happy couple driving in car on road trip
The Good Brigade/Getty Images

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

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, over 35 million registered vehicles occupy the Golden State’s roads and highways. Your car insurance is intended to help pay for damage and injuries resulting from automobile accidents. In 2016, more than 3,600 people died in California automobile accidents. From 2017 to 2018, traffic fatalities dropped by 4% in region 9, which includes Arizona, California and Hawaii, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

When shopping for the best car insurance in California, follow a few basic rules:

  • Get premium quotes, in writing, from several companies.
  • Ask agents about discounts that may reduce your premium costs.
  • Compare quotes, based on costs, coverage, deductibles and insurance company ratings.
  • Check the license status of insurance companies at the California Department of Insurance website.

The Best Car Insurance Companies in California

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 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars
USAA 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars
Auto Club #2 4 stars 4 stars 4 stars 4 stars 4 stars 5 stars
Ameriprise #3 4 stars 3 stars 4 stars 4 stars 3 stars 3 stars
Wawanesa #4 4 stars 4 stars 5 stars 3 stars 3 stars 4 stars
Geico #5 4 stars 4 stars 4 stars 4 stars 3 stars 3 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.

J.D. Power Rankings A.M. Best Financial Rating Better Business Bureau Rating
#1 Esurance A+ (Superior) A-
USAA A++ (Superior) B-
#2 Auto Club no rating A+
#3 Ameriprise A (Excellent) A+
#4 Wawanesa A (Excellent) A+
#5 Geico A++ (Superior) A+

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.

Finding the right cheap car insurance in California for you

Finding the cheapest car insurance in California may depend upon programs and policies tailored to you. For example, The Hartford offers a special program, which includes rate protection, for AARP members.

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

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

California’s Proposition 103 bars insurance companies from rating car insurance policies based on a policyholder’s credit score, so drivers with low credit scores get the same rates as drivers with similar driving history in California.

Average car insurance cost in California

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ most recent study, residents pay an average of around $490 annually for liability coverage in California. On average, collision coverage costs just under $400 and comprehensive insurance runs around $100.

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.

Driver Location Years Licensed Traffic Violations Annual Liability Premium
Senior couple Alameda 40+ 1 driver, 1 violation $622-$1,868
Senior couple Central Los Angeles 40+ No violations $672-$2,452
Married couple Alameda 10+ 1 violation each $1,101-$3,417
Married couple Central Los Angeles 10+ No violations $1,148-$3,796
Single female Alameda 3-5 No violations $733-$2,176
Single male Central Los Angeles 3-5 No violations $886-$3,293
Single female Alameda 9-15 1 at-fault accident $646-$3,428
Single male Central Los Angeles 9-15 1 at-fault accident $832-$4,278

The comparison tool also enables you to compare standard policies, which include comprehensive, collision and liability coverage. The results also provide basic information about company discounts and consumer complaints. The annual premiums shown are before applying eligible discounts.

Cheapest California car insurance

Based on a 2019 study by The Zebra, a private organization that researches the insurance market, the top 10 cheapest California car insurance companies include:

Rank Company Average Annual Premium
#1 USAA $1,132
#2 Wawanesa $1,169
#3 Century National $1,202
#4 CSAA $1,210
#5 Nationwide $1,238
#6 21st Century $1,352
#7 Grange $1,462
#8 Mercury 1,518
#9 Progressive $1,527
#10 Allstate $1,528

Auto insurance discounts in California

When shopping for the best car insurance in California, ask agents about discounts.

For example, 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 air bags, anti-lock brakes and automatic seatbelts

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.

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 and driving record.

Which auto insurance is best in California?

J.D. Power and Associates ranks Esurance 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.