The best car insurance in California

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By

Rachael Brennan

Rachael Brennan

Property and Casualty Insurance Expert

Rachael Brennan is a senior insurance editor at Policygenius, specializing in auto insurance. She worked for 21st Century Insurance, BlueCross BlueShield Massachusetts, and HealthPass New York. She also spent two years working as a content expert for dozens of auto insurance websites through 360Quote LLC.

Published September 22, 2021

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The average cost of a full coverage policy in California is $1,857 per year. However, insurance rates in California can vary significantly from one city or ZIP code to another. Even though rates are high, you can still find cheap auto insurance in California by comparing quotes from multiple companies.

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Ready to start shopping? See what car insurance companies offer the cheapest rates, then compare policies with Policygenius to find the right company for you.

Key Takeaways

  • Wawanesa has the lowest average cost in California at $1,153 a year

  • Nationwide has the highest average rate for full coverage in California  at $3,512 a year 

  • California requires at least $15,000 per person/$30,000 per person in bodily injury liability and $5,000 in property damage liability

Cheapest car insurance companies in California

Insurance costs can vary from one person to another based on a variety of factors, like your personal driving history, your ZIP code, and the type of car you drive.

However, each company has their own approach to setting rates, which means two different companies could have wildly different rates for the exact same driver. The table below shows the five cheapest car insurance companies in California, along with their J.D. Power score.

Company

Average cost

JD Power Rating

Wawanesa

$1,110

--

GEICO

$1,465

871

USAA

$1,502

890

Mercury Insurance

$1,520

849

National General

$1,603

815

Cheapest car insurance companies by age in California

Young adults typically have very high insurance rates because their inexperience behind the wheel means they are more likely than older drivers to be in an accident. However, most companies base rates on years of driving experience instead of age, which means a 40-year-old and a 16-year-old who both got their license this year will be charged similar rates.

In many states, different insurance companies have the lowest prices for various age groups based on their internal rating systems. California, however, has one company that ranks lower than the competition in every single age group.

Age

Cheapest company

Average cost

16

Wawanesa

$2,205

18

Wawanesa

$1,926

21

Wawanesa

$1,434

25

Wawanesa

$1,210

30

Wawanesa

$1,153

35

Wawanesa

$1,101

45

Wawanesa

$1,076

55

Wawanesa

$1,045

Choosing the right car insurance company in California

Choosing the best car insurance company for you doesn’t have to be difficult. There are several factors to consider, including:

  • Cost: Nobody wants to pay too much for car insurance, so getting quotes from multiple companies can help you find the most affordable option.

  • Coverage: Choosing a plan that offers enough coverage to protect you in case of an accident is vitally important.

  • Customer service: Having an easy, comfortable experience when buying a policy or filing a claim is extremely valuable and could even be worth paying a little more for insurance coverage.

If you're ready to start shopping for insurance, our insurance experts at Policygenius are ready to help you find the right insurance coverage for your needs.

Car insurance rates for drivers with driving violations in California

Your driving history is one of the factors insurance companies use to help determine your rates, which means an accident or a traffic ticket could have a significant impact on how much you pay for insurance. 

Keeping your driving record clean is the easiest and most effective way to keep your insurance costs low. Take a look at how different violations increased the cost of insurance in California with five of the cheapest car insurance companies in the state.

Violation

Wawanesa

GEICO

USAA

Mercury Insurance

National General

At-fault Accident

$1,733

$2,690

$2,156

$2,655

$2,427

DUI

$2,060

$3,764

$4,432

$2,529

$2,249

Driving with a suspended license

$1,640

$2,689

$3,132

$2,529

$2,307

Driving with an open container

$2,060

$3,764

$3,332

$2,529

$1,724

Driving with expired registration

$1,640

$2,427

$1,693

$2,023

$1,724

Driving without Lights

$1,640

$2,427

$1,546

$2,023

$1,724

Failure to show documents

$1,640

$2,427

$1,693

$2,023

$1,724

Failure to stop at a red light

$1,640

$2,427

$1,693

$2,023

$1,724

Cheapest car insurance for drivers with bad credit in California

Insurance companies in some states rate drivers based on their credit score. Theoretically, this is because drivers with lower credit scores are more likely to file a claim instead of paying for damages out-of-pocket, but in practice it sometimes ends up unfairly penalizing some drivers. Because of this, California laws prevent insurance companies from rating based on credit history.

