Best Car Insurance in California 2020

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

7 min read
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Before driving off the lot with your new wheels, you must purchase insurance that complies with California law. Finding cheap car insurance in California can depend on numerous factors, including your age, driving record and location.

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, there are over 27 million licensed drivers on the road. California has the highest population in the country, making it one of the busiest states for drivers. And in 2018, California was second only to Texas for motor vehicle deaths.

Because of this, auto insurance is important when driving in California, but you need to shop around before purchasing because while California car insurance isn’t the most expensive, it’s far from being the cheapest.

Here’s what you need to know about the best car insurance in California.

The top California car insurance companies

J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Auto Insurance Study ranked Esurance California’s best overall car insurance company, followed by Auto Club of Southern California Insurance Group (an AAA affiliate), Ameriprise, Wawanesa and Geico. The J.D. Power study uses a five-star rating system and rates companies based on:

  • Overall customer satisfaction
  • Policy offerings
  • Policy pricing
  • Billing process and policy information
  • Customer interaction
  • Claims handling
Company Rank Overall Satisfaction Policy Offerings Price Billing Process/Policy Information Customer Interaction Claims Handling
Esurance #1 5 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5 stars
USAA 5 out of 5 5 out of 5 5 out of 5 5 out of 5 5 out of 5 5 out of 5
Auto Club #2 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5 stars
Ameriprise #3 4 out of 5 stars 3 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 3 out of 5 stars 3 out of 5 stars
Wawanesa #4 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5 stars 3 out of 5 stars 3 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars
Geico #5 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 3 out of 5 stars 3 out of 5 stars

Although USAA came in neck and neck with Esurance, it does not qualify for J.D. Power ranking because it only offers car insurance to military members and their families.

Requesting quotes can help you analyze costs, but also consider a company’s financial strength and performance because this indicates their ability to pay your claims.

J.D. Power Rankings A.M. Best Financial Rating Better Business Bureau Rating
#1 Esurance A+ (Superior) A-
USAA A++ (Superior) Not rated
#2 Auto Club Not rated A+
#3 Ameriprise A (Excellent) A+
#4 Wawanesa A (Excellent) A+
#5 Geico A++ (Superior) A+

Here’s what you should know about the companies offering the best auto insurance in California.

Esurance

Google ‘car insurance California’ and Esurance is bound to come up. Esurance gets top marks in every J.D. Power category as well as offering a wide range of coverage options and ways to save on your annual premium. Some of these savings options include:

  • Paying your premium in one payment
  • Getting zero traffic violations
  • Having anti-theft, air bags, or anti-lock brakes
  • Bundling with other policies
  • Owning your own home

Additionally, Esurance also has a great mobile app as well as online tools for its members.

USAA

USAA would give Esurance a run for its money if everyone was eligible to join. Currently, USAA only accepts current and former military members and their spouses.

That said, USAA consistently scores 5 out of 5 in every J.D. Power rating year after year. It has low rates, multiple ways for its members to save and a variety of coverage options.

Probably the coolest thing about USAA is that it pays its members dividends each year it exceeds certain profit margins. You can get paid just for being a member.

Auto Club

Part of the reason Auto Club scores so well is that it offers a strong variety of discounts for its members. These discounts include: getting a discount for driving safely, insuring multiple cars or bundling with another insurance product.

One of the coolest things about Auto Club is that you can save even more by installing the AAAdrive app on your phone. The app will analyze your driving habits, and if it likes what it sees – meaning you score high on the safe driver scale – you can save even more on your premium.

Ameriprise

Ameriprise’s J.D. Power ratings went back and forth between 3 out of 5 and 4 out of 5 in the latest report. It scored the strongest in Price, Billing and Overall Satisfaction — all categories you want an insurance provider to do well in.

Ameriprise offers a wide variety of discounts and has a few interesting benefits. Because it’s primarily sold through Costco, if you up your membership status you can get a windshield deductible waiver as well as accident travel expense coverage. Pay for Costco’s executive membership, and you can even get free roadside assistance and lifetime renewability — meaning Ameriprise will never cancel your policy.

Wawanesa

Truthfully, Wawanesa and Ameriprise are basically equal, but Wawanesa beats Ameriprise out when it comes to price — its customers give it 5 out of 5 when it comes to the cost of their premiums.

Wawanesa stands out for other reasons, too. It has a fully functioning mobile app, unlike other insurance companies, and it has a strong web presence. Other providers seem to post as little as possible online whereas Wawanesa does the opposite. It’s probably one of the most transparent insurance providers you can find.

It’s also one of the most coverage heavy providers out there. Take a look at the amount of coverage options available (10 options and counting).

Geico

Geico is a nationwide insurance provider, and as such is able to offer really competitive rates.

With Geico you can save by bundling another insurance product with your auto insurance, but you can also save by pursuing other discount opportunities (such as attending a driving safety course).

Geico’s mobile app allows you to manage everything to do with your policy . This includes updating or changing your policy, making a payment and even filing a claim.

