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California low cost auto insurance

California traffic in San Diego.
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In most states in the US, auto insurance is mandatory for everyone who owns a vehicle, but car insurance doesn’t come cheap. To ensure that low-income drivers remain insured, California passed the low cost automobile insurance program in 1999.

Unlike regular car insurance policies, CLCA insurance has low coverage limits, restrictive eligibility and only those with a California driver’s license can apply. It is intended to fulfill financial responsibility and make motorists legal on the road but will be hardly sufficient to cover damages in case of a serious accident.

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: Up to $10,000 in optional coverage for injuries caused to the other vehicle involved in the accident
  • Medical payments: Optional coverage that pays up to $10,000 for your medical expenses after 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 19 years of age
  • A valid California driver’s license or an AB60 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 enrolment 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
Orange $363 $454 $472
Alpine $225 $281 $293
Placer $225 $281 $293
Amador $225 $281 $293
Plumas $251 $314 $326
Butte $251 $314 $326
Riverside $225 $281 $293
Calaveras $225 $281 $293
Sacramento $261 $326 $339
Colusa $251 $314 $326
San Benito $213 $266 $277
Contra Costa $261 $326 $339
San Bernardino $225 $281 $293
Del Norte $251 $314 $326
San Diego $225 $281 $293
El Dorado $225 $281 $293
San Francisco $261 $326 $339
Fresno $213 $266 $277
San Joaquin $261 $326 $339
Glenn $251 $314 $326
San Luis Obispo $213 $266 $277
Humboldt $251 $314 $326
San Mateo $261 $326 $339
Imperial $225 $281 $293
Santa Barbara $213 $266 $277
Inyo $225 $281 $293
Santa Clara $261 $326 $339
Kern $225 $281 $293
Santa Cruz $213 $266 $277
Kings $213 $266 $277
Shasta $251 $314 $326
Lake $251 $314 $326
Sierra $225 $281 $293
Lassen $251 $314 $326
Siskiyou $251 $314 $326
Los Angeles $363 $454 $472
Solano $251 $314 $326
Madera $213 $266 $277
Sonoma $251 $314 $326
Marin $261 $326 $339
Stanislaus $261 $326 $339
Mariposa $225 $281 $293
Sutter $261 $326 $339
Mendocino $251 $314 $326
Tehama $251 $314 $326
Merced $213 $266 $277
Trinity $251 $314 $326
Modoc $251 $314 $326
Tulare $213 $266 $277
Mono $225 $281 $293
Tuolumne $225 $281 $293
Monterey $213 $266 $277
Ventura $225 $281 $293
Napa $251 $314 $326
Yolo $251 $314 $326
Nevada $225 $281 $293
Yuba $225 $281 $293

Frequently asked questions

Does the California Low Cost Auto insurance program offer sufficient coverage?

The liability coverage offered by the CLCA car insurance program is lower than the state requirements but enough to fulfil financial responsibility. However, in case of a serious accident, these limits might fall short of covering for damages.

Who is eligible for the CLCA insurance program?

California drivers who are below the federal poverty level are the only ones eligible for this program. If there’s more than one car in the household, all of them must be insured by the CLCA program. Drivers under the age of 19 are not eligible to apply.

What is the cheapest insurance company?

The cost of car insurance is different for each person. Since factors like location, type of vehicle and driving record determine the price, what is cheap for one person may not be so for another. Having said that, some insurers offer the most affordable rates across the country, and are counted amongst the cheapest car insurance companies.

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 among others.
Edited by
Loans Editor