California requires drivers to carry bodily injury liability (BI) insurance and property damage liability (PD) insurance to pay for others’ expenses resulting from an accident the driver was at fault for. In California, drivers are required to carry at least $15,000 in BI per person ($30,000 per accident) and $5,000 in PD.
California is an at-fault state, which means that the at-fault driver is responsible for paying for everyone injured in the accident. There are no restrictions on the right to sue after an accident in at-fault states, even if the insured buys personal injury protection (PIP).
On average, state minimum coverage costs $1,291 per year in California, but there are many factors that can affect how much you pay for a policy. Any coverage above and beyond what is required by California law is optional, but it’s usually worth the money to get some additional protection. The biggest reason is that state minimum coverage doesn’t protect your personal vehicle. For insurance to pay for damage to your car, you’ll need full coverage.
In California, full coverage refers to a policy that includes collision and comprehensive, plus higher coverage limits than what is required by state law. Full coverage car insurance costs about $4,556 per year in California. There may be cases when you don’t need full coverage insurance, but California drivers should buy as much coverage as they can afford as a general rule.
Most policies offer coverage for six months to one year at a time and can be paid in a variety of ways, including monthly payments. The best car insurance companies in California balance affordability with quality coverage and strong customer service. You can easily get a quote from top companies like Geico, State Farm, Progressive, Esurance, Auto Club of Southern California Insurance Group, and Wawanesa online or over the phone, or use WalletHub’s comparison tools to find the best car insurance policy for your needs.
Car insurance in California is expensive because the state has multiple densely populated, high-crime urban areas. In California, you can expect to pay approximately $4,556 per year for full coverage car insurance or $1,291 per year for minimum coverage. Car insurance in California is about the same as the national average, which is around $2,000 annually for … read full answerfull coverage and about $700 per year for minimum coverage.
The cost of car insurance is steadily increasing, too, both in California and nationwide. As the cost of providing insurance goes up, the premiums insurers charge also rise. All insured drivers share the increasing cost of insurance. That is why your rates tend to go up every time your policy is renewed, regardless of whether any individual factors—like your driving record or location—have changed.
There are several unique reasons why car insurance goes up every year in California, too, even if your details remain the same.
Top Reasons Car Insurance Is Expensive in California
People in California are driving more. As a result, the number of accidents, claims, and payouts is rising, too. For example, there were approximately 3,558 fatal crashes in 2020 in California, versus 2,859 fatal crashes in 2014.
Auto repairs are getting more expensive. Vehicles today cost more to repair due to the added technology and features. For example, a National Association of Insurance Commissioners study found that the average cost of vehicle repairs was around 8% higher in 2018 than it was in 2014.
People in California drive uninsured. As the cost of car insurance continues to rise, more drivers take the risk of driving without car insurance. In 2019, 17% of drivers lacked even minimum liability insurance in California. The cost of uninsured drivers is passed on to consumers through higher premiums.
Healthcare in California is getting more expensive. Car insurance companies are hit hardest when paying out claims involving medical bills, and it’s not getting any cheaper. Healthcare spending increases by an average of 5.7% every year in California.
California is experiencing more severe weather. In California, weather events like wilfires, droughts, and floods are becoming increasingly common. These weather events cause insurers to pay out a higher number of claims, which tend to be more expensive and less predictable. As a result, they have to raise rates to keep pace.
However, there could be other issues elevating your rates.
If your driving record is clean and your rates are still high, your car insurance might be expensive because of your:
Age. Drivers under 25 and older than 65 pay more for auto coverage because they are statistically more likely to be involved in serious and fatal accidents. In California, 16-year-old drivers pay an average of $2,534 per year, 25-year-old drivers pay an average of $900 per year, and people over 65 pay an average of $732 per year.
Location and driving patterns. Population-dense cities have higher premiums than rural areas because city living usually means more accidents, more property crime, and more frequent claims. In California, the most expensive locations for insurance are Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Anaheim. You can also expect rates to change based on your driving patterns—long commutes or regular driving in high-risk areas can cost you.
Financial responsibility. You can demonstrate financial responsibility by maintaining minimum car insurance with no gaps in coverage. Letting your coverage lapse could result in a higher rate when you get your next policy.
Claims history. Numerous recent claims can drive up your premiums. That's one reason why it sometimes makes sense to pay out of pocket rather than file a claim, especially if a claim won’t get you much more than your deductible.
How to Get Cheaper Car Insurance in California
Multiple factors affect the cost of car insurance. Some things you can’t control, but you do have a say in most of the contributing factors. Driving safely, obeying traffic laws, and keeping a clean driving record are the best ways to keep your insurance costs down.
Other than that, the best way to lower your car insurance costs is to compare rates from at least three insurance companies. Ideally, you should check your rates every 6-12 months, when you renew your policy. But at a minimum, be sure to check your record and shop for rates every three to five years, since you may be able to get a lower rate if a traffic violation falls off your record.
