If you’re looking for cheap car insurance in California, getting the best deal isn’t always simple. Rates can vary wildly from one company to the next, so it pays to be patient and compare as many estimates as possible.
To make things easier, NerdWallet has done the heavy lifting for you. We researched rates from the nine largest insurers in the Golden State and found the three cheapest options for several common driver types.
Included in this page are the cheapest rates for:
- Good drivers
- Young drivers
- Families with one teen driver
- Drivers with one at-fault accident
- Low-mileage drivers
- Retired drivers
also in this article
Cheapest for good drivers
For drivers with no at-fault accidents, DUIs or moving violations; range of average prices: $970 to $1,783
The average among the three cheapest companies for good drivers was $1,204 per year. USAA came in well below that number, however. The company also has highly regarded customer service, making it a great choice for those who qualify: active military members, veterans and their families. Good drivers typically have the largest assortment of available discounts of any group. Look to keep costs down by scoring perks for claims-free driving.
Cheapest for young drivers
For drivers in their early 20s; range of average prices: $330 to $720
Drivers in their early 20s often need less coverage than older motorists who have families and greater savings to protect. The result, based on our analysis, was pretty cheap California car insurance rates. USAA again led the field with the lowest average quote of $330 a year. For non-military folks who don’t qualify for USAA, 21st Century and Geico weren’t far behind, about $100 more per year.
Cheapest for families with one teen driver
For middle-aged couples with one teen driver; range of average prices: $1,826 to $7,457
The teen-driving years can be trying — especially for the parents, as adding a teen to the policy almost always means a substantial premium increase. Our test found that the lowest average quote for adding a teen driver was more than $800 more per year than the lowest for good drivers without a teen added to the policy. With prices reaching nearly $7,500 a year on the high end of our study, however, there’s still plenty of dough to be saved by shopping around carefully.
Cheapest for drivers with one at-fault accident
Range of average prices: $1,531 to $4,025
Causing an accident in California can add a significant amount to your premium. The lowest average quote for this category was almost $600 more than the cheapest estimate for a driver of the same age with a clean record. Again, USAA came in as the most affordable option, and the company also offers an accident forgiveness feature that could keep rates from climbing if you’ve gone at least five years between at-fault incidents. State Farm was the next closest competitor in our analysis — about $29 a month more than USAA.
Cheapest for low-mileage drivers
For drivers who travel 5,000 miles per year; range of average prices: $757 to $2,184 per year.
Whether you work from home, commute in a carpool or mostly use public transit to get around, if you’re spending less time in the car than you used to, consider shopping around for auto insurance. Case in point: The cheapest average price for low-mileage drivers — logging 5,000 miles per year — was $757 per year from Metromile, a San Francisco-based company offering pay-per-mile coverage. This is $233 lower than the most affordable rate for our sample good drivers, who put twice as many miles on the odometer.
Cheapest for retired drivers
For drivers in their mid- to late 60s who no longer use their car for commuting; range of average prices: $862 to $1,325
Given their reduced annual mileage, retired drivers can score pretty cheap car insurance in California. In fact, the lowest estimate for this group — $870 a year from USAA — was $100 a year lower than the best rate for good drivers half their age. For those who don’t qualify for USAA, Mercury and Allstate both offer discounts aimed at mature or retired drivers age 55 or older, which could help offset their higher quotes.
Minimum required car 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 others’ injury or property damage bills if you cause the accident. Experts recommend getting more than the bare minimum listed above to help 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’d 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.
Alternative car insurance in California
If you have a high number of past accidents, DUIs or other factors making it difficult to find auto coverage on the voluntary market, you could qualify for insurance through the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan (CAARP). This organization works to connect high-risk drivers to insurance companies that will cover them.
For more help finding the most competitive car insurance quotes in California, try NerdWallet’s anonymous comparison tool and see how much you could be saving.
For most categories, NerdWallet averaged rates from the largest insurers for 30-year-old men and women in 10 ZIP codes and with 100/300/50 liability insurance limits and 100/300 uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage limits. We used a 2012 Toyota Camry in all cases.
To test rates for families with teen drivers, we requested quotes for a 46-year-old female and 47-year-old male with a 16-year-old son. Our sample retired driver was 67 and drove 50% fewer annual miles than other groups. Our sample young driver was 22 and carried the minimum required coverage. These are sample rates generated through Quadrant Information Services. Your own rates will be different.
Alex Glenn is a staff writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: email@example.com.