Best Cheap Car Insurance in California for 2018
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.
Included in this page are the cheapest rates for:
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Cheapest for good drivers
For drivers with no at-fault accidents, DUIs or moving violations.
Esurance returned the cheapest rates for this group in our test, at roughly $105 a month, followed by Mercury and Geico.
If you have no violations or crashes on your record, look into discounts companies offer that reward your responsible driving. These sorts of perks could determine which insurer is ultimately cheapest for you.
Cheapest for young drivers
For drivers in their early 20s.
Drivers in their early 20s often need less coverage than older motorists who have families and greater savings to protect. For this reason, we ran rates for young motorists carrying the minimum required coverage in California.
Geico delivered the lowest sample quote in our results for young drivers in the general population, about $44 per month.
Cheapest for drivers with one at-fault crash
Causing an accident in California can add a significant amount to your premium. The lowest average quote for this category was over $500 more per year than the cheapest estimate for a driver of the same age with a clean record.
Esurance was the best choice for non-military-affiliated drivers in our analysis, with Mercury and Auto Club (AAA) rounding out the three cheapest options.
Cheapest for retired drivers
For drivers in their mid- to late 60s who no longer use their car for commuting.
Given their reduced annual mileage, retired drivers can find relatively cheap car insurance in California compared to drivers with a daily comute. 21st Century delivered the best rates in our analysis, at roughly $84 per month, with Mercury and Esurance not far behind.
To save even more, retirees should look into discounts aimed at mature or retired drivers age 55 or older.
Cheapest for low-mileage drivers
For drivers who travel 5,000 miles or less per year.
Metromile targets drivers who put relatively few miles on their cars; its rates are frequently superior for those who drive under 5,000 miles annually. And other insurers offer per-mile insurance rates, where your bill could change monthly based on miles driven.
Cheapest for drivers with a military connection
If you’re an active member of the military or a veteran — or have an immediate family member who is — chances are you’ll get a relatively cheap rate with USAA, a company that isn’t available to the general public.
USAA was the cheapest auto insurance option for every driver type listed above except retired drivers. USAA customers also benefit from the insurer’s top-rated customer service.
Minimum required car insurance in California
California drivers must carry liability insurance in the following amounts:
- $15,000 bodily injury liability per person.
- $30,000 bodily injury liability per accident.
- $5,000 property damage liability per accident.
Liability coverage helps pay for other people’s injury or property damage bills if you cause the accident. Experts recommend getting more than the bare minimum if you want to avoid dipping into your own savings to cover expenses.
For instance, California has a relatively low property damage minimum, only $5,000. If you cause an accident and total another driver’s car, the damage could easily exceed that amount, and you’d have to pay the difference out of pocket.
Check out NerdWallet’s guide to state car insurance requirements for more details on how the required and optional parts of your California policy work.
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Alternative car insurance in California
If you have a high number of accidents, DUIs or other factors making it hard to find auto coverage on the voluntary market, you might qualify for insurance through the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan. This organization connects high-risk drivers to insurance companies that will cover them.
For more help finding the most competitive prices in California, try NerdWallet’s car insurance comparison tool.
Here’s a summary of where you’ll find the cheapest insurance, by category:
Best Car Insurance in California
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.
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Our Top 5 Picks for the Best Car Insurance in California
I began my quest for the best auto insurance policy in California with the companies in the table.
These companies stood out because of their customer support, financial rating, and financial stability. Each of them have a “better than most” (or higher) JD Power rating in the California region, as well as a favorable rating from A.M. Best. JD Power conducts incredibly thorough customer service satisfaction surveys. A.M. Best takes a look at insurance companies’ financial viability. The combination of high scores from both ratings agencies indicates that the company will have your back if the unthinkable should happen. In my experience — I’ve totaled a car before — attention to customer satisfaction is irreplaceable. If you find yourself in a predicament like mine one day, you surely don’t want to be dealing with an aggravating insurance company.
Cheaper doesn’t always mean better, but Esurance’s huge savings of $754 make them a little irresistible from a consumer standpoint. Since I already knew all of the companies I called met my high standards, it’s an easy decision for me. I’m going with the cheapest option and using some of the money I’m saving to get better coverage.
