Best Cheap Car Insurance in California for 2016

Auto Insurance, Insurance

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 cheapest option for several common driver types. 

Included in this page are the cheapest rates for:

also in this article

Cheapest for good drivers

For drivers with no at-fault accidents, DUIs or moving violations.


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Price

  • $1,328/year

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.


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Price

  • $429/year

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. Geico offered the lowest sample quote for drivers in the general population, averaging $36 per month.

Cheapest for families with one teen driver

For middle-aged couples with one teen driver.


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Price

  • $1,826/year

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Price

  • $2,992/year

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


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Price

  • $1,875/year

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Price

  • $2,048/year

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. State Farm was the best option for non-military-affiliated drivers in our analysis.

Cheapest for low-mileage drivers

For drivers who travel 5,000 miles per year; range of average prices: $757 to $2,184 per year.


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Price

  • $757/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.


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Price

  • $1,100/year

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Price

  • $1,127/year

Given their reduced annual mileage, retired drivers can score pretty cheap car insurance in California. Mercury and Allstate both offer discounts aimed at mature or retired drivers age 55 or older.

Cheapest for drivers with a military connection


Get a quoteUSAA is available only to active military members, veterans and their families.

If you’re an active member of the military or a veteran — or have an immediate family member who is — chances are good you’ll get a cheaper-than-average rate with USAA, an option that isn’t available to the general public. USAA is one of the two cheapest auto insurance options for every driver type listed above. USAA customers also benefit from the insurer’s top-rated customer service.

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.

And in case you missed anything, here’s a summary of where you’ll find the cheapest insurance, by category:

Cheapest car insurance in California

CategoryCheapest option
Good driversAllstate
Young drivers
Geico
Drivers with one at-fault crash
State Farm
Low-mileage driversMetromile
Retired drivers Mercury
Families with one teen driverAAA
Drivers with a military connectionUSAA

METHODOLOGY

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: aglenn@nerdwallet.com.

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