California has the highest population of any state in the country, according to the United States Census Bureau. In 2017, California led the next-closest contender, Texas, by more than 11 million. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, the state of California had 26,199,436 licensed drivers in 2016, out of a total population of just over 39 million people. As you can imagine, that leads to a lot of cars on the roads, especially since California has three of the country’s 10 most populated cities. Los Angeles comes in at No. 2, and San Diego and San Jose are farther down the list, at 8 and 10.
What does that mean for drivers in the state of California looking for car insurance? We looked at California’s auto insurance rates as compared to other states, with a particular interest in how California compares to Texas, as the most comparable state in terms of population. We also looked at the cheapest car insurance companies in California, as well as California car insurance requirements and discounts.
Of course, there are a lot more factors than just living in California when it comes to California car insurance rates. Other important things to consider are your age and gender, your marital status, whether you live in an urban or rural area, and the crime rates in that area. Insurers also consider whether you park your car in a secured garage or on the street, the kind of car you drive and how old it is, and whether you have a record for being a safe driver or an irresponsible one. We’ll take a closer look at some of these factors and how they affect the cost of car insurance for residents of California.
Average Annual Car Insurance Rates in California
How We Found the Cheapest Car Insurance in California
U.S. News also worked with Quadrant Information Services to provide a report of average insurance rates in all 50 states from the 10 largest national car insurance companies. The rates are based on profiles for both male and female drivers aged 17, 25, 35, and 60. Vehicles used include the 2018 Honda Civic, 2018 Toyota RAV4, 2018 Ford-F-150, 2015 Honda Civic, 2015 Toyota RAV4, and 2015 Ford-F-150, with annual mileage of 6,000 and 12,000. Three car insurance coverage levels were used, as were credit tiers of good, fair, and poor. Clean driving records and records with one accident, one speeding violation, and one DUI were also used in the calculations. The rates shown here are for comparative purposes only. Individual rates will differ.
How Much Does Car Insurance Cost in California?
See the Cheapest Car Insurance Companies
If you live in California, you are likely to have the highest insurance rates if you are customer of Farmers Insurance, at an average of $4,998. Nationwide and Allstate aren’t too far behind with average rates of $4,653 and $4,532. State Farm comes in next, at $4,202. From there, it’s a significant drop to Travelers at $3,349 and Liberty Mutual at $3,034. Geico and Progressive are a close contest, with average rates of $2,885 and $2,849. USAA has the best rates, with an average of $2,693.
In general, married 60-year-old people pay the lowest rates in California. Some auto insurance companies charge men slightly more, and others charge women slightly more. The biggest difference between the two groups was from Progressive, which charged married 60-year-old men almost $300 more than married 60-year-old women. Two of the companies, Farmers and State Farm, have the same average rates for this group.
Married 35-year-olds have the next lowest average rates. Four of the companies in the study charge men slightly less than women, while three charge women slightly lower rates. Two of the companies in the study, Farmers and State Farm, charge the same rates to this group.
Single 25-year-old drivers have the next lowest average rates in the study, with women paying lower rates than men from all but three companies. In this demographic, none of the companies have the same average rates for the men and the women.
It should come as no surprise that single 17-year-old men and women pay the highest average insurance rates of all demographics in this study. The men pay higher average rates than the women from all nine companies in the study, and the difference is staggering in some cases. Farmers has the highest difference, with rates of $8,666 for women and $14,187 for men. Three of the companies – Farmers, Allstate, and State Farm – charge 17-year-old men rates that are more than a thousand dollars higher than what they charge 17-year-old women.
|Company||Single 17-year old female||Single 17-year old male||Single 25-year old female||Single 25-year old male||Married 35-year old female||Married 35-year old male||Married 60-year old female||Married 60-year old male|
|Liberty Mutual (as SAFECO Ins Co of America)||$5,013.24||$5,347.10||$2,593.11||$2,619.94||$2,303.42||$2,177.42||$2,144.64||$2,076.48|
|Nationwide (as AMCO Insurance)||$8,317.48||$9,185.88||$3,904.45||$3,858.13||$3,272.59||$3,124.20||$2,863.45||$2,699.31|
|Progressive (as United Financial Casualty)||$4,765.20||$5,745.56||$2,575.62||$2,769.92||$1,784.51||$1,836.93||$1,517.86||$1,801.73|
Age and marital status are not the only factors that affect insurance rates. We also looked at how mileage affects rates from these nine companies, broken out into two categories: average travel of 6,000 miles annually or a 10-mile daily commute, and 12,000 miles annually or a 25-mile daily commute. In all cases, customers with the longer commute pay more. State Farm has the smallest difference between the two groups, charging about $300 more to customers who drive more. A few other companies have differences of about $500. Nationwide has the biggest disparity between the two customer groups, at more than a thousand dollars. Customers with the shorter commute pay an average of $4,108, while customers who drive more pay an average of $5,197.