Even If You’re Happy, It’s Best to Shop for a New Policy Every Couple of Years
If you’ve been loyal to the same company for years, you might be getting a nice loyalty discount. Why ditch the discount? Well, it might not be much of a discount. Until last year, it was legal in California for car insurance companies to base their rates on a number risk factors, including how willing you’d be to pay a little bit more for your insurance.
This practice, called price optimization, was used by nearly half of insurance companies according to a study by Earnix. Bob Hunter, the director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, likes to call it “profit maximization,” and I’d agree. Once a rate is based not on how expensive you are to insure, but how complacent you are as a customer, it’s less about the cost margin and more about simply lifting the profit bar a bit higher.
What’s even freakier is the type of data they were using to determine that price elasticity — things as seemingly irrelevant as your social footprint and how long you’ve been with your cell phone carrier.
Fifteen states, including California, have addressed price optimization in the form of official bulletins or regulation. The California Department of Insurance issued a notice on February 18th, 2015 announcing that “any use of price optimization in the rate-making/pricing process or in a rating plan is unfairly discriminatory in violation of California law.” Even still, shopping around isn’t a bad idea and I’d encourage that you stick with it on a regular basis. What could it hurt? Even if I’d spent an hour getting quotes, just to find out that I’m already paying the lowest rate — that’s even more exciting. It means that I’ve been saving money on unnecessary premiums for years already.
And, those loyalty discounts that feel so warm and fuzzy — some argue that they’re more complicated than they seem at face value. Not only do they incentivize you to not leave your current carrier (because who wants to lose a discount you’ve “earned” over the course of years), but because they make rate hikes seem more palatable. Your rate might go up a lot, but the loyalty discount appears to slash most of it, leaving you paying the amount the algorithm predicted wouldn’t bother you. Even though price optimization is illegal in California now, if you haven’t gotten quotes in the past few years, you may still be paying a rate that’s been optimized.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Hmm, I actually noticed a weird premium increase not too long ago,” call your agent. Call as soon as you can and ask for a full explanation. By law, they’re required to divulge that sort of information, and if the answer seems bogus, you can threaten to leave. (And honestly, that might not be the worst outcome.) An even better idea is to get a few competitor quotes first, so you can see if your current company can match them.
California’s Minimum Coverage
The Bare Minimum
The quotes I got were for the most basic level of coverage required in the purchase of insurance in California; $15,000 for bodily injury per person, $30,000 for total bodily injury for all involved, and $5,000 for property damage, or a 15/30/5 plan. For the companies that offered it via their web tool, I tacked on $1,000 in medical payments coverage, which isn’t required but is a worthwhile investment.
Just in case you’re looking for a workaround, California does offer some ways to meet the state require financial responsibility without purchasing insurance. The driver has to meet/have one of the following requirements:
- A $35,000 cash deposit with the California Department of Motor vehicles
- A certificate of self-insurance from the DMV
- A $35,000 surety bond from any company licensed in the state of California
The Best Car Insurance Isn’t Just Cheap Car Insurance
Speaking from experience, I know both the trials of filing a claim and the importance of paying for adequate coverage. In 2015, I totaled my car. I wasn’t injured and no one else was either — but I’m glad I had more than the state’s minimum coverage.
Unfortunately, it’s likely that you will have to file a claim in your lifetime as well. Statistics show that the common driver averages an accident every 17.9 years. What’s even more frightening is that the average cost of injury-inducing, but nonfatal accident is a stupefying $80,700, an amount no one would be excited to lose.
In most cases, upgrading all the way to a 50/100/50 plan isn’t as daunting of a leap as you might expect. For example, my quote for a 15/30/5 plan with Esurance was $754. To up my coverage to 50/100/50 the cost went up to $922, and while that’s a $164 difference, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to shelling out of pocket in the event of an accident. In my mind, it’s worth the peace of mind to have a level of coverage you can trust should the unexpected happen.
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Enter your ZIP code below and be sure to click at least 2-3 companies to find the very best rate.
