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Best Cheap Car Insurance in California for 2020

Jan. 2, 2020
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.

To make things easier, NerdWallet has done the heavy lifting for you. We analyzed rates from the largest 13 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.

» L.A. area resident?: The Best Cheap Car Insurance in Los Angeles

Cheapest for good drivers in California

For Californians with clean driving histories, the cheapest companies and their average rates are:

  1. Geico: $1,341 per year.
  2. Liberty Mutual: $1,466 per year.
  3. Wawanesa: $1,477 per year.
  4. Kemper: $1,557 per year.
  5. 21st Century: $1,588 per year.

Drivers with no recent accidents or violations can get cheaper car insurance rates. For this calculation, NerdWallet averaged rates for 40-year-old men and women with a clean driving record. In terms of driving history, a large portion of drivers are closest to this profile, which carries standard “full coverage” insurance, including comprehensive and collision, along with state-required coverage. Prices shown include a good driver discount, when available from the insurer.

» Live in San Diego?: The Best Cheap Car Insurance in San Diego

Cheapest for minimum coverage in California

The cheapest auto insurers for minimum coverage and their average rates are:

  1. Geico: $437 per year.
  2. CSAA: $469 per year.
  3. Kemper: $531 per year.
  4. Liberty Mutual: $580 per year.
  5. Progressive: $617 per year.
We calculated these numbers by averaging rates for 40-year-old good drivers (earning them a discount if the insurer offers one) 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. If you're looking for the cheapest possible insurance you can get, though, you'll still want to get quotes from at least three auto insurers.

Cheapest for drivers with one at-fault crash

For drivers with a recent accident, here are the cheapest car insurance companies and their average rates in California:

  1. CSAA: $2,009 per year.
  2. Geico: $2,443 per year.
  3. Liberty Mutual: $2,495 per year.
  4. Mercury: $2,901 per year.
  5. Farmers: $3,024 per year.
After a relatively minor crash, some auto insurers will charge a lot more than others for coverage. To get these figures, we averaged rates for 40-year-olds with typical "full coverage" insurance and one recent at-fault crash costing $10,000 in property damage. Your rates will remain high for three to five years after you cause an accident or have a moving violation — and you still may be rejected for coverage from certain companies, including those above. 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 insurance after a DUI in California

The cheapest auto insurance we found after a DUI came from the following companies, shown alongside their average rates.

  1. Infinity: $2,558 per year.
  2. Mercury: $2,754 per year.
  3. Kemper: $3,364 per year.
  4. Geico: $3,372 per year.
  5. Progressive: $3,578 per year.
A conviction for driving under the influence, or DUI, generally results in higher auto insurance premiums than before. NerdWallet analyzed rates for 40-year-old drivers and standard “full coverage” car insurance with a recent DUI conviction to see which companies were cheapest. Be warned that you may be rejected for coverage, including from the companies listed above. Rates can vary by hundreds between carriers after a DUI, and some penalize for longer than others, so it’s important to shop around for the best available price right after you see a price hike and each year after that.

Cheapest insurance after a ticket in California

For drivers with a recent speeding ticket, here are the average rates for the cheapest insurance providers we found:

  1. CSAA: $2,009 per year.
  2. Kemper: $2,054 per year.
  3. Geico: $2,087 per year.
  4. Wawanesa: $2,095 per year.
  5. 21st Century: $2,100 per year.
Getting a speeding ticket will result in higher car insurance rates from most companies for three to five years. To see who has the cheapest rates, we calculated average car insurance rates for 40-year-old drivers with “full coverage” insurance and a recent ticket for speeding 16 mph over the limit. Though these larger companies were the cheapest we found on average, others may be cheaper for you, so be sure to get at least three quotes before deciding on a carrier.

Cheapest for couples and families in California

In addition to singles, NerdWallet sampled rates for families of two and three drivers and found that insurers offering the cheapest coverage were different. Each company figures age, vehicle and driving experience differently, so whenever a big change happens in life — including marriage or a first driver’s license — be sure to shop for insurance quotes to ensure you’re getting the best rate you can.

Cheapest for a married couple in California

For couples with clean driving histories, the cheapest insurers and their average rates are:

  1. Geico: $1,724 per year.
  2. Wawanesa: $1,991 per year.
  3. Allstate: $2,060 per year.
  4. Kemper: $2,081 per year.
  5. Mercury: $2,118 per year.
Couples who live together can save on auto insurance by combining policies, whether they are married or not, because they can earn multi-car and multi-driver discounts. Once they tie the knot, rates can dip further, but not because of discounts — insurers see married people as less risky and so charge them lower rates. Our hypothetical 50-year-old couple’s clean driving record also earns them both a good driver discount.

Cheapest for families with a teen in California

For families with a teenage driver, the cheapest car insurance came from the following companies, shown with average rates.

  1. Wawanesa: $3,223 per year.
  2. State Farm: $3,550 per year.
  3. CSAA: $3,735 per year.
  4. Mercury: $3,912 per year.
  5. Kemper: $4,451 per year.
Adding a teen with two years’ driving experience to a married couple's policy is sure to cause a big jump in rates. Since different insurers tend to see a teen’s inexperience in different ways, we analyzed rates to see which companies had the cheapest car insurance for teens. These rates are averaged for 50-year-old couples with male and female 18-year-old drivers.

Cheapest for young drivers in California

Finding cheap auto insurance can be an uphill battle for people in their 20s, who typically pay higher rates than older drivers with longer records. That’s why we also looked at rates for 25-year-old drivers with varying driving records and coverage levels in California.

