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Car insurance in California

Minimum requirements and how to get cheap auto insurance in California

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Before getting auto insurance in California

If you’re moving states or trying to save some cash by changing your insurance plan, you need to know what the minimum requirements for insurance are for California.

Each state has its own auto insurance guidelines and discounts. Some are at-fault or no-fault states, and a few require specific liability insurance. Some states even have alternatives to car insurance for high-risk drivers.

If you’re planning on driving in the Golden State, make sure to keep your registration and proof of insurance to prove your coverage if you’re pulled over. You can keep it in your car for easy access, or pull up digital versions on a smart phone or device.

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How to get cheap car insurance in California

With so many car insurance providers offering so many options, it’s hard enough to narrow down what you might need. That’s before you add in your specific driver history, vehicle and state.

Generally, California is among the top 10 most expensive states in which to insure your car. To find the cheapest car insurance, find a provider that can offer you the best deal for you individually. And if your record isn’t the cleanest, look into providers that specialize in high-risk drivers, like the General or Direct Auto.

Average car insurance costs in California

Depending on which city you live in, or whichever town in between, your monthly insurance costs can be affected by the place you call home. Factors include crime rates, climate, your commuting distance, and average costs of living in your area. The average cost for car insurance in California is $164 per month, compared to $130 in Colorado and $137 in Connecticut.

While finding accurate averages for each city in California is difficult, due to all the cities and districts in the larger metropolitan areas, one thing remains consistent: you’re going to pay higher insurance costs to live and commute around a city, like LA or San Francisco, than you would up in Redding or Santa Maria. While the numbers might change from year to year, this metro/rural contrast will present itself throughout the state and most of the country.

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Metromile Car Insurance

  • Pay by miles driven
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Metromile Car Insurance

Drive less, pay less: Metromile offers pay-per-mile driving that offers huge potential savings for low-mileage drivers. Available only to residents of California, Washington, Oregon, New Jersey and Illinois.

  • Easy claims online or by phone
  • Handy driving app
  • Multi-car discounts
  • All miles over 250 per day are free
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8 tips for getting cheap car insurance in California

  • Don’t drive a flashy car. You might think California’s beaches deserve a view from your convertible. But a Honda Civic will be more reasonable to insure than a Maserati.
  • Drop collision and comprehension on older cars. Your car’s value determines your maximum payout after an accident or theft. If you commute in a beater along the 405, you don’t even need this protection.
  • Increase your deductible. Your deductible is what you agree to pay after an accident. Raising it decreases how much of the tab your provider picks up after a fender bender or worse.
  • Take care on the road. Accidents and tickets are surefire ways to push your premium higher. Clean records tend to get the best rates — and you might even qualify for a safe-driver discount.
  • Use anti-theft devices. The California Department of Justice reports more than 240,000 auto thefts in just 2006 alone. Some providers offer discounts for even passive devices, like steering wheel locks.
  • Look for local insurers. That provider around the corner might be hungrier for your business and could offer cheaper rates.
  • Keep on top of your bills. A growing number of providers check credit scores when determining your rates. California doesn’t — it’s against the law — but paying your annual premium up front could keep a few dollars in your pocket.
  • Bundle your policies. Group renter’s or home insurance under your car insurance umbrella to reduce what you pay across the board.

Does my credit score affect my insurance rates?

Absolutely not — factoring a person’s credit score into their car insurance rates is banned in California, Massachusetts and Hawaii. In most other states, however, credit score is seen as an indication of risk.

Independent studies conducted by the University of Texas and the FTC suggest that drivers with higher credit scores are less likely to file claims with their car insurance provider. In most US states, providers use this information to assess risk when insuring drivers. This means that a higher credit score can translate into lower monthly rates, and vice-versa.

How can I get California’s Good Driver discount?

California offers a state-mandated Good Driver discount, which provides a 20% discount if:

  • You’ve had a license for at least three years.
  • You’ve accumulated no more than one point on your driving records in the past three years.
  • You aren’t found at fault for a car accident that caused a death or more than $1,000 in property damage over the past three years.