|Company||6000 miles annually (10 mile daily commute)||12,000 miles annually (25 mile daily commute)|
|Liberty Mutual (as SAFECO Ins Co of America)||$2,785.42||$3,283.42|
|Nationwide (as AMCO Insurance)||$4,108.45||$5,197.92|
|Progressive (as United Financial Casualty)||$2,585.86||$3,113.48|
Our analysis broke down coverage into three types: low, medium, and high. Across the board, the nine insurance companies in California charged more for high coverage than for low coverage, which is to be expected, though the differences are not as large as some customers might expect. With few exceptions, the difference between low and medium coverage is much higher than the difference between medium and high coverage. In other words, if you’re considering stepping up to medium coverage, you might as well go all out with high coverage. Of course, your mileage may vary based on your individual factors.
|Liberty Mutual (as SAFECO Ins Co of America)||$2,823.37||$3,061.19||$3,218.69|
|Nationwide (as AMCO Insurance)||$4,179.19||$4,734.14||$5,046.23|
|Progressive (as United Financial Casualty)||$2,553.79||$2,935.12||$3,060.10|
Next, we took a look at how these auto insurance companies charged customers with a clean driving record, with a single speeding violation, with a single accident, and with a DUI. With all insurance companies sampled except Liberty Mutual, customers with a DUI paid the highest average rates. With Liberty Mutual, a customer with one accident will pay a higher average rate than a customer with a DUI. Liberty Mutual also had the smallest increase, about $160, between customers with a clean record and customers with one speeding violation. In most other cases, a speeding violation raised rates much more, about $500 with Geico to about $1,300 with Farmers.
If you have one speeding violation on your record in California, you’ll pay the lowest rates with USAA ($1,960) and Geico ($2,503). You’ll find the highest average rates are with Nationwide ($4,161) and Farmers ($4,997).
With one accident, the lowest average rates are from USAA ($2,663) with all other competitors charging about $500 more, at least. The highest rates in this category are from Allstate ($4,597) and Farmers ($5,032).
If you have a DUI on your record in California, you’ll pay the lowest average rates by far with Liberty Mutual ($3,184). Several competitors are in the high $3,000 to 4,000 range, and from there it jumps to $6,267 for Farmers, $6,755 for State Farm, and $7,223 for Allstate.
|Company||Clean record||With 1 speeding violation||With 1 accident||With 1 DUI|
|Liberty Mutual (as SAFECO Ins Co of America)||$2,633.85||$2,790.95||$3,528.24||$3,184.62|
|Nationwide (as AMCO Insurance)||$3,246.36||$4,161.96||$4,161.96||$7,042.46|
|Progressive (as United Financial Casualty)||$1,864.57||$2,686.17||$3,169.83||$3,678.10|
The study also broke down California average car insurance costs by city. Los Angeles residents have the highest insurance costs by far, at an average of $5,344. San Francisco comes in a distant second, at $4,325. The most affordable cities studied are Chula Vista, $3,392, and San Diego, $3,446.
California Auto Insurance Minimum Coverage Requirements
Car insurance is required in the state of California, and it follows what is known as the “15/30/5” rule. This rule refers specifically to liability insurance, and it means that the minimum auto insurance coverage in California is at least $15,000 per person for bodily injury or death, a minimum of $30,000 for total bodily injury or death per accident (covers all people involved in the accident), and at least $5,000 for property damage to the other vehicle involved in the crash. In other words, California’s main insurance requirement is designed to make sure that other drivers’ financial losses will be covered if you cause a crash.
California also requires uninsured motorist coverage. This coverage will make sure your losses are taken care of if you are hit by someone who does not have insurance or someone who does not have enough insurance to cover the losses. However, California’s law regarding uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage is targeted toward insurance companies, who are required to offer you this coverage. If you choose, you can decline this additional coverage by providing a written waiver, though it is a pretty good idea to carry it. Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage cannot be a standalone policy and can only be added to a policy that includes required liability coverage plus whatever additional coverage you wish to carry.