Cheapest full coverage for young good drivers

Young Californians may want to look into the following companies for auto insurance, which are ranked by lowest average rates in our analysis.

  1. Wawanesa: $1,626 per year.
  2. CSAA: $1,810 per year.
  3. Geico: $1,956 per year.
  4. 21st Century: $1,983 per year.
  5. Progressive: $1,985 per year.
Drivers in their 20s can have a hard time finding cheap car insurance, and that's even truer when they need full coverage. The rates above are averages for 25-year-old male and female drivers with comprehensive and collision coverages, which are often required for drivers with active auto loans or leases. These rates reflect a good driver discount. Young drivers, like all drivers, should check several quotes to find the cheapest for the coverage levels they need.

Cheapest minimum coverage for young good drivers

For minimum coverage in California, the following companies had the lowest average rates for young drivers with clean driving records:

  1. CSAA: $482 per year.
  2. Geico: $645 per year.
  3. Progressive: $659 per year.
  4. Wawanesa: $728 per year.
  5. Mercury: $788 per year.

Since young people often have fewer assets to protect with liability insurance, they can usually get away with lower coverage limits. For an age group with relatively high insurance rates on average, that’s good news, keeping rates as low as possible. For this price set, we averaged rates for 25-year-old male and female drivers living across the state who have clean driving records and bare-bones insurance coverage.

Cheapest for minimum coverage after a crash

After an at-fault accident, the following companies had the lowest average prices for young drivers:

  1. CSAA: $597 per year.
  2. Progressive: $1,212 per year.
  3. Geico: $1,260 per year.
  4. Liberty Mutual: $1,296 per year.
  5. Mercury: $1,402 per year.

To get prices for this group, we averaged rates for 25-year-old male and female drivers across the state with a recent at-fault crash costing $10,000 in property damage. Since car insurance is often pricier after a crash, and especially so for young drivers, we assumed minimum required insurance in the state to contain costs for our hypothetical driver. If you’ve caused a crash, no matter your age, be sure to check auto insurance quotes just after the third and fifth anniversaries of your incident, when insurers often adjust rates downward.

Cheapest for minimum coverage after a DUI

After a DUI, the following companies were cheapest in California for young drivers (ranked by lowest average rate):

  1. Mercury: $1,270 per year.
  2. Infinity: $1,275 per year.
  3. Progressive: $1,295 per year.
  4. Geico: $1,646 per year.
  5. CSAA: $1,664 per year.

Young drivers with a recent DUI on their records will need to be diligent to find the lowest car insurance rates they can get — it’s likely that many companies’ rates will be quite expensive. But spending the time to shop around for quotes can help you find the lowest. For this analysis, we averaged rates for male and female 25-year-old drivers with a recent on-record DUI. They had minimum required car insurance, which helps keep rates down.

Cheapest for minimum coverage and a ticket

After a speeding ticket, these were the cheapest auto insurance companies we found for young California drivers, ranked by lowest average rate.

  1. CSAA: $597 per year.
  2. Wawanesa: $1,015 per year.
  3. Mercury: $1,015 per year.
  4. Geico: $1,020 per year.
  5. Kemper: $1,050 per year.
Getting a speeding ticket is never fun, and neither is the higher car insurance bill you may receive months later. At that point, it's time to shop around for better rates, and it wouldn't hurt to repeat on your third and fifth ticket anniversaries, when insurers may adjust rates downward. We analyzed rates for 25-year-old male and female drivers with a recent speeding violation for going 16 mph over the speed limit to see prices for this group.

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 isn’t ranked with the others, but it was among the cheapest five auto insurance options for three-fourths of the driver types listed above.

» MORE: Best car insurance for veterans and military

Recap: Cheapest car insurance in California

  • Good drivers: Geico
  • Minimum coverage: Geico
  • After an at-fault crash: CSAA
  • After a DUI: Infinity
  • After a speeding ticket: CSAA
  • Married couples: Geico
  • Families with a teen: Wawanesa
  • Young good drivers: Wawanesa
  • Minimum coverage for young good drivers: CSAA
  • Minimum coverage for young drivers after a crash: CSAA
  • Minimum coverage for young drivers after a DUI: Mercury
  • Minimum coverage for young drivers after a ticket: CSAA

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 was $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 right 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.

Methodology

For our “good driver” profile, NerdWallet averaged rates from the largest insurers in the state for 40-year-old men and women in all 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.

If required, minimum additional coverages were added. Our “young driver” had all the same characteristics, but average rates were for 25-year-old men and women. We used the same assumptions for all other driver profiles, with the following exceptions:

  • For drivers with minimum coverage, we adjusted the numbers above to reflect minimum required coverage by law in the state.
  • For drivers with one at-fault crash, we added a single at-fault crash costing $10,000 in property damage.
  • For drivers with a ticket, we added a single speeding violation for driving 16 mph over the speed limit.
  • For drivers with a DUI, we added a single drunken driving violation.

We used a 2016 Toyota Camry LE for all single drivers.

Couples in our analyses were 50-year-old men and women with clean driving histories, averaged across all ZIP codes with the same policy outlined above. To see rates for families with a teenage driver, we added an 18-year-old who was licensed two years ago, averaging rates for male and female teens. For couples and families, we added a 2016 Nissan Rogue S to create a two-car household.

These rates are provided by Quadrant Information Services. Your own rates will be different.