Best Car Insurance in California

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California is known for being larger than life, and the state’s auto insurance premiums are no exception. With a statewide average premium of $1,962, the Golden State is amongst the most expensive places to insure your vehicle. However, you shouldn’t fret. With some thoughtful shopping, you can save yourself a pretty penny in no time.

I ventured out to find the best car insurance policy the state had to offer that would cover the bases of minimum coverage, and I asked about a few inexpensive, but necessary add-ons while I was at it. In just 35 minutes of simple clicking through quote tools, and a few phone calls, I found almost $600 in of savings. I’m not trying to brag, but my cheapest quote deeply undercut the statewide average. Although your quotes are sure to vary, I was pleased to find quite a range of quotes, from Wawanesa’s $1,204 annual offer to The Hartford’s $1,846 offer (an immediate “thanks, but no thanks” from me).

When shopping for your own policy, it’s key to remember that every little factor imaginable (and even some that aren’t immediately imaginable) has an effect on the way a quote is calculated. Everything from your zip code, to your age, to your credit score can seriously alter the quote you receive, making it paramount to do some thoughtful shopping of your own. In the end, you’ll be much happier for having spent the extra time to find the policy that works best for you.

I gathered the quotes with a combination of super simple online tools and slighty tedious phone calls. On average, the online forms took seven minutes to complete, whereas the phone calls rode closer to 20 minutes. As painful as hearing some “please hold” music can be, I strongly encourage you to steadfastly trudge through the process. I can’t guarantee which insurer will be cheapest, but judging from my experience you got some cash to save.

Find the Best Car Insurance

Enter your ZIP code below and be sure to click at least 2-3 companies to find the very best rate.

Our Top 5 Picks for the Best Car Insurance in California

I began my quest for the best auto insurance policy in California with the companies in the table.

Insurer My quote
Wawanesa $1,204
State Farm $1,550
Ameriprise $1,634
Esurance $1,754
The Hartford $1,846

These companies stood out because of their customer support, financial rating, and financial stability. Each of them have a “better than most” (or higher) JD Power rating in the California region, as well as a favorable rating from A.M. Best. JD Power conducts incredibly thorough customer service satisfaction surveys. A.M. Best takes a look at insurance companies’ financial viability. The combination of high scores from both ratings agencies indicates that the company will have your back if the unthinkable should happen. In my experience — I’ve totaled a car before — attention to customer satisfaction is irreplaceable. If you find yourself in a predicament like mine one day, you surely don’t want to be dealing with an aggravating insurance company.

Cheaper doesn’t always mean better, but Wawanesa’s huge savings of $1,204 make them a little irresistible from a consumer standpoint. Since I already knew all of the companies I called met my high standards, it’s an easy decision for me. I’m going with the cheapest option and using some of the money I’m saving to get better coverage.

Even If You’re Happy, It’s Best to Shop for a New Policy Every Couple of Years

If you’ve been loyal to the same company for years, you might be getting a nice loyalty discount. Why ditch the discount? Well, it might not be much of a discount. Until last year, it was legal in California for car insurance companies to base their rates on a number risk factors, including how willing you’d be to pay a little bit more for your insurance.

This practice, called price optimization, was used by nearly half of insurance companies according to a study by Earnix. Bob Hunter, the director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, likes to call it “profit maximization,” and I’d agree. Once a rate is based not on how expensive you are to insure, but how complacent you are as a customer, it’s less about the cost margin and more about simply lifting the profit bar a bit higher.

What’s even freakier is the type of data they were using to determine that price elasticity — things as seemingly irrelevant as your social footprint and how long you’ve been with your cell phone carrier.

Fifteen states, including California, have addressed price optimization in the form of official bulletins or regulation. The California Department of Insurance issued a notice on February 18th, 2015 announcing that “any use of price optimization in the rate-making/pricing process or in a rating plan is unfairly discriminatory in violation of California law.” Even still, shopping around isn’t a bad idea and I’d encourage that you stick with it on a regular basis. What could it hurt? Even if I’d spent an hour getting quotes, just to find out that I’m already paying the lowest rate — that’s even more exciting. It means that I’ve been saving money on unnecessary premiums for years already.