Cheapest Car Insurance in California
The cheapest type of car insurance coverage in California is low coverage. USAA is the least expensive company for low coverage, coming in at $2,440. From there, prices increase as follows: Progressive ($2,553), Geico ($2,612), Liberty Mutual ($2,823), Travelers ($2,923), State Farm ($3,793), Nationwide ($4,179), Allstate ($4,287), and Farmers ($4,651).
Where you live also has a major impact on how affordable your auto insurance is. Here are the average insurance costs in major cities, ranked from cheapest to most expensive. Chula Vista kicks off the list at $3,392, and from there the ranking is San Diego ($3,446), Fremont ($3,574), Irvine ($3,585), Bakersfield ($3,606), Oxnard ($3,621), San Jose ($3,638), Fresno ($3,691), Santa Ana ($3,781), Modesto ($3,797), Anaheim ($3,804), Riverside ($3,808), Stockton ($3,872), Fontana ($3,962), Long Beach ($4,033), Sacramento ($4,098), San Bernardino ($4,123), Oakland ($4,270), San Francisco ($4,325), and finally, Los Angeles ($5,344).
Why Car Insurance Rates Vary in California
Like insurers in many other states, companies in California charge higher rates for drivers in urban areas because they are perceived to be at a higher risk.
As the most populated city in California, it should be no surprise that drivers in Los Angeles have the highest auto insurance rates. However, population does not tell the whole story. San Diego and San Jose are the next two biggest cities in California in terms of population, and both of these cities are among the 10 most populous cities in the United States. However, these cities are not the next most expensive for car insurance. In fact, they both rank low on the list, meaning that they have relatively inexpensive average car insurance rates. So, why are other, less-populated cities more expensive? Factors like crime rates play a role. When auto insurance companies give you a quote based on your zip code, the companies consider the frequency and types of insurance claims made in that area. Neighborhoods with high rates of auto theft or lots of crashes will cost more to insure a car. Such factors can help explain why some small cities in California cost more for car insurance than larger cities.
Car insurance rates also vary based on your perceived risk, which is based on data collected and analyzed by insurance companies. Drivers with a clean record have a lower risk and therefore pay lower rates. Age and marital status are also considered. Married adults are typically more experienced drivers than teenagers and young adults, and these folks are also considered to be more responsible. That is why newly licensed drivers pay very high rates, which typically go down as they get older and demonstrate responsibility.
How to Get the Cheapest Car Insurance in California
Common car insurance discounts include multi-policy or bundling discounts, which apply to multiple types of insurance policies from the same carrier, such as homeowners or renters insurance policies as well as multiple vehicles in the same household. You can also potentially take advantage of good driver discounts, student discounts, and employer or affinity discounts, which apply if you work for select companies or are a member of a group or club that has negotiated a group rate with a specific insurance company. There are also discounts for various professions, including for teachers, active members of the military, and veterans.
Some car insurers offer discounts if your vehicle is new or if it comes with specific equipment, such as certain safety systems or anti-theft devices. It’s probably not worth upgrading your car for these discounts, but it’s worth asking if your car qualifies.
Some insurance companies offer discounts in exchange for using a tracking device or a smartphone app that measures how often you drive, how far you drive, and your driving habits, such as acceleration and braking. If you are willing to sacrifice some of your privacy in exchange for this information, see if your insurance company offers a program like this. However, your insurance company is under no obligation to lower your rates based on program participation, and they can actually raise your rates if they don’t like what they see.
Other common discounts include low mileage (typically 5,000 to 15,000 miles a year), paperless or online billing, auto-pay and pay-up-front, good student, and completion of an approved defensive driving or driver training course.
Your insurance company is the best source to find discounts that you’re eligible for. Keep in mind that shopping around is often the best way to lower your rates.
According to data from the Quadrant Information Services study, low-risk drivers pay the lowest rates. Avoid speeding, crashes, DUIs, and other moving violations to save money on your auto insurance premiums.
Important Laws Around Auto Insurance in California
Let’s take a look at some of the California laws about auto insurance. First, it is important to note that California is a “fault” or “at-fault” state. That means that in California, if you cause a crash, you can be sued by the other party even if your insurance company settles a claim. If you live in California, you might want to consider carrying more auto insurance than the state requires, since it will protect you against losing your assets, such as all of your savings or even your home, if you are at fault in a crash and get sued.
