The Best Auto Insurance
A.M Best Financial Strength Rating A++
J.D Power Claims Satisfaction Score 851 /1000
Supplemental Coverage Options 14
Number of Discounts 16
A.M Best Financial Strength Rating A+
J.D Power Claims Satisfaction Score 853 /1000
Supplemental Coverage Options 10
Number of Discounts 12
A.M Best Financial Strength Rating A+
J.D Power Claims Satisfaction Score 864 /1000
Supplemental Coverage Options 12
Number of Discounts 11
A.M Best Financial Strength Rating A++
J.D Power Claims Satisfaction Score 865 /1000
Supplemental Coverage Options 8
Number of Discounts 10
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How We Found the Best Auto Insurance
36 Companies Considered
8 Experts Consulted
The Best Auto Insurance
We researched 36 of the best auto insurance providers based on their ability to serve customers and actually pay out claims; not just on premium cost. Of course, premiums matter, but since rates depend on many different factors — like your age, driving history, and even your ZIP code — the best way to find the most affordable price on the policy you want is to compare quotes. Use our quote tool above to get started.
How We Chose the Best Auto Insurance
Strong financial solvency
There are a million things to worry about when you’re involved in an accident. Whether or not your insurance company will be able to pay your claim shouldn’t be one of them. A strong financial rating is the best way to guarantee your provider can pay what you need, when you need it, so we made sure all of our picks had strong ratings based on the Insurance Information Institute’s (III) guidelines.
We first looked for companies that received an “A-” or better (“strong”) from A.M. Best, a rating agency specifically focused on the insurance industry. Then, because the III recommends getting ratings from more than one agency, the best needed to earn at least an “A (“low risk”) from Standard & Poor or an “Aa” (“very low risk”) from Moody’s.
Painless claims process
You probably won’t think much about your auto insurance until you need it, but claims processing is one of the most important factors to consider when shopping for auto insurance.
“You can buy cheap insurance anywhere, but if you find out that the provider isn’t able to adequately handle your claim, you might be disappointed in the settlement if and when you need to use your insurance.”
In a recent survey, we found that our readers’ biggest complaints about their current insurance company related to customer service and their final settlement amount. So, we used J.D. Power’s 2017 claims satisfaction study to find out which insurers had done the best job settling claims for their customers. Scores are assessed on a 1,000-point scale, and all of our final contenders ranked above 850.
The best auto insurance companies provide a wide range of coverage options so your plan fits you the way it should — tailored to your specific needs. We required our top insurers to host all the basic essentials for coverage. This includes bodily injury liability, collision, comprehensive, personal injury protection (PIP), property damage, and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. For a quick refresher on what those terms cover, check out our auto insurance guide below.
Beyond the standard protections, supplemental (or “add-on”) coverage will keep you protected against the additional costs that often come with accidents. Features like car rental coverage may not seem essential when you view them as just another added cost, but the increase in your rate could still be lower than the cost of renting a replacement vehicle if your damaged car is in the shop for a while. The options offered by providers vary widely in both availability and cost. Our favorites offer supplemental coverage options that can build a policy for every profile.
Discounts keep your premium down when other factors (like that pesky credit score) won’t. These fall into two main categories: driver and vehicle. We favored insurers with a wide array of discounts, since those providers will be able to offer costs savings for more customers.
Some, like deductions for paperless billing, are widely available and don’t have special eligibility requirements. Others will be determined based on conditions beyond your control, like the city you live in or the technology built into your vehicle. While not everyone will be eligible for every discount, the companies that offer more discounts give you more chances to save.
The Best California Auto Insurance Companies
California’s auto insurance rates are right in line with the national average — $987 per year, compared to $1,009 nationwide. That said, how much you’ll pay can vary a lot depending on your car, your coverage, and your address. Use our tool to find your best rates:
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Find the best auto insurance in California
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California has some of the lowest minimums for auto insurance in the nation (only Florida requires less), but just because you can stay legal with less coverage doesn’t mean it’s a smart idea. Armed only with California’s minimums, you’re at high risk for having to pay out of pocket after an accident — either for someone else’s medical bills and damaged property if you’re at fault, or for your own if you’re hit by an uninsured driver (which roughly 1 in 6 California drivers are). According to the Insurance Information Institute, the Golden State is also number one in the country for car thefts, so comprehensive insurance, while not required, is generally a wise addition to your policy.