In California, the most expensive policies cost roughly $2,673 per year, and the least expensive coverage costs around $895 per year, when all driver profile information is the same. That means you could save as much as $1,778 simply by shopping around. Be sure to confirm you’re getting all the discounts you’re eligible for, too.
The penalties for driving without insurance in California include fines and impounding your car. You can avoid these consequences by meeting California’s proof of financial responsibility requirements. California requires that all drivers have at least $15,000 in bodily injury liability coverage, up to $30,000 per accident, along with $5,000 in liability coverage for property damage.… read full answer
Purchasing California’s minimum liability car insurance coverage is the easiest way to satisfy the financial responsibility requirement. Drivers in California pay an average of $631 per year to maintain the minimum amount of coverage. That’s nothing compared to the consequences of driving without insurance, especially if you get into an accident.
Penalties for Driving Without Insurance in California
Type of Offense
License and/or Registration Suspended?
Maximum Fines & Fees
No Proof of Insurance (Can Prove Coverage)
1st Offense With No Coverage
Yes, if you cause an accident
$100 - $200 plus penalty assessments
Repeat Offense (No Coverage)
Yes, if you cause an accident
$200 - $500 plus penalty assessments
Drivers in California can also have their car impounded for driving without insurance.
Not having car insurance and not being able to prove that you have it are two different violations. If you have insurance but cannot prove it when you get pulled over or at the scene of an accident, you are guilty of an “administrative violation,” similar to a seat-belt ticket. Your citation will not be dismissed even if you can provide the court with proof of valid insurance for the date of the citation. But you may be able to appeal to the court for a reduced fine.
Driving without car insurance at all is much more serious, and the penalties are more severe. In addition to the legal consequences, you can also expect your car insurance premium to go up. A single conviction for driving without insurance raises annual premiums by an average of 36%, or $647, in California.
What happens if you get into a car accident without insurance in California?
If you get into an accident while driving without insurance in California, you will be cited and all the penalties for driving without insurance will apply, no matter who is at fault. Driving uninsured can make it difficult to be compensated for damages if you are not at fault and can have long-lasting and life-changing consequences if you are at fault.
If the accident is your fault, you’ll have to pay for all the damages out of your own pocket. In addition to the legal consequences for driving without insurance, you could easily be responsible for tens of thousands of dollars or more in damage to your vehicle, the other driver’s repair and hospital bills, and your own medical care. Both the other driver and their insurance company can sue you and have future wages and savings garnished to pay for damages. You could face mounting debt or even bankruptcy, especially if the other driver doesn’t carry uninsured motorist coverage or personal injury protection.
Even if the accident is not your fault, driving without insurance leaves you vulnerable to expensive hospital and repair bills. California is an at-fault state. In at-fault states, the other driver is usually responsible for damage to your car and any medical treatment you may need—assuming the other driver is found completely at-fault. California uses a pure comparative negligence system, which means you may not be able to recover all the costs associated with the accident if you are found partially responsible for causing it.
Driving uninsured doesn’t negate the other driver’s fault entirely, but you’re almost certainly going to be penalized and unable to recover everything you would be entitled to if you had insurance.
You can get car insurance in California, even if you are…
Uninsured: Unless you’re a newly licensed driver, having a history of driving without insurance or lapses in coverage is a risk to insurers. To insurance companies, it’s similar to a bad driving record, which is why drivers who let their insurance lapse for 60 days pay about 6% more than the average premium in California.
USAA, State Farm, Nationwide, and Geico tend to have the lowest rates for drivers who want to regain coverage.
Driving someone else’s car: It’s not illegal to drive someone else’s car if you do not have insurance, but non-owner car insurance can protect you if you don’t have a car but still drive regularly. If you borrow a car from someone living in your own home, you should be listed on the car owner’s policy. But you may want to explore non-owner coverage if you need to reinstate a driver’s license, you rent or borrow cars frequently, or you want to maintain continuous auto coverage between vehicles.
Geico, State Farm, Nationwide, and The General good places to shop if you need non-driver car insurance.
High-Risk: If you’re a high-risk driver who has been denied coverage from traditional insurance companies, check out California’s assigned risk program. Whether you require an assigned risk program or still qualify for high-risk insurance from conventional providers, you’ll pay more. In California, drivers with just two speeding tickets pay an average of 97% more on their annual car insurance premiums, for example.
Depending on your driving record and the seriousness of your infractions, you could pay even more. Still, even though rates may be higher, at least you can drive legally and avoid more penalties.
Final Thoughts: How to avoid driving without insurance in California
To avoid the penalties of driving without insurance, shop around for at least $15,000 in bodily injury liability coverage, up to $30,000 per accident, along with $5,000 in liability coverage for property damage In California, you can find basic liability auto insurance for around $631 per year if you have a clean driving record. The consequences of driving without insurance are ultimately more costly than purchasing minimum auto insurance coverage.
No matter what your unique needs are, the best way to get accurate quotes and the best prices is to comparison shop.
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