California accepts digital insurance cards as well as traditional physical insurance cards. Your insurance company should offer a smartphone app or a digital image of your insurance information so you can have it with you at all times.
Drivers in California who do not own their own vehicle, but occasionally drive a rented or borrowed vehicle, should consider a non-owner insurance policy. This is a type of liability coverage that covers you when you are driving a vehicle owned by someone else. These policies also typically include medical and uninsured motorist coverage.
California Driving Laws and Punishments
Driving laws and penalties can vary from state to state. If you have been convicted of these offenses or other moving violations, they can result in higher auto insurance rates. If you are hit by another motorist, these common offenses may be the reason why.
Texting While Driving and Distracted Driver Laws in California
California covers its bases when it comes to texting and other device usage. There are three laws on the books. One prohibits all drivers from using handheld devices while driving, but it allows for hands-free use. Another bans drivers from texting or using wireless devices while driving, though there is an exception for communication features that come installed in the vehicle. For example, you could use your vehicle’s voice recognition system that allows you to dictate and send text messages. There is also a law for drivers under 18 years old that says they can’t use any devices while driving, not even hands-free. That seems to cover any possible scenario, and the fines are steep. The base fine for the first offense is $20 and subsequent offenses carry a base fine of $50, but assessments and additional fees can raise the total by $100 or more.
The California Office of Traffic Safety website provides some additional information and clarification with regards to distracted driving. The site says, “Distracted driving is anything that takes your eyes or mind off the road, or your hands off the steering wheel – especially texting and cell phone use.” So that means officers are especially looking out for these offenses, but they have the discretion to cite you for distracted driving as they see fit. When the distracted driving law doesn’t seem to apply, in examples such as eating while driving, applying makeup, or driving with a dog in your lap, the Office of Traffic Safety says, “…if a law enforcement officer sees anything that might be considered distracting enough to be a danger, they may be cited under other vehicle sections, such as VC 22350, the basic speed law which restricts speed for multiple reasons including reckless driving and disregard for the safety of persons or property.”
DUI Laws in California
If you are suspected of driving under the influence in California, the officer who pulled you over will ask you to take a chemical test, which means you will be asked to take a breathalyzer or give a blood sample to determine your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). A urine test may also be used if the officer suspects you are under the influence of drugs, or if you have certain health conditions that make a blood test unsafe, and the breath test cannot be used for some other reason.
The officer will then file the report with the Department of Motor Vehicles, which will notify you afterward. You have 10 days from this point to request a hearing with the court. If the officer gives you an order of suspension and temporary license, you can drive on the temporary license for 30 days.
If you fail to cooperate with the chemical test, you face a harsher set of penalties than if you cooperate. Regardless of age, those who don’t take the test face a one-year suspension for first offense, a two-year suspension for a second offense within 10 years, and a three-year suspension for subsequent offenses within 10 years.
If you took the chemical test as requested by the officer, you are over 21, and your BAC was 0.08 percent or more, you’ll face a four-month suspension for a first offense and a one-year suspension for a subsequent offense within 10 years. If you are under 21 and your result showed 0.01 percent or more, the penalty is a one-year suspension.
To get your license back when your suspension period is up, you’ll need to pay a $125 fee and file proof of financial responsibility, which typically means proof that you have insurance as well as supplemental SR-22 documentation, a type of documentation required for high-risk drivers. You may apply for a restricted license during your suspension period, which will allow you to drive only between your home and your place of work.
Uninsured Motorist Laws in California
Since California has minimum liability insurance requirements, any uninsured motorist in California is breaking the law. If you cancel your insurance policy or it lapses because you stop paying your premiums, your insurance company will notify the Department of Motor Vehicles, which will suspend your car’s registration. If you get pulled over or end up in an accident, you’ll be penalized for both of those offenses. You’ll almost certainly pay fines, you may lose your license, and your vehicle could be impounded, though the severity of your penalties depends on whether or not this is your first offense. In short, if you are caught driving without insurance and on a suspended registration, it will almost certainly cost you more than if you had simply carried the minimum insurance all along. If at that point, you decide to play it straight and get a new insurance policy, it will cost more because you have those infractions on your record. Also, insurance companies will then know that you are willing to take serious risks while you are driving.
California Car Insurance FAQs
Is car insurance required in California?
Yes, car insurance is required in the state of California, known as “15/30/5” liability insurance. That means drivers are required to carry coverage for at least $15,000 for bodily injury or death per person, $30,000 for total bodily injury or death per accident, and $5,000 for property damage to the other vehicle. The state of California will send written notice to residents whose insurance policies are not on file with the state. Residents who do not respond to this notice will have their vehicle registration cancelled by the state.