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 auto insurers a good place to begin your search.
How We Found the Best Auto Insurance in California
We started by identifying California’s four biggest auto insurers by market share, and compared their financial strength, coverage options, and customer service, using methodology similar to our review on nationwide providers. Then we checked J.D. Power and Consumer Reports to see how each company’s customers scored them, both overall and on their claims experiences specifically. Next, we looked at the California Dept. of Insurance’s “Justified Complaint Ratio” for each company in 2016 (the most recent year with data available). Justified complaints were those “determined to require that corrective action be taken against the insurer, or leading to insurer compromise, or other remedy for the complainant” — so a lower number is better. Finally, we collected quotes from each company, taking note of available endorsements and discounts.
California Auto Insurance Reviews
AAA (Auto Club Exchange Group)
AAA’s Consumer Reports “Reader Score” of 94 was head and shoulders above the next-best (State Farm and Farmers scored 89). On top of that, both J.D. Power and CR readers gave AAA the highest possible ratings across the board for claims-handling. That’s something we haven’t seen anywhere else, and it deserves special consideration even if AAA doesn’t end up being the very cheapest quote you get. AAA also had an exceptionally low Justified Complaint ratio.
Still, AAA’s quotes came in consistently lower than the competition. AAA offers fewer discounts than the other insurers on this list, but the ones that are available are significant enough that they might end up saving you more money than a bunch of smaller ones elsewhere. And because it’s technically a “reciprocal inter-insurance exchange” rather than a single corporation, AAA customers (termed “subscribing members”) are also eligible for dividends — which averaged $182 per policyholder in 2018.
AAA is technically a federation of regional motor clubs across the United States, but it’s also one of California’s largest insurers thanks to a reciprocal inter-insurance exchange known as the Auto Club Exchange Group. The setup is similar to a co-op: you’re a “subscribing member” when you purchase insurance through the exchange, and thus are eligible to receive money back on your policy in the form of dividends, in addition to any discounts. It might sound a little confusing, but the bottom line is that there’s a good chance you’ll get a check at the end of the year. For 2018, the average amount was $182.
State Farm is the provider of choice for 14.5 percent of California’s insured drivers — more than any other company — and they’re fairly satisfied according to both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports, which rated them just below AAA. However, we were a little concerned to see that among all the insurers we profiled, State Farm had the highest number of “justified complaints” leveled against it in 2016.
When it comes to pricing, State Farm was middle-of-the-pack, though the quotes we got for middle-aged drivers were competitive with AAA’s. State Farm does seem to offer more discounts for teen drivers than other companies, however, so it’s still worth getting a quote no matter your age. We liked the in-depth info on coverage types and options we found on State Farm’s website, and there’s no denying the company’s elite financial strength.
Among California’s biggest insurers, Allstate is about average in financial strength, slightly below average in claims satisfaction, and one of the most expensive in its quotes, cheaper only than Farmers. It also had the second-highest Justified Complaint Ratio in 2016, behind only State Farm. We found its website to be slightly harder to navigate than others, too — while big on eye-catching graphics, it took us a little longer to zero in on relevant coverages and discounts.
Still, Allstate is a reputable name, and if you have a new car, it offers something none of the other companies on this list do: “gap” coverage designed to negate the effects of depreciation if it’s totaled in the first year or so. But even if you drive an old clunker, saving on car insurance is all about comparing individualized quotes. Since there’s always the chance Allstate will offer you a great rate, it’s smart to grab a quote from them.
Farmers has the second-largest market share in California (12.1 percent), and a Consumer Reports overall score of 89 (above average, and tied with State Farm). However, J.D. Power respondents rated Farmers below average for claims satisfaction, and the company’s financial strength is a couple notches lower than the others on this list. It also sank in our comparison due to a fairly high number of justified complaints in 2016.
Perhaps the biggest drawback for Farmers though, at least in California, is its high premium prices. It was the most expensive provider on our list in 3 out of 4 driver profiles we ran (the exception being a middle-aged woman, for whom it was just a few bucks cheaper than Allstate). Still, it’s worth getting a quote from Farmers since every person’s insurance profile is different.
