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Best Cheap Car Insurance in California for 2019

May 15, 2019
Auto Insurance, Insurance
At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

If you’re looking for the best cheap car insurance in California, you may need to be diligent. Rates can vary from one company to the next, so it pays to compare as many insurance quotes as possible.

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To make things easier, NerdWallet has done the heavy lifting for you. We analyzed rates from the largest 11 insurers in California and found the cheapest options for several common driver types in the Golden State. We also have information on low-income car insurance in California, auto insurance laws and how to know which AAA group serves your county.

Cheapest for good drivers

Esurance offered the best rates in California for good drivers, coming in at an average of $100 per month. The next-cheapest insurers were 21st Century and Geico, respectively.

The average car insurance rate for good drivers in California was $1,817 per year, or $151 per month.

InsurerAverage price per yearAverage price per month
*USAA is only available to active military.
21st Century$1,510$126
AAA — Northern California (CSAA)$1,809$151
Liberty Mutual$1,961$163
State Farm$2,084$174
AAA — Southern California $2,793$233

For this calculation, NerdWallet averaged rates for 40-year-old men and women with a clean driving record. With the exception of age, a large portion of drivers are closest to this profile, which carries standard “full coverage” insurance, including state-required coverage.

» MORE: The Average Cost of Car Insurance in 2019

Cheapest for drivers with one at-fault crash

Esurance came in cheapest in California again, this time for drivers with one recent accident on record, with an average rate of $148 a month. CSAA, which is AAA’s regional insurer in Northern California, was second-cheapest and Mercury was third.

The average cost for drivers with a recent at-fault crash in California was $2,945 per year, on average, or about $245 per month. That’s $1,128 more than the average rate for drivers with a clean record.

InsurerAverage price per yearAverage price per month
*USAA is only available to active military, veterans and their families.
AAA — Northern California (CSAA)$2,279$190
21st Century$2,633$219
State Farm$2,729$227
Liberty Mutual$2,903$242
AAA — Southern California $4,163$347
To get these figures, we averaged rates for 40-year-olds with one recent at-fault crash and the typical "full coverage" insurance. Your rates will remain high for three to five years after you cause an accident or have a moving violation. If you fall into this category, be sure to shop for new insurance rates just after the three-year and five-year anniversaries of your infraction.

Cheapest for low-mileage drivers

Esurance was the cheapest at $92 per month, on average, for those who don’t drive much in California. Geico and 21st Century weren’t far behind, both coming in under $100 per month.

The average rate for drivers in California who clock few annual miles (5,000 in this analysis) was $1,498 per year.

InsurerAverage price per yearAverage price per month
*USAA is only available to active military, veterans and their families.
21st Century$1,183$99
Liberty Mutual$1,432$119
AAA — Northern California (CSAA)$1,540$128
State Farm$1,860$155
AAA — Southern California $2,443$204
Whether you're retired, work at home or often use public transportation, you may be able to get cheaper car insurance simply because you drive less. The rates above are for 40-year-olds with typical "full coverage" insurance and a clean driving record who drive 5,000 miles per year instead of the standard 12,000.

Honorable mention: Metromile

Metromile targets drivers who put relatively few miles on their cars; its rates can be superior for those who drive under 5,000 miles annually. We can’t get rate estimates because this company charges a monthly base rate, plus a per-mile rate each month. But the less you drive, the less you pay.

Cheapest for minimum coverage in California

Geico was the cheapest insurer we found for minimum coverage in California, at about $38 per month. Esurance and CSAA round out the cheapest three.

The average rate for drivers with the bare minimum coverage in California was $631 in our analysis, which works out to roughly $53 per month. That’s just over a third of the average cost of fuller coverage insurance for the same driver profile.

InsurerAverage price per yearAverage price per month
*USAA is only available to active military, veterans and their families.
AAA — Northern California (CSAA)$558$47
21st Century$638$53
AAA — Southern California $664$55
Liberty Mutual$710$59
State Farm$760$63
We calculated these numbers by averaging rates for 40-year-old good drivers who have only the minimum mandatory insurance in their state. Such light coverage isn't typically recommended, since it might not cover all the bills resulting from a car accident, but it's better than nothing — especially if you can't afford much more.

» MORE: Compare car insurance

Cheap for military families

If you’re an active member of the military or a veteran — or have an immediate family member who is — chances are you’ll get a relatively cheap rate with USAA, a company that isn’t available to the general public.

Because of that restriction, USAA is not ranked with the others, but it was among the cheapest three auto insurance options for every driver type listed above.

