Auto insurance is a necessary facet of car ownership. In fact, it’s legally required in most states—however, the specific amount of coverage required varies. If you’re driving the roads of the Golden State, you might be wondering, what is minimum car insurance in California? Read on to drive with confidence.

How Does California Minimum Car Insurance Work?

Driving comes with inherent risks and responsibilities. Regardless of which state you live in, all drivers are liable for the accidents they cause, including the resulting injuries and property damage. Car insurance proves your financial responsibility as a driver and a car owner.

Since car insurance follows the vehicle, and not the driver, you’re also liable when you let a friend or family member borrow your car. If they get into an accident, it’s your car insurance policy that will come into play. For more information, see our guide on Can I Get Insurance on Someone Else’s Car.

With so much risk to protect against, car insurance makes sure there’s a financial buffer between you and a costly accident. It protects your assets up to your chosen coverage limit. So rather than paying for another person’s medical bills, property damage, and legal fees out of your own pocket, your insurer will foot the bill instead.

Minimum Car Insurance Coverage California

Having car insurance is important—it helps cover both you and other drivers. But how much car insurance coverage do you need? In California, the minimum amount of required coverage is as follows:

  • Bodily Injury Liability Coverage – All drivers must have $15,000 of bodily injury liability coverage per person and $30,000 of bodily injury liability coverage per accident. If you cause an accident, this insurance will pay for the costs relating to the death or injury of the person you hit. This includes their medical expenses, lost wages, funeral expenses, and any associated legal bills.

  • Property Damage Liability Coverage – All California drivers must have $5,000 of property damage liability coverage per accident. This policy covers the costs of any damage you cause to someone else’s property, belongings, structures, or vehicles during an accident. It also covers the costs of your legal representation, if you need any.

As long as you purchase these policies, you’ll be in accordance with the car insurance laws in California.

Do You Have to Have Insurance to Register a Car in California?

In addition to protecting you financially, car insurance is required to register your vehicle in California. If you don’t have proof of coverage, you won’t be able to register your car at the California DMV.

Furthermore, if you get pulled over without insurance, you can receive a ticket, and potentially even get your driver’s license suspended and your car impounded. For these reasons, it’s essential to make sure you get the right amount of car insurance.

Going Above Minimum Car Insurance California

While purchasing the bare minimum auto insurance is enough to meet the legal requirements, it may not be enough to protect your personal assets.

California’s car insurance minimums are low. The costs of car accidents could easily exceed the minimum coverage amounts. For instance, if you damage a particularly expensive vehicle in an accident, the $5,000 minimum of property damage will only cover a fraction of the costs. The rest of the money will have to come from your savings.

Thus, you may want to purchase more coverage than is required. As a general rule, you should hold as much car insurance coverage as you do in assets. This way, your personal assets will never be at risk. Even though your insurance premiums will be slightly higher, you'll be insulated financially from the costs of a devastating accident. Ultimately, this could save you a considerable amount of money and headache.

What Are the Optional Car Insurance Policies in California?

So what are the other types of car insurance policies you should consider? To enhance your financial protection as you drive on the road, consider these additional policies:

  • Collision Coverage – This type of coverage pays for any damage to your car resulting from it hitting another vehicle, a tree, a rock, a pothole, or another type of object. It also kicks in if your car rolls over and gets damaged. However, if your car’s market value is too low, you may not qualify for collision coverage.

  • Comprehensive Coverage – This type of coverage protects your car from damage due to unexpected events, such as theft, vandalism, a natural disaster, falling objects, or an animal knocking into your car. As with collision coverage, if your car’s market value is below a certain standard, you may not be able to purchase comprehensive coverage.

  • Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UMC) In California, 15% of auto insurance claims involve an uninsured driver. If you get into an accident with an uninsured driver, you can’t seek reimbursements from their car insurance company, since they don’t have one. That’s where UMC policies come in. They provide you with financial protection if you get into an accident with an uninsured driver. There are two types of UMC policies:

  • UMC Bodily Injury Liability Coverage – This policy covers the costs of injuries inflicted on you and your car’s passengers by an uninsured, at-fault driver.

  • UMC Property Damage Liability Coverage – This policy covers the costs of damage imposed on your property by an underinsured driver. If you already have collision insurance, this policy is probably unnecessary.