Tips for Buying Auto Insurance in California
California is #1 in the nation for auto thefts.
It’s not a great distinction, but California consistently leads the United States in vehicles stolen per year — by a long shot. Partly it’s a function of the state’s large size, but international shipping ports and a border with Mexico also make it easier for thieves to offload stolen cars before law enforcement finds them. Southern Californians should be especially wary, since more than half of all the state’s thefts occur in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. You’re also at higher risk if you drive a Honda Civic or Accord, the top two models stolen in California in 2017.
While it’s a nightmare having your car stolen, it’s even worse if you don’t have comprehensive insurance, which reimburses you for non-accident claims such as theft. The additional premium isn’t cheap, but you can lessen the cost by selecting a high deductible (like $2,000). It’s no fun to pay, but it sure beats starting from scratch purchasing a replacement vehicle.
Last season’s increase in wildfires should not affect your car insurance premiums.
2017 saw the most destructive wildfire season in California’s history, and you may have wondered about the role that plays in setting auto insurance premiums. Thankfully, the answer is probably none. Although some customers have been told erroneously that an increased risk of fires helped drive up their premiums, California’s highly regulated insurance market makes that very unlikely. Nancy Kincaid, press secretary for the California Department of Insurance, says “insurers have to use their losses and their projected losses to justify raising their rates,” and there just “hasn’t been a catastrophic loss of cars from wildfires.”
While California unfortunately has some of the highest auto insurance rates in the country, over the last seven years, its rate of premium increase (18 percent) actually trails the nation’s as a whole (25 percent). The primary increase driver seems to be the inclusion of gadgets and computers in more and more new cars, which, while useful, are more expensive to repair.
NerdWallet’s Auto Insurance Reviews for 2018
Looking for auto insurance reviews? NerdWallet has researched the top car insurance companies and compiled the results — all freshly researched and updated. Browse our reviews below.
Mainstream auto insurance
21st CenturY INSURANCE
Best known as a discount auto insurance provider that does most of its business online and over the phone.
AARP / The Hartford
Offers products and features tailored specifically to older adults.
The nation’s third-largest insurer, with 12,000 exclusive agencies providing personalized service.
AMERICAN FAMILY INSURANCE
Its insurance products are available in 19 states, primarily throughout the West and Midwest.
NerdWallet’s top-rated insurer for members of the general population, Amica wins kudos for customer satisfaction.
Operating in 12 states and Washington, D.C., the insurer relies largely on word-of-mouth to advertise its products.
Farm BureaU INSURANCE
Founded to serve farmers. Now, 1,700 local agents sell policies, including replacement coverage, to all customers .
Once served only farmers. Now, its products are available to the general population in all 50 states.
The nation’s second-largest insurer is ideal for those who are comfortable with managing their own accounts online.
Enjoys a good reputation among customers, and has strong financial ratings and a large network of agents.
Offers coverage in 11 states from coast to coast, and is an especially big player in California.
The insurer with the jingle about being on your side gets relatively few complaints compared with its peers.
The fourth-largest auto insurer offers a “Name Your Price” tool to help find a policy that fits your budget.
Reduces your collision deductible by up to $500 at policy renewal time if you don’t make a claim.
The nation’s largest auto insurer offers personalized service through more than 18,000 agents.
One of the largest insurers with midrange prices and a variety of discounts.
Auto insurance for high-risk drivers
This insurer has specialized in high-risk drivers since it was founded in 1953.
DirecT auto insurance
Offers car insurance in 13 states throughout the South and lower Midwest.
The General insurance
This subsidiary of American Family Insurance is known for its free and anonymous quotes.
Sells new policies to high-risk drivers in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.
This subsidiary of Nationwide Insurance serves drivers with checkered records.
White-glove auto insurance
Offers top-flight service and generous perks to those willing to pay for them.
Per-mile auto insurance
Great for those who drive less than 10,000 miles per year. Offers policies in seven states and 24-hour claims service.
Offers per-mile insurance only in Oregon. Those who drive less than 10,000 miles annually could save.
Insurance for military members
Frequently the cheapest option among all insurers. Caters solely to active-duty military members, veterans and their families.