Average car insurance cost in California

According to the Insurance Information Institute’s most recent study, residents pay an average of around $565.70 annually for liability coverage in California. Collision coverage averages just under $454 and comprehensive insurance around $96.

According to insure.com, California is the 6th most expensive state for auto insurance, with an average premium of $1,968.

The Department of Insurance offers a comparison tool to help you find the cheapest car insurance in California. Premiums vary widely among companies and rates can differ according to your driving record, how much you drive, your location, the number of years you have held a license and the make and model of your vehicle.

If you work in ridesharing through Uber or Lyft, or use your automobile for other business purposes, these factors can greatly influence your total auto insurance cost. In fact, they may even require you to have a separate policy.

Lots of things influence the high premiums in California.

For one, California has the highest population in the country, and a large number of those motorists are uninsured (currently 15.2% of California drivers don’t have insurance).

Secondly, if you live in a big city, such as LA or San Francisco, the chances of you filing a claim for theft or vandalism are higher than other parts of the country.

Lastly, because the cost of living is so high, many drivers are unable to pay for anything more than minimum liability. With drivers opting for so little coverage, companies have no choice but to raise premiums to retain profitability.

Cheapest California car insurance

Best auto insurance California? Based on a guide by Insure.com the top five cheapest California car insurance companies are:

Rank Company Average Annual Premium
#1 Geico $944
#2 United Fin. Casualty Co. $1,128
#3 Nationwide $1,379
#4 Farmers $1,932
#5 State Farm $1,967

Minimum california car insurance coverage

California requires minimum liability insurance on all vehicles. The minimum coverage requirements include:

  • All automobiles must have liability insurance.
  • Liabilities policies must provide for at least $15,000 for the injury or death of one person and $30,000 for the injury or death of multiple people.
  • Policies also must cover at least $5,000 worth of property damage.

California does not require drivers to carry comprehensive or collision insurance. However, if you finance an automobile, most banks require you to purchase standard coverage with a specified deductible. Check with your lender to see which requirements they impose.

Finding the right cheap car insurance in California for you

Finding the best car insurance in California may depend upon programs and policies tailored to you. Here’s how you can save through discounts, special programs, and more.

Car insurance discounts

Many companies offer discount options. For example, The Hartford offers a special program, which includes rate protection for AARP members. Here are some other possible discounts from providers.

Geico offers discounts for:

  • Students who get good grades
  • People with a good driving history
  • Fraternity, sorority or honor society memberships
  • Vehicle safety equipment

State Farm offers student discounts for:

  • Ranking in the top 20% of their classes
  • Making the honor roll
  • Earning a 3.0 or higher grade point average

Esurance policyholders can earn several policy-related discounts for:

  • Requesting an insurance quote on the Esurance website
  • Bundling an existing home or motorcycle policy with automobile coverage
  • Paying their entire premium in one payment

Car owners who choose Ameriprise coverage can earn discounts for:

  • Maintaining a good driving record
  • Taking a Department of Motor Vehicles-approved defensive driving course
  • Purchasing vehicles that have safety equipment such as airbags, anti-lock brakes, and automatic seatbelts

California low-income car insurance

Qualified low-income residents can enjoy reduced premiums through California’s Low-Cost Automobile Program. The CLCA offers discounts on liability coverage only and bases premiums on age, household size, income and location.

A single man can qualify if he earns $31,225 or less, while a family of four can qualify with an income of $64,375 or less. A qualified driver over the age of 24 can buy coverage for $490 annually in Los Angeles or $321 in Alameda. It’s programs like these that help keep California competitive on the uninsured motorists list.

Geico rewards students with car insurance discounts for good grades, good driving records and fraternity, sorority or honor society membership.

California car insurance laws

California has some unique laws that other states don’t employ. These laws help make car insurance more accessible for certain drivers.

California automobile assigned risk plan

Created in 1947, this law helps drivers who would otherwise not qualify be able to get insurance. Basically, it prevents a catch-22 scenario from occurring— meaning, a driver is denied insurance from every provider, but his or her state still legally requires it.

Drivers with a history of at-fault traffic accidents or speeding tickets typically have difficulty finding car insurance. However, high-risk drivers can still qualify for insurance with the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan. Insurance companies in the program charge the same premium for all policyholders and even offer installment plans.

California Proposition 103

Voted into law in 1988, California’s Proposition 103 bars insurance companies from rating car insurance policies based on a policyholder’s location and instead base it off of his or her driving record, years on the road and miles driven each year.

Frequently asked questions

How much is California car insurance?

Premium prices vary based on location and type of vehicle, as well as driver attributes, such as years licensed, age, reasons for driving and driving record.

Which auto insurance is best in California?

J.D. Power and Associates rank Esurance as California’s best auto insurance company. However, choosing a policy is subjective. Insurance companies offer various discounts, and some have special programs for senior citizens and students.

Does California require car owners to purchase insurance?

Yes. California drivers must hold a liability policy, which meets minimum death, injury and property damage coverage requirements.

Does California have a reduced rate program for low-income drivers?

Yes. California’s Low-Cost Automobile Program offers substantial savings on car insurance for drivers who meet income requirements.