How to get cheap car insurance in California
California can be a pricey state to live in, and car insurance rates are equally expensive. Expect to pay more for insurance if you live near one of California’s big cities.
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Average car insurance costs in California
Depending on the 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 with $130 in Colorado and $137 in Connecticut.
Nailing down accurate averages for each city in California is difficult, given the state’s cities, districts and larger metropolitan areas, but 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 presents itself throughout the state and most of the country.
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 reported 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. It’s against the law in California, but paying your annual premium up front could keep a few dollars in your pocket.
- Bundle your policies. Group renter or home insurance under your car insurance umbrella to reduce what you pay across the board.
Cheap car insurance rates in California
Looking for the cheapest car insurance while meeting state minimum requirements? Compare quotes from California insurers offering the best rates for basic coverage.
Cheap car insurance quotes in California
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.
Insurance help for low-income drivers in California
If you meet certain requirements, you might qualify for California’s low cost insurance program. It’s designed to reduce the amount of people driving without insurance. Here are the eligibility requirements:
- Drivers with a valid California driver’s license.
- Drivers at least 16 years old
- Own a vehicle valued at $25,000 or less
- Meet the following maximum income requirements:
|Household of 1 – $30,350||Household of 2 – $41,450|
|Household of 3 – $51,950||Household of 4 – $62,750|
|Household of 5 – $73,550||Household of 6 – $84,350|
|House hold of 7 – $95,150||Household of 8 – $105,950|
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 motorist insurance. 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.
Roadside assistance in CaliforniaMany insurers offer roadside assistance as an optional extra, and a few offer it free, typically when you buy collision and comprehensive coverage. While California doesn’t face the same harsh winters as cities up north, Californian drivers know the traffic and road conditions aren’t always great. Road infrastructure and maintenance projects have been neglected or underfunded in areas across the state, despite high gas taxes. California is also a popular driving destination for commuters and vacationers, and more traffic can mean a higher chance of accidents. Roadside assistance can help you get a tow or repair fast after getting in a fender bender with a fellow commuter or spinning out on a windy road.
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, slightly 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 offers alternatives:
- 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 a surety bond of $35,000 from any company licensed to do business in the state.
Keep in mind that these options are usually not the most cost-effective or secure.
Can I buy temporary car insurance in California?
You can, but most insurance companies don’t offer an option to cover a short period for a borrowed car or rental car.
Your best option might be to call your current insurance provider or an online provider to learn what they offer. It’s legal to purchase short-term car insurance for less than six months.
You can also find a policy that lets you cancel for no or low fees and transfer to a 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 pulled over for a routine traffic stop and don’t have insurance, you face fees that vary by offense.
Car insurance in California or an approved alternative insurance option is required by law. If you’re caught driving without coverage, authorities can 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
Keep your registration and proof of insurance in your car to prove your coverage if you’re pulled over. Or pull up digital versions on a smartphone or device.
What laws do I need to follow when I’m driving in California?
Most traffic laws vary from state to state, but California has a few unique rules of the road to remember when driving down the 5 or any other road in California:
- It’s illegal to wear headphones while driving or riding a bike on public roads. However, 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.
What is the blood alcohol limit in California?
California’s legal limit for blood alcohol (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+ years old — 0.08% blood alcohol limit for normal passenger vehicles.
- Drivers under 21 years old — anything over 0% is considered a violation
- Commercial vehicle drivers — 0.04% blood alcohol limit
Can I get SR-22 insurance in California?
Yes. If you’ve gotten a DUI, lost your license or have too many points on your driving record, you might need an SR-22 to get back on the road.
An SR-22 tells the state you have the minimum coverage required. The DMV will notify you if you need an SR-22 as proof of insurance.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
How to report an accident in California
You, your insurance agent or any legal representative must complete Form SR-1 Report of Traffic Accident Occurring in California. 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.
Although you’ll find alternative options to car insurance in California, it’s a good idea to carry a personal policy. Research your insurance options to make sure you have the coverage the state and your circumstances require.
Frequently asked questions about car insurance in California
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