would cover the bases of minimum coverage, and I asked about a few inexpensive, but necessary add-ons while I was at it. In just 35 minutes of simple clicking through quote tools, and a few phone calls, I found almost $600 in of savings. I’m not trying to brag, but my cheapest quote deeply undercut the statewide average. Although your quotes are sure to vary, I was pleased to find quite a range of quotes, from Esurance’s $754 annual offer to The Hartford’s $1,340 offer (an immediate “thanks, but no thanks” from me).

When shopping for your own policy, it’s key to remember that every little factor imaginable (and even some that aren’t immediately imaginable) has an effect on the way a quote is calculated. Everything from your zip code, to your age, to your credit score can seriously alter the quote you receive, making it paramount to do some thoughtful shopping of your own. In the end, you’ll be much happier for having spent the extra time to find the policy that works best for you.

I gathered the quotes with a combination of super simple online tools and slighty tedious phone calls. On average, the online forms took seven minutes to complete, whereas the phone calls rode closer to 20 minutes. As painful as hearing some “please hold” music can be, I strongly encourage you to steadfastly trudge through the process. I can’t guarantee which insurer will be cheapest, but judging from my experience you got some cash to save.

California Car Insurance Guide

Navigating the waters of car insurance in California can be tricky.  To help you on your way, we’ve assembled some basic information about driving in California.  Below you’ll find resources on car insurance, licensure information, and fun facts about the state.

Just looking to get an auto insurance quote? Head over this way.

What are the Auto Insurance Requirements in California?

Drivers in California must show financial responsibility – usually, this means drivers must carry proof of car insurance.  In California, this proof can also take the form of a $35,000 deposit with the DMV, a $35,000 surety bond, or a DMV-issued self-insurance certificate.  You must carry this proof with you at all times, in case you are in an accident or stopped by the police.

California also requires insurance companies to electronically report insurance information for private-use vehicles, so that the DMV can determine whether or not you meet the coverage requirements.  California’s minimum insurance coverage levels are:

  • Body Injury Liability: $15,000 for injury/death to one person; $30,000 for one accident
  • Property Damage Liability: $5,000

Don’t know what those numbers mean? Check out our liability coverage page.

Medical payments, collision insurance, and comprehensive coverage are not required in California.  However, between medical bills, body damage, and possible lawsuits may cost you far more than the minimum instance coverage is able to cover.  Keep this in mind when you’re shopping, and be sure to get the most appropriate coverage for you.

California Auto Insurance Discounts

Looking for a discount on your car insurance? Many companies and institutions in California offer affinity group discounts to their employees and members. If you’re associated with one of these, you may qualify for an affinity group discount with one or more major insurance companies. Make sure you don’t miss out: Ask your employer if the company has a business relationship with any insurance companies.

California Auto Insurance Penalties

Failure to meet California’s minimum requirements may result in an any number of penalties.  These include:

  • Suspension of your driver’s license plus a fee and the costs associated with a license and registration reinstatement.
  • Impoundment of your vehicle.
  • Being required to file an SR-22 annual for three years after reinstatement.

To learn more about the requirements and penalties, visit the California Department of Insurance.

California Car Seat Laws

There’s a lot to things to worry about when you have a child – how to put your child safely in a car seat is something all parents worry about at one time or another. Learn what California’s Car Seat Laws have to say on the matter.

California Driver’s Guide

Read our California Car Registration and Licensing guide to earn what steps you need to take when getting a California driver’s license, registering your car, and more.

California is known as “the strangest state west of New Jersey,” and car insurance in California is strange too. The nation’s most populous state has some unique car insurance laws that cause wide variations in how much a policy costs. That means it’s especially essential for California residents to shop around for the best deal on car insurance. We’ll show you what we mean with this California auto insurance comparison chart.

California Auto Insurance Comparison

Overall, California auto insurance is fairly affordable in California. In 2012, the state ranked eighth-lowest for car insurance costs when measured as a percentage of income. But that doesn’t mean everyone pays low rates. We ran the numbers for three different California drivers to show you how dramatically their auto insurance costs can change, depending on the carrier. The quotes are real, although we’ve left out the names of the insurance companies.

We’ve created three different profiles to run through our insurance panel.

Elizabeth Allclear:

  • Is a 44-year-old female
  • Owns a 2010 Chevrolet Malibu LS
  • Drives for pleasure
  • Owns a home and has a master’s degree
  • Is a low-risk driver with a clean driving record

Johnny Racer:

  • Is a 21-year-old male
  • Finances a 2013 Honda Civic SI
  • Drives to work
  • Rents an apartment and graduated from high school
  • Has two speeding tickets on his record

Joe and Julie Average:

  • Are a married 41-year-old couple
  • Owns a 2012 Grand Caravan SE and finances a 2011 Mazda 6S
  • Drives to work
  • Owns a condo and both have bachelor’s degrees
  • Has minor tarnish on driving record

California Auto Insurance Requirements

Here is a look at your legal requirements for minimum auto insurance coverage in the state of California. These include both bodily injury and property damage liability coverage.

Bodily injury liability coverage pays for any injuries that you may cause to someone else. Keep in mind that if multiple people are injured, your total bodily injury coverage will be split between the parties.

Property damage liability coverage pays for any damage caused to someone else’s property, for which you are responsible. This may include other vehicles, structures/buildings, or objects.

You’re welcome to choose a policy that provides additional coverage, of course, but these are the minimum amounts of liability coverage that you are required to hold in order to drive in the state.

California Minimum Liability

California requires only that you insure yourself against bodily injury and property damage liability, so it’s your choice whether to add coverage for yourself, your passengers, and your vehicle. The state’s liability minimums can be expressed in the shorthand 15/30/5 (the format we’ll use throughout this review), which means the following:

  • $15,000 bodily injury coverage per person
  • $30,000 bodily injury coverage per accident
  • $5,000 property damage coverage per accident

These amounts do offer some protection, but it’s not hard to imagine instances in which they wouldn’t cover your entire financial liability. For example, if you’re driving down Rodeo Drive and accidentally collide with a luxury car, those repairs could easily cost more than the $5,000 in property damage coverage that’s required. And if the other driver is injured, his or her medical bills could well exceed the minimum $15,000 for bodily injury coverage. In both situations, you’d be responsible for making up the difference yourself — that’s why it’s a good idea to buy as much insurance as you can afford.

Your premium cost depends largely on personal factors: your age, credit score, how much you drive, and the type of vehicle you’re insuring, among other things. But because different providers will charge the same individual more or less for the same coverage, the only way to nail down your cheapest rate is to compare tailored quotes. Still, there are many other important factors besides price, making our reviews of California’s top five auto insurers a good place to begin your search.