  • Medical Payments Coverage – This type of policy pays for you and your passengers’ necessary medical bills that result from a car accident, regardless of which driver was at fault.

  • Additional Car Insurance Policies – If you want to insure your car’s stereo, wheels, navigation system, or other expensive equipment, you can. There are also insurance policies available for towing and road-side services. Lastly, if you rent cars frequently, you could benefit from a rental reimbursement insurance policy.

Who Needs These Additional Policies?

While you don’t need all of these optional policies, it’s wise to purchase a few of them to enhance your protection.

Since getting into an accident with an uninsured driver is a relatively common occurrence in California, a UMC policy could come in handy. Furthermore, if your car is particularly valuable, comprehensive coverage and collision coverage are great additions as well.

Conversely, if you have minimal assets and a tight budget, sticking to the minimum California car insurance requirements is probably sufficient.

The Cost of Car Insurance in California

Now that you understand the types of car insurance, it’s time to review the average costs of car insurance in California.

The average cost for the minimum required coverage is $574 per year or $48 per month. If you purchase full coverage instead, the average cost increases to $1,804 per year or $150 per month.

However, these are just averages. Your rates will vary based on the following factors:

  • Your car

  • Your location

  • Your age

  • Your gender

  • Your marital status

  • Your driving record

  • Your auto claims history

  • The number of miles you drive

  • Your deductible

  • Your coverages

Cheapest Car Insurance in California

So, who has the cheapest car insurance in California? If you want to save on your California car insurance, it’s essential to do your research and shop around for your car insurance provider.

If you want the minimum coverage, a few auto insurers that are known for their low rates are:

  • GEICO – $376 per year

  • CSAA – $454 per year

  • Progressive – $485 per year

If you’d prefer a full coverage policy, these are the auto insurers with the lowest rates:

  • GEICO – $1,455

  • Mercury – $1,492

  • Progressive – $1,599

As you can see, rates differ significantly depending on your chosen amount of coverage.

Why is California Car Insurance So Expensive?

If these numbers seem high to you, you’re right. The average cost for full coverage car insurance in California is about 20% higher than the national average.

Here’s a breakdown of the average annual premium for car insurance in some of California’s cities, going from the most expensive to the least expensive:

  • Paramount – $2,373

  • Huntington Beach – $2,257

  • San Diego – $2,084

  • Oakland – $1,976

  • Temecula – $1,877

  • San Francisco – $1,783

  • Indio – $1,632

  • Los Angeles – $1,641

  • Tustin – $1,603

  • Oceanside – $1,592

  • Anaheim – $1,561

  • Long Beach – $1,523

  • Sacramento – $1,483

  • San Jose – $1,393

As you can see, rates vary greatly depending on which California city you live in. Fortunately, you can reduce your car insurance premiums by driving less often, taking advantage of discounts, and shopping around for a competitive rate. For more information, see our guide to Why is California Car Insurance so Expensive?

Online Auto Insurance: Save On California Minimum Car Insurance Today

Now that you know about California’s car insurance minimums, it’s up to you to determine what amount of coverage is right for you.

Accidents happen every day, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. By purchasing an adequate amount of coverage, you’ll protect your assets and enjoy greater peace of mind.

If you want to receive a competitive rate for your California car insurance, use the car insurance rate comparison above today. There, you’ll be able to compare quotes from car insurers, explore coverages, and determine which car insurance company is right for you.

Sources:

California Department of Insurance. Automobile Insurance Information Guide.\ http://www.insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/105-type/95-guides/01-auto/auto101.cfm

ValuePenguin. Uninsured & Underinsured Motorist Coverage Car Insurance.\ https://www.valuepenguin.com/uninsured-underinsured-motorist-coverage-car-insurance

ValuePenguin. *Average Cost of Car Insurance (2020). *

https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-cost-of-insurance

ValuePenguin. Who Has the Cheapest Car Insurance Quotes in California? (2020).\ https://www.valuepenguin.com/best-cheap-car-insurance-california

The Zebra. How much does car insurance cost in California?\ https://www.thezebra.com/auto-insurance/california-car-insurance/#car-insurance-faqs