Beat the Average Premium: 9 Ways to Snag Cheap Car Insurance Rates
There are tons of factors that affect your insurance premiums, for better or worse. Many of them, like your identity, are unchangeable (unless you’re willing to go Bourne Ultimatum), but a few of them are under your control. Take a look at a few of the top ways you can slice a bit off your monthly premium.
Why are California’s rates so expensive?
While there’s likely a bevy of different factors at play here, the most likely culprit is the urban population of the state. In general, more urbanized states tend to be higher targets for frequent accidents, and car thefts, and California is no exception.
Cheap California Car Insurance
Compare the best rates from 10 car insurance companies in California.
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Here’s what you need to know when driving in California
Across the Golden State, there are 386,604 miles of road just waiting to be driven. We’ll get you prepped with the best and cheapest insurance, then you take the wheel.
Cheap Car Insurance
It’s expensive to get car insurance in California!
Dang! California is definitely not one of the cheapest states for car insurance. Don’t worry, we got your back!
At The Zebra we’re all about helping you save money on car insurance. Our engine looks for the cheapest insurance provider to find the best fit for you and your vehicle. Since California might have cheaper premiums that makes our job a breeze! It’s easy to get started—we just need some basic information to begin finding the best auto discounts for you.
What’s the cheapest car insurance in California?
Cheap Insurance for Good Drivers in California
Good drivers can save money on car insurance if you have no at-fault accidents, speeding tickets, or DUIs. Insurance companies use your driving record as a way to predict what kind of risk you will pose to them. So, by not having any of these violations you are less risky and therefore cheaper customer for them. In addition to having a cheaper premium, some companies offer a safe driving discount. While the amount varies based on your company, it can range between 5-10%. If we’re looking beyond just average rates and at individual companies, Nationwide seems to have the cheapest rates for good drivers.
Cheap Insurance for Young Drivers in California
Young drivers between the ages of 16-25 pay the highest car insurance premiums of anyone in the US. Because of the risk presented by inexperienced drivers, teen drivers pay more than three times the national average for car insurance. For teen drivers, historically the most expensive drivers to insure, we’ve found that Allstate, Geico and Progressive are the cheapest companies in California for teenagers.
Cheap Car Insurance for Bad Drivers in California
Having a bad driving record can be a huge burden for getting cheap car insurance, no matter your location. In California, a DUI raises auto insurance rates by an average of $3,154 a year — one of the biggest increases in the nation. Other violations, such as an at-fault accident or a speeding ticket, can also hurt your driving record. Based on our research, if you’ve had a DUI or at-fault accident, your best bet for cheap car insurance is to shop with Liberty Mutual, State Farm, or Nationwide.
Car Insurance Laws
State minimum insurance requirements in California
In California, the state minimum coverage requirement is liability with limits of:
- Bodily Injury $15,000 per person
- Bodily Injury $30,000 per accident
- Property Damage $5,000 per accident
Optional coverage in California (varies by carrier):
- Loan/Lease Payoff
- Medical and Funeral Services
- Rental Car Reimbursement
- Roadside Assistance
- Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury
- Uninsured Motorist Property Damage
Liability coverage is legally required in California and pays for injury and lost wages that you cause to another driver or their passengers as well as damage to the other driver’s vehicle in the event that you are considered “at fault” in an accident. The coverage limits are determined by each individual state and normally split into three categories. In California, the cheapest insurance minimum is listed as 15/30/5 and explained below:
$15,000 bodily injury coverage per person. This is the maximum dollar amount that pays for a single person that you injure in an auto accident.
$30,000 bodily injury coverage per accident. This is the maximum dollar amount that pays for all injuries that you cause in an accident if more than one person is hurt.
$5,000 property damage per accident. This is the maximum dollar amount that pays for damage that you cause in an accident.
These numbers reflect the minimum limits required in California but higher coverage amounts are available with most companies. These minimums will provide you with the cheapest insurance rate.
Cheap California Car Insurance Companies
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Cheapest Car Insurance in California
Dominating the west coast of the United States, California’s beaches, national forests and Hollywood stardom continue to make it one of the most visited states in the U.S. Driving the length of California can take a full 17 hours, and the famous Route 1’s beaches and ocean-front cliffs make the hours fly by. Home to several of the nation’s most populated cities, driving in urban California can be stressful and hazardous. This list of useful information for drivers has been compiled by CheapCarInsurance.net to help drivers enjoy their driving experience in the 49er state.