And, those loyalty discounts that feel so warm and fuzzy — some argue that they’re more complicated than they seem at face value. Not only do they incentivize you to not leave your current carrier (because who wants to lose a discount you’ve “earned” over the course of years), but because they make rate hikes seem more palatable. Your rate might go up a lot, but the loyalty discount appears to slash most of it, leaving you paying the amount the algorithm predicted wouldn’t bother you. Even though price optimization is illegal in California now, if you haven’t gotten quotes in the past few years, you may still be paying a rate that’s been optimized.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Hmm, I actually noticed a weird premium increase not too long ago,” call your agent. Call as soon as you can and ask for a full explanation. By law, they’re required to divulge that sort of information, and if the answer seems bogus, you can threaten to leave. (And honestly, that might not be the worst outcome.) An even better idea is to get a few competitor quotes first, so you can see if your current company can match them.

California’s Minimum Coverage

The Bare Minimum

The quotes I got were for the most basic level of coverage required in the purchase of insurance in California; $15,000 for bodily injury per person, $30,000 for total bodily injury for all involved, and $5,000 for property damage, or a 15/30/5 plan. For the companies that offered it via their web tool, I tacked on $1,000 in medical payments coverage, which isn’t required but is a worthwhile investment.

Just in case you’re looking for a workaround, California does offer some ways to meet the state require financial responsibility without purchasing insurance. The driver has to meet/have one of the following requirements:

  • A $35,000 cash deposit with the California Department of Motor vehicles
  • A certificate of self-insurance from the DMV
  • A $35,000 surety bond from any company licensed in the state of California

The Best Car Insurance Isn’t Just Cheap Car Insurance

Speaking from experience, I know both the trials of filing a claim and the importance of paying for adequate coverage. In 2015, I totaled my car. I wasn’t injured and no one else was either — but I’m glad I had more than the state’s minimum coverage.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that you will have to file a claim in your lifetime as well. Statistics show that the common driver averages an accident every 17.9 years. What’s even more frightening is that the average cost of injury-inducing, but nonfatal accident is a stupefying $80,700, an amount no one would be excited to lose.

In most cases, upgrading all the way to a 50/100/50 plan isn’t as daunting of a leap as you might expect. For example, my quote for a 15/30/5 plan with Wawanesa was $1,204. To up my coverage to 50/100/50 the cost went up to $1,306, and while that’s a $102 difference, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to shelling out of pocket in the event of an accident. In my mind, it’s worth the peace of mind to have a level of coverage you can trust should the unexpected happen.

Find the Best Car Insurance

Enter your ZIP code below and be sure to click at least 2-3 companies to find the very best rate.


Why are California’s rates so expensive?

While there’s likely a bevy of different factors at play here, the most likely culprit is the urban population of the state. In general, more urbanized states tend to be higher targets for frequent accidents, and car thefts, and California is no exception.

Six California metro areas have landed in the top 10 for car thefts. For instance, Bakersfield had more than 7,000 car thefts in 2016 (putting it 3rd on the list based on population) and Los Angeles had 60,670 thefts, according to a report issued in 2017. Needless to say, that statistic is a guaranteed rate influencer.

What if I’m not a full-time resident?

To purchase insurance in the state of California, you must either be a resident of the state or prove that your vehicle is principally parked there. The only exemption to the rule is anyone with active military status.

Expert’s Corner

Money360 reached out to Bryan A. Larson, a partner at Larson Law, for his take on state minimum coverage. He’s been practicing law for more than 30 years. He’s seen accident and injury cases from car accidents that had damages into the millions. (Just thinking about that makes me want to go up my coverage some more….) Here’s what Bryan had to say:

Should driver’s get more than the minimum coverage?

Unfortunately, it is very easy, even in a relatively simple auto accident, to cause injuries to another person that will well exceed $25,000. If the other vehicle has a carload of persons in it, it is very easy for all of the injuries you might cause to exceed $65,000 for all of the medical bills, lost wages or lost income, pain, and suffering or other kinds of damages related to the injuries caused by the auto accident that you are responsible for.

Are certain auto insurance companies easier to work with than others?

Sometimes the “easy” factor may depend literally on which insurance adjuster is assigned to the case. As a general rule, no insurance company has your best interest in mind, in spite of how “friendly” they may appear.

Best Car Insurance in California

  • Wawanesa
  • State Farm
  • Ameriprise
  • Esurance
  • The Hartford

The Bottom Line

I hope you will take the time to find the best policy for you, and not settle for the first option. I know a lot of people who comparison shop for just about everything else — but feel too intimidated to call or click for a couple of quotes. This time the ads aren’t wrong, a few minutes now really can save you thousands of dollars down the road. Multiply by your lifetime as a driver and if you don’t get quotes now, you might be wasting tens of thousands. With a little comparison shopping, you can easily find the cheap car insurance policy that protects your future and fits your budget.

Find the Best Car Insurance

Enter your ZIP code below and be sure to click at least 2-3 companies to find the very best rate.