State minimum requirements in California

To legally drive in California, you’ll need liability insurance that includes at least:

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

When shopping for car insurance, you’ll sometimes see this written as 15/30/5.

When it comes to uninsured motorists coverage — which protects you in the event of an accident with someone who doesn’t have insurance — California is an opt-out state. That means that California insurance companies are required to offer you UIM insurance, and you must sign a waiver to opt out of carrying it.

What additional coverage can I get?

Many drivers purchase additional insurance to better protect themselves in case of an accident. Insurance companies in the state of California also offer:

  • Comprehensive. Covers damage to your car caused by something other than a collision, like weather or vandalism. Comprehensive insurance is often especially important in California, a state with twice as many vehicle thefts than Texas.
  • Collision. Helps pay for repairs if your car is damaged in an accident.
  • Medical and funeral services. Helps cover medical bills or funeral services as a result of an accident.
  • Uninsured and underinsured motorists. Protects you if you get into an accident with someone who doesn’t have insurance.
  • Rental car. Assists in reimbursing you for any rental car rent if your car is damaged in an accident.
  • Towing and labor. Provides reimbursement for towing or labor costs you may have incurred as a result of an accident.

Compare California car insurance providers

Details Features
Liberty Mutual Car Insurance
Liberty Mutual Car Insurance
Car insurance through Liberty Mutual will give coverage options for almost any situation.
  • Multi-car discount
  • Bundle discount for combining auto and home policies
  • New vehicle discount
Get Quote More info
Esurance
Esurance
Esurance offers a modern online and mobile experience that helps you take your insurance on the go.
  • CoverageMyWay® helps you make smarter choices
  • Gain peace of mind with 24/7 claims service
  • Manage your policy on the go with Esurance Mobile
Get Quote More info
Allstate Auto Insurance
Allstate Auto Insurance
With a range of coverage options at affordable prices, Allstate auto insurance can be personalized to your needs as a driver.
  • Reward System for Safe Drivers
  • Bumper-to-Bumper Basics® Tool
  • Comprehensive Tools to Design a Customized Insurance Plan
Get Quote More info
Metromile Car Insurance
Metromile Car Insurance
Drive less, pay less: Metromile offers pay-per-mile driving that offers huge potential savings for low-mileage drivers. Available only to residents of California, Washington, Oregon, New Jersey and Illinois.
  • Pay per mile driven
  • Charged for only up to 250 miles per day
  • Designed for low-mileage drivers
Get Quote More info
USAA Auto Insurance
USAA Auto Insurance
USAA offers affordable and competitive auto insurance quotes to millions of military members and their families.
  • Convenient service that helps you before, during and after a claim
  • Coverage around the world as your military assignments change
  • Assistance in any vehicle you drive
Get Quote More info

Uninsured drivers in California

The state of California requires all uninsured drivers to buy auto insurance or provide some other form of financial responsibility. But around 15% of California drivers don’t have insurance — higher than the 12.6% national average.

To protect yourself from damages in a car accident, consider adding uninsured or underinsured motorist insurance to your policy.

What can I do if I don’t want to buy car insurance in California?

If you don’t want to buy car insurance, the state of California gives you some options. Keep in mind that these options are usually not the most cost-effective or secure.

  • Deposit $35,000 in cash with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • Submit a Motor Carrier Permit Application for Certificate of Self-Insurance to the DMV.
  • Purchase surety bond of $35,000 from any company licensed to do business in the state.

Can I buy temporary car insurance in California?

You might need coverage for a short period for a borrowed car or rental car. It’s perfectly legal to purchase short term car insurance for less than six months, but most insurance companies won’t offer this option.

Your best option might be to call your current insurance provider or an online provider to find out your options. You can also find a policy that lets you cancel for no or low fees and transfer to a more long term option after a few months.

What happens if I’m driving in California and I don’t have insurance?

If you get in an accident or are even pulled over for a routine traffic stop and don’t have insurance, you could face additional consequences.

Having car insurance in California — or choosing an alternative insurance option — is required by law. If you’re caught driving without coverage, authorities may even suspend your car’s registration or impound your vehicle until you show proof of insurance. You’ll also face steep fines.