LAWS & REGULATIONS
California hosts an increasingly wide variety of ethnic groups and peoples. The differing languages and cultures reflect the sometimes confusing blend of auto insurance laws and regulations. To help sort through the information, the following list covers the important key points.
Minimum Requirements for Car Insurance in California
- California drivers must be insured with a minimum liability insurance plan according to the California State Insurance Department.
- California Liability Coverage minimums include:
- $15,000 for an accident involving the death or injury of a single person.
- $30,000 for an accident involving the death or injury of multiple people.
- $5,000 for an accident involving property damage.
- Failure to provide proof of insurance can result in vehicle impoundment, suspension of registration and/or suspension of drivers license.
New Driver Licensing Requirements
All drivers, and all residents who have lived in California for more than 10 days, are required to have a valid drivers license. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) outlines three tests that must be passed to obtain a regular California drivers license.
- Vision Test. To pass the vision test, an applicant must be determined to have a vision acuity of 20/40 or greater. If the applicant fails, certain circumstances allow a referral to an eye specialist to be prescribed corrective lenses.
- Written Test. The written test consists of 30 questions pertaining to traffic signs and laws. The California DMV provides a practice test which can be accessed at www.dmv.ca.gov. Upon successful completion of the written and vision tests, the DMV will issue the applicant a permit to allow him/her to practice driving. While driving with the permit, the applicant must be accompanied by a licensed driver age 18 years or older.
- Road Test. To successfully be admitted to the road test, the applicant’s vehicle must be in proper driving order and meet the necessary requirements listed on the California DMV’s website. The test administrator will evaluate the driver in the following areas:
- Safely starting the vehicle
- Moving forward
- Changing lanes
- Freeway driving
- Defensive driving
- Pay a License Fee. A $30 fee is assessed for a new driver and a renewal application.
- Drivers Under the Age of 18. Applicants between the ages of 15 1/2 years and under 18 can obtain a provisional permit. The California DMV requires a parent or guardian signature on the application. To take the road test, the applicant must not only have passed the vision and written tests, they must have held their permit for 6 months, have completed a driver education course, have completed 6 hours of professional driving training and completed 50 hours of driving training with a licensed driver 25 years of age or older. This must include 10 hours of night driving.
- BAC limit: .08 California DUI convictions remain on a driver’s record for 10 years, and each offense results in a suspension of the driver’s license effective 30 days after the initial violation.
- License suspension of 1 year on the first offense and each subsequent offense is a deterrent to drunk driving. In addition to the re-instatement fees, California law enforces severe penalties that vary according to the seriousness of the offense.
- California’s Zero Tolerance Law targets drivers under 21 years of age. Under this law, the first offense will result in a 1 year license revocation, completion of DUI school and multiple fines.
- There is a drivers license re-issue fee for all drivers involved in DUI. For a list of the fees visit the California DMV’s fees page on their website.
Texting & Driving Laws
Distraction.gov reports that all drivers are banned from handheld devices and from texting. Additionally, all cell phone use is banned for novice drivers and bus drivers.
While enjoying your fun-filled vacation in California, keeping in mind a few interesting laws will keep you out of trouble. For instance, in Hermosa Beach, it is illegal to spill your margarita on the roadway. It is also illegal to use the roadway for a bed in Eureka, and it is strictly prohibited to plant rutabagas in the road in Chico!
Best Cheap Car Insurance Quotes for California
Los Angeles County Car Insurance
The home of countless actors and waiters, the Golden State’s most famous county is also its largest, with more than 10 million residents. Word is that filmmakers fled westward from New Jersey in the late 19th Century to avoid intellectual property claims of inventor Thomas Edison, who held most of the country’s film patents. It didn’t hurt that the area has mild, cooperative weather and a diverse range of terrain for movie shoots.
Los Angeles is home to roughly one quarter of California residents. Terrain-wise, it has something for everyone: Mountains, beaches and desert are all within reach. Popular attractions are Universal Studios Hollywood, the Getty Center, Santa Monica Beach and the southern end of famed Rodeo Drive.