Car insurance costs in California cities

Things like crime rates, population density, or the number of accidents in a given area mean that insurance costs can vary significantly from one city to another. Here’s how car insurance rates compare in the ten biggest cities in California.

  • Los Angeles: $2,642

  • San Diego: $1,775

  • San Jose: $1,829

  • San Francisco: $2,194

  • Fresno: $1,799

  • Sacramento: $2,017

  • Long Beach: $2,068

  • Oakland: $2,156

  • Bakersfield: $1,833

  • Anaheim: $1,965

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Buying car insurance in California

California requires everyone who owns a vehicle in the state to carry one of the following types of auto insurance:

  • Motor vehicle liability insurance policy

  • Cash deposit of $35,000 with DMV

  • DMV-issued self-insurance certificate

  • Surety bond for $35,000 from a company licensed to do business in California

Drivers who choose to carry a liability insurance policy must have no less than the state’s required levels of liability insurance:

  • $15,000 per person/$30,000 per accident for bodily injury liability

  • $5,000 for property damage liability

Drivers who don’t carry minimum levels of liability insurance or higher will have their registration suspended by the state, which means the car cannot legally be driven or parked on public streets.

In order to provide cheap liability insurance, California minimum insurance requirements are very low. This means they may not provide enough protection if you are at fault for an accident that is more than a simple fender bender. 

The state also does not require you to carry anything more than basic bodily injury and property damage liability coverage, which means drivers carrying state minimum coverage levels don’t have coverage for damage to their own vehicle and they have no protection against uninsured or underinsured motorists.

Pro tip

As of 2019, 16.6% of drivers on the road in California were uninsured, which makes it all the more important to protect yourself by carrying full coverage and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, which covers the costs if you’re hit by a driver without insurance.

California is also one of several states that have made it illegal for policy providers to use gender to determine insurance rates. Other states with similar laws are Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

How to get cheap car insurance in California

There are many ways for drivers to save money on their insurance, including bundling policies, keeping their driving record clean, and increasing their deductibles. However, sometimes that isn’t enough. For people who can’t afford even a basic minimum liability insurance policy, the state offers California's Low Cost Auto Insurance Program

California’s Low Cost Auto Insurance Program offers consumers the opportunity to purchase lower levels of coverage. The CLCA policy includes basic liability levels of:

  • $10,000 bodily injury or death per person

  • $20,000 bodily injury or death per accident

  • $3,000 property damage liability per accident

For an additional charge of $39-$104 per year, drivers can also purchase:

  • $1,000 medical payments per person

  • $10,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury per person

  • $20,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury per accident

Pro tip

Policygenius recommends drivers have a minimum of $100,000 per person/$300,000 per accident in bodily injury liability and $100,000 in property damage liability coverage to ensure the maximum amount of protection.

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Frequently asked questions

Why is car insurance so expensive for drivers under 25?

The less time you’ve spent driving, the more likely you are to be in an accident or file a claim. This means that insurance companies charge more for younger or more inexperienced drivers to account for the increased risk of insuring them.

Why are car insurance prices in California so high?

There are many reasons car insurance is so expensive in California. California has several cities with very dense populations, which means there is an increased chance of accidents. California also has significant numbers of natural disasters, like wildfires and earthquakes, that contribute to more claims being filed under comprehensive coverage.

Who has the best car insurance in California for students?

According to our data, Wawanesa offers the best car insurance for young drivers, but most insurance companies offer a good student discount. For example, GEICO offers a discount of up to 15% for good students.

Methodology

Policygenius has analyzed car insurance rates provided by Quadrant Information Services for every ZIP code in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. For full coverage policies, the following coverage limits were used:

  • Bodily injury liability: 50/100

  • Property damage liability: $50,000

  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist: 50/100

  • Comprehensive: $500 deductible

  • Collision: $500 deductible

In some cases, additional coverages were added where required by state or insurer.

Rates for overall average rate, rates by ZIP code, and cheapest companies determined using averages for single drivers ages 30, 35, and 45. Our sample vehicle was a 2017 Toyota Camry LE driven 10,000 miles/year.

Rates for driving violations and “Poor” credit determined using average rates for a single male 30-year-old driver with a credit score under 578.

Some carriers may be represented by affiliates or subsidiaries. Rates provided are a sample of costs. Your actual quotes may differ.