  • First offense: $100 to $200 fine
  • Second offense: $200 to $500 fine

What laws do I need to follow when I’m driving in California?

Most traffic laws vary from state to state, and California has a few unique rules of the road to remember when driving down the I-5 or any other road in California.

  • It’s illegal to wear headphones while driving or riding a bike on public roads. However, technically it’s fine if you leave one earbud out, as long as it doesn’t affect your ability to monitor your surroundings.
  • Minors are not allowed to drive a vehicle for pay in California. That means Uber, Lyft and other rideshare services are out.
  • Smoking inside your vehicle is illegal if there’s a minor in the car.
  • Any mobile phone use besides hands-free calling is prohibited while driving. When used for GPS navigation, phones must be mounted on the dashboard or windshield in a place that won’t obstruct the driver’s view.

Read more about California’s distracted driving laws, which can include a fine between $145 and $1,000.

What is the blood alcohol limit in California?

California’s legal limit for blood alcohol (BAL) depends on the type of driver. However, if a police officer deems you noticeably impaired, you could face a DUI or DWI even if you’re technically under the legal limit.

  • Standard drivers 21 or older: 0.08% BAL for normal passenger vehicles
  • Drivers under 21 years of age: anything over 0% is considered a violation
  • Commercial vehicle drivers: 0.04% BAL

Can I get SR-22 insurance in California?

You might need an SR-22 if you’ve gotten a DUI, lost your license or have too many points on your driving record. SR-22 tells the state you have the minimum coverage required to get back behind the wheel.

Learn more about filing for SR-22 in California.

What happens after an accident in California?

Even the most minor car accidents can be terrifying and disabling. If you’ve recently been in a car accident in California, take a deep breath and follow these important steps to keep the process as safe as possible.

  1. Safety first. Make sure that no one involved in the accident is injured. If anyone is hurt, call 911 right away. Once you confirm that everyone is safe, look out for any other potential dangers, including gas leaks and fires. Even if no one is injured, call the local police and inform them of what’s happened.
  2. Exchange information. Write down the full names, car make and model and insurance information of the people involved in the accident. Don’t forget to include their addresses and driver’s license numbers in your notes.
  3. Notify your insurance agent. Before you’ve left the scene, call your insurance agent. Once they’re informed of what’s happened, they’ll be able to guide you through any bumps on the road and provide more specific advice to help you.
  4. Document the scene. Take pictures of the scene, paying special attention to capturing multiple angles of where the damage occurred. Take down the names of police officers and any potential witnesses to better protect your claim.

Who’s at fault after an accident?

California is considered an at–fault or tort state. That means if you’re found at fault for an accident, you’re required to pay for the damages, including any potential medical bills to those injured. Victims have the right to further pursue compensation for lost wages and any pain and suffering caused by the accident.

When should I report an accident in California?

You’ll need to report any accident resulting in injury, death or property damage over $1,000 to the California DMV within 10 days of the accident, even if you aren’t at fault for the crash. Failure to report the accident to the DMV could result in the suspension of your license.

To report an accident in California:
  1. You, your insurance agent or any legal representative must complete Form SR-1 — Report of Traffic Accident Occurring in California.
  2. Send in your report to your nearest DMV or go there in person. If you’re unsure of whether your local DMV can help you, it’s generally a good idea to call ahead and confirm.

When should I contact a lawyer?

You might not need a car accident attorney for a small property damage claim, like a fender bender or accidentally driving into a mailbox. You might want to consider talking to an auto accident lawyer for major car accidents that result in personal injuries to the driver or passengers, negligence or preventable accidents because of a driver or road conditions or when your insurance won’t cover the entire damages.

In California, you have two years from the time of an accident to make a personal injury claim and three years for a property damage claim, which should allow enough time to discover any long-term effects of the accident.

Bottom line

Although you’ll find alternative options to car insurance in California, it’s usually a good idea to carry a personal policy. Research your insurance options to make sure that you’re receiving the coverage that you need – and that your state requires.

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Frequently asked questions about car insurance in California

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