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Best Cheap Car Insurance in California for 2020

Sept. 18, 2020
Auto Insurance, Insurance
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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 car 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 40-year-old 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 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 car insurance 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 30-year-old drivers in California

Thirtysomethings can easily find cheap car insurance rates in California. Here are the cheapest rates we found, for both full and minimum coverage policies. Unlike younger drivers, folks in their thirties see little change in auto insurance rates due to age, so drivers in their mid-thirties can safely consider the following companies.

Cheapest full coverage for 30-year-olds

Californians around age 30 may want to look into the following companies for auto insurance, which are ranked by lowest average rates in our analysis.

  1. Esurance: $1,316 per year.
  2. Geico: $1,499 per year.
  3. CIG: $1,563 per year.
  4. CSAA: $1,565 per year.
  5. Wawanesa: $1,589 per year.

Cheapest minimum coverage for 30-year-olds

For minimum coverage in California, the following companies had the lowest average rates for drivers with clean driving records at age 30:

  1. CSAA: $396 per year.
  2. Geico: $406 per year.
  3. Grange: $485 per year.
  4. Progressive: $529 per year.
  5. Mercury: $586 per year.

Cheapest for 20-year-old drivers in California

Drivers in their early twenties will have to work to find cheap car insurance rates in California. Here are the cheapest rates we found, for both full and minimum coverage policies.

Cheapest full coverage for 20-year-olds

Californians around age 20 may want to look into the following companies for auto insurance, which are ranked by lowest average rates in our analysis.

  1. Wawanesa: $1,993 per year.
  2. Grange: $2,111 per year
  3. CIG: $2,491 per year.
  4. Kemper: $2,527 per year.
  5. Esurance: $2,530 per year.

Cheapest minimum coverage for 20-year-olds

For minimum coverage in California, the following companies had the lowest average rates for drivers with clean driving records at age 20:

  1. Grange: $644 per year.
  2. CSAA: $720 per year.
  3. Kemper: $817 per year.
  4. Wawanesa: $829 per year.
  5. State Farm: $919 per year.

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

More about auto insurance 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.

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 40-year-old drivers. Our 30-year-old and 20-year-old drivers had all the same personal characteristics aside from age, but the data was accessed at a later time and companies may have changed rating factors in between.

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

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