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California low cost auto insurance

California traffic in San Diego.
Joseph Plotz/Getty Images
California traffic in San Diego.
Joseph Plotz/Getty Images
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Across the nation, auto insurance is mandatory for nearly everyone who owns a vehicle, but car insurance doesn’t always come cheap, especially if you live in certain states. To ensure that drivers can afford to purchase car insurance, California offers a low cost automobile insurance program, also known as CLCA, which has been available since 1999.

The program eligibility is restricted to low income drivers with California drivers’ licenses, so not all state residents will qualify. Those who do qualify can get access to affordable minimum coverage auto insurance, which helps them fulfill their financial responsibility and makes them legal on the road. It’s important to note, though, that the coverage may be hardly sufficient to cover damages if the drivers cause a serious accident. Here’s what you need to know about the California Low Cost Auto Insurance program.

The California Low Cost Auto Insurance program

Low-income motorists in California can be insured at an affordable price under the California Low Cost Auto Insurance program. The only downside is that you get what you pay for, so the coverage is far below the state’s minimum requirements. The policy only provides basic coverage and doesn’t have the option to add collision or comprehensive coverage. The limits are:

  • Bodily injury: Up to $10,000 per person or $20,000 per claim in an at-fault accident
  • Property damage: Up to $3,000 to cover damage to other people’s property by your vehicle
  • Uninsured motorist bodily injury: Optional coverage of up to $10,000 for injuries caused to the other vehicle involved in the accident and up to $20,000 per accident
  • Medical payments: Optional coverage that pays up to $1,000 per person per accident for medical expenses related to an accident

Eligibility for California Low Cost Auto Insurance

Contrary to the general impression, the CLCA insurance program is not meant for those who are simply looking for cheap car insurance. It is strictly for those who are below the federal poverty level and need affordable auto insurance. Because this is not a regular insurance policy, eligibility is restrictive and customers don’t have much choice in terms of coverage. Also, only a few insurance companies are permitted to sell this policy, but customers cannot choose the provider.

To be eligible for this program, you have to meet the household and income requirements, in addition to the driving record and vehicle criteria. These are:

  • At least 16 years of age
  • A valid California driver’s license
  • No more than two cars and two policies per person
  • Vehicle worth no more than $25,000
  • Annual household income below 250% of the federal poverty level
  • All cars in the household insured under CLCA
  • Up to one at-fault accident and one ticket in the past 3 years

How to apply

When applying for the CLCA insurance program, the process is different from buying other insurance policies. You don’t get to compare quotes or even choose the provider. To determine your eligibility, you need to either visit the CLCA website and fill out the questionnaire, or get in touch with a CLCA agent.

The process of enrollment is straightforward. All you have to do is click the “Apply Now” button on the website, choose to select an agent and submit the required information. In case of problems or disputes, people are advised to contact the California Department of Insurance helpline.

Cost of the CLCA insurance program

Regular insurance companies determine the annual cost of the policy based on a number of factors, from the type of vehicle to the location of the customer. However, when enrolling for the California Low Cost Auto insurance program, you have to accept what you are offered and cannot negotiate as in the case of shopping for the best car insurance policies.

Because CLCA offers only basic liability coverage, each county within California has a different base price. Although much lower than standard liability coverage rates, this price can rise in two cases- if you are a single male driver between the age of 19 and 24 and if you have less than three years of driving history. The former has a 25 percent surcharge and the latter a 30 percent surcharge.

There are two optional coverages offered: medical payments and uninsured motorist protection. These prices are fixed and added to the base cost of the policy. The following table illustrates the base cost by county and the price of the policy after adding a surcharge.

County Base +25% +30%
Alameda $261 $326 $339
Amador $225 $281 $293
Alpine $225 $281 $293
Butte $251 $314 $326
Calaveras $225 $281 $293
Colusa $251 $314 $326
Contra Costa $261 $326 $339
Del Norte $251 $314 $326
El Dorado $225 $281 $293
Fresno $213 $266 $277
Glenn $251 $314 $326
Humboldt $251 $314 $326
Imperial $225 $281 $293
Inyo $225 $281 $293
Kern $225 $281 $293
Kings $213 $266 $277
Lake $251 $314 $326
Lassen $251 $314 $326
Los Angeles $363 $454 $472
Madera $213 $266 $277
Marin $261 $326 $339
Mariposa $225 $281 $293
Mendocino $251 $314 $326
Merced $213 $266 $277
Modoc $251 $314 $326
Mono $225 $281 $293
Monterey $213 $266 $277
Napa $251 $314 $326
Nevada $225 $281 $293
Orange $363 $454 $472
Placer $225 $281 $293
Plumas $251 $314 $326
Riverside $225 $281 $293
Sacramento $261 $326 $339
San Benito $213 $266 $277
San Bernardino $225 $281 $293
San Diego $225 $281 $293
San Francisco $261 $326 $339
San Joaquin $261 $326 $339
San Luis Obispo $213 $266 $277
San Mateo $261 $326 $339
Santa Barbara $213 $266 $277
Santa Clara $261 $326 $339
Santa Cruz $213 $266 $277
Shasta $251 $314 $326
Sierra $225 $281 $293
Solano $251 $314 $326
Sonoma $251 $314 $326
Stanislaus $261 $326 $339
Sutter $261 $326 $339
Tehama $251 $314 $326
Trinity $251 $314 $326
Tulare $213 $266 $277
Tuolumne $225 $281 $293
Ventura $225 $281 $293
Yolo $251 $314 $326
Yuba $225 $281 $293

Frequently asked questions

Written by
Cynthia Widmayer
Insurance Contributor
Cynthia Widmayer is an insurance contributor for Bankrate and has over two years of experience as a personal finance writer. She covers home, car and life insurance products for Bankrate, The Simple Dollar and Coverage.com among others.
Edited by
Insurance Editor