Recap: Cheapest car insurance in California

CategoryCheapest option
Good driversEsurance
Drivers with one at-fault crashEsurance
Low-mileage driversEsurance
Drivers with a military connectionUSAA
Minimum coverageGeico

Minimum auto insurance limits required in California

California drivers must carry liability insurance in the following amounts:

  • $15,000 bodily injury liability per person.
  • $30,000 bodily injury liability per accident.
  • $5,000 property damage liability per accident.

Liability coverage helps pay for other people’s injury or property damage bills if you cause the accident. Experts recommend getting more than the bare minimum if you want to avoid dipping into your own savings to cover expenses.

For instance, California has a relatively low property damage minimum, only $5,000. If you cause an accident and total another driver’s car, the damage could easily exceed that amount, and you would have to pay the difference out of pocket.

Check out NerdWallet’s guide to state car insurance requirements for more details on how the required and optional parts of your California policy work.

Low-income car insurance in California

If you can’t afford car insurance premiums, you might qualify for California’s Low Cost Auto Insurance program, which has several payment plans and no broker fees. Requirements include:

  • A current California driver’s license.
  • An automobile worth $25,000 or less.
  • Income of no more than 250% of the federal poverty level.

The federal poverty level depends on the year and the number of people in your household. For one person in 2019, the income limit for the program is $31,225.

The program’s website has a calculator to determine income cutoffs for larger households, a rate calculator and a tool to find participating insurance plans. You’ll have to provide documentation of income, as well as other requirements, to qualify.

Alternative car insurance in California

If you have a high number of accidents, DUIs or other factors making it hard to find auto coverage, you might qualify for insurance through the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan. This organization connects high-risk drivers to insurance companies that will cover them.

For more help finding the most competitive prices in California, try NerdWallet’s car insurance comparison tool.

Auto insurance laws in California

California’s insurance laws are uniquely consumer-friendly, according to many experts. A lot of that is thanks to Proposition 103, which was approved by voters in 1988 and immediately required insurers to roll back prices 20%. Proposition 103 also mandated that auto insurance rates be preapproved by the state’s department of insurance, among other regulations. Many of the laws detailed below are from Proposition 103, but not all.

Auto insurance pricing: Unlike in most other states, auto insurers in California can’t set prices based on credit history, nor can they charge more for lapses in auto coverage.

The state also recently banned gender-based pricing, which tends to translate to higher premiums for young men and middle-age women. The rule was introduced this year and insurers have some time to roll out new rates so this may not affect you quite yet.

Auto body repair claims: California’s insurance code includes a consumer bill of rights for repairs after a claim. They include:

  • The rights to choose your own auto body repair shop and obtain independent damage estimates while the claim is ongoing.
  • The right to an itemized invoice of repairs. The invoice must identify parts as new, used or rebuilt, and must indicate whether they are aftermarket or original equipment manufactured parts.
  • When aftermarket parts are used, the insurer (and not necessarily the shop) must guarantee that they are equal to OEM parts in quality, safety, fit and performance.
  • The right to accurate information about towing and storage services and your policy’s coverage, if any, for a rental car while yours is in the shop.

How AAA car insurance works in California

AAA, the automobile club best known for its roadside assistance memberships, also sells insurance in many states. But just like the clubs themselves, AAA insurance companies are separate companies that operate independently. If you use a AAA webpage, it will ask for your ZIP code in order to ensure you’re looking at information for your local AAA club.

The Automobile Club of Southern California serves the following counties: Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura. CSAA serves all other counties in California, plus several other states.

So if you’re a AAA member and move from Northern California to SoCal, or vice versa, you would transfer membership from one club to the other. If you have auto insurance through your regional club and move, your policy, premium and agent would also change.

If you’re a AAA member and need roadside assistance outside of your home club’s region, the AAA club in that area will take care of you.

For our “good driver” profile, NerdWallet averaged rates from the largest insurers in the state for 40-year-old men and women in 20 ZIP codes with 12,000 annual miles driven. The policy includes:

  • $100,000 bodily injury liability per person.
  • $300,000 bodily injury liability per accident.
  • $50,000 property damage liability per accident.
  • $100,000 uninsured motorist coverage per person.
  • $300,000 uninsured motorist coverage per accident.
  • Collision coverage with a $1,000 deductible.
  • Comprehensive coverage with a $1,000 deductible.

We used the same assumptions for all other driver profiles, with the following exceptions:

  • For drivers with one at-fault crash, we added a single at-fault crash.
  • For low-mileage drivers, we adjusted the miles driven from 12,000 per year to 5,000.
  • For drivers with minimum coverage, we adjusted the numbers above to reflect minimum required coverage by law in the state.

We used a 2015 Toyota Camry in all cases. These are rates generated through Quadrant Information Services. Your own rates will be different.