Which cars are required to be insured in California?
According to California’s DMV, “All vehicles driven or parked on a California street, road, or highway must be insured.” That means that if you have cars that you are not driving for long periods of time (for example, being stored or undergoing extensive repairs) they do not need to be insured. If the vehicle is registered but you plan to stop driving it or have already stopped, contact the California DMV to change your registration to planned non-operation status. Then, you won’t need to have insurance. However, you may want to talk to your insurance company about a policy that will cover these vehicles if damage is incurred while in storage, particularly if these vehicles are valuable.
If you reside outside of California, your insurance must comply with the regulations in the state where your vehicle is registered. However, if you are in California a significant amount of the time, the state may consider you a resident, in which case you’ll need to register your car in California and comply with its insurance requirements. The state DMV’s list of rules for determining residency include whether you are in California for more than six months out of a 12-month period, where you are registered to vote, if you are gainfully employed in the state, hold a state driver’s license, own a business or lease property in the state, attend a college or university on resident tuition rates, or have dependents who attend school in the state.
When should I get car insurance in California?
You should be prepared to get car insurance in California as soon as you register a vehicle in California. Your insurance company will notify the Department of Motor Vehicles when you start a new policy.
What happens if my car is not properly insured in California?
A California resident whose car is not properly insured will first be contacted by the state and asked to provide proof of insurance. Sometimes, this happens even if the vehicle is insured, due simply to a clerical error, like a wrong digit in the vehicle’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). You’ll be fine once you provide the correct information or get insurance and provide proof according to the instructions in the letter. If you don’t show proof of insurance to the state, the state will cancel your vehicle’s registration. You’ll then be in a lot more trouble if you get pulled over or get into an accident.
Is California a no-fault state?
No, California is not a no-fault state. Regardless of what state you live in, the police or accident investigators will decide which vehicle caused a crash, and that is the party at fault. The difference between a no-fault state and a “fault” or “at-fault” state is that in a no-fault state, the driver who caused the crash cannot be sued by the other party, and the insurance company is expected to cover losses. In a fault state, the driver who caused the accident can be sued by the other party, above and beyond whatever the insurance company pays out. This is especially common in situations in which the drivers involved carry only the minimum insurance and it is not enough to cover losses, especially if the driver or drivers involved have waived uninsured motorist coverage (see below).
Do I need uninsured motorist coverage in California?
In California, uninsured motorist coverage is typically required, though it can be waived according to state codes CIC § 1861.025 and California Code of Regulations Title 10 § 2632.13. Insurance companies must offer this coverage, but customers are free to decline it. You must add uninsured motorist coverage to a policy, since it is not available as a standalone policy.
If you are purchasing a policy that complies with the uninsured motorist minimums, look for bodily injury coverage of $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident, along with property damage coverage of $3,500.
There are two common scenarios in which you’ll want uninsured motorist coverage. One is if you are hit by someone who is uninsured, and another is if you are hit by someone who does not carry sufficient liability coverage to cover your losses. There is a third, less-common scenario, for which the law states, “As used in this section, ‘uninsured motor vehicle’ also means an insured motor vehicle where the liability insurer thereof is unable to make payment with respect to the legal liability of its insured within the limits specified therein because of insolvency.” In other words, uninsured motorist coverage will protect you if you get hit by an insured motorist, but their insurance company cannot pay.
Is liability insurance required in California?
The state of California does require liability coverage with specific minimums. Motorists in California must have policies for bodily injury liability coverage of at least $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident. In addition to that, there is a minimum of $5,000 for property damage liability coverage. You have the option to purchase more liability coverage. You may want this added coverage, considering that you can be sued to cover the rest of the damages if you are at fault in an accident that your insurance policy does not cover. Additional liability coverage will help protect you from that scenario.
If you are caught without liability insurance, the penalties can include fines, a suspension of your license, and impounding of your vehicle. When you start a new liability insurance policy or let your policy lapse, your insurance company notifies the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Does California accept digital insurance cards?
Yes, California accepts digital insurance cards. That means if you are in a crash, you get pulled over, or you are in some other situation where you need quick access to proof of insurance, you can use your smartphone. Most major insurance companies offer digital insurance cards to customers in states that allow them. If you are a California resident and would prefer to use this convenient service, check with your insurer to see if it is available.