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Driving in the Golden State

You’re a smart, savvy shopper. We get that. You don’t visit the airport when you need to book a trip, you use or Car insurance is no different. We’ll help you quickly figure out who offers the best car insurance in California for your smart, savvy self.

We are carrier-neutral because our customer is you. Have no fear of the unknown after reviewing the data points provided here, especially when purchasing car insurance for the first time. You will be armed and prosperous! And then you can get on with your life. We get that, too. So, let’s do this…quickly!

California Auto Insurance Rates

You’re on the go and don’t have time to answer our questions. Don’t worry, we’ve still got you. Below are the top three auto insurance companies in your state, all things considered (see the full list).

  1. Ameriprise
  2. Wawanesa
  3. ACSC (AAA)

Some things considered. Where can I find the cheapest car insurance in California? Which insurance company offers the best coverage? Which is the most popular in my area? Who has the most rejected claims or repeat business?

Click on your city to compare auto insurance rates where you live! Don’t see your city listed? Start comparing rates instantly.

Legalities 101

You’re on your way to finding a great car insurance rate, but what else do you need to know? California auto insurance comes with its own unique set of laws. You are not only a smart, savvy shopper but a good citizen, so we have outlined the most important driving and insurance laws in California for you.

California Driving Safety Stats

  1. Don’t drink or drug and drive
  2. Don’t cell phone and drive
  3. Don’t anything-that-might-cause-distracted-driving and drive
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Fatal Accidents Testing Positive for Drug Involvement in California
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Annual Distracted Driving Related Crashes in California
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Years in California Prison for Vehicular Homicide Caused by a Drunk Driver


Driving in California with a blood alcohol content (including that from medications) at or below the set limits WILL put you at risk of being arrested for driving under the influence. The consequences are real, and they are as harsh as you would suspect. Visit our FAQ to learn the limits and possible consequences of a DUI conviction or refusal to submit a chemical test.


Texting and driving in California can also have extreme consequences. Watch this video with your family to understand that what we often think is just a safe, quick glance could mean permanent damage, our own death or even homicide. The fact is, a one-second glance away from the road is what the Journal of Adolescent Health has deemed safe, but the average text message takes five seconds. You wouldn’t drink and drive, so don’t text and drive either.

Three strikes, you’re out

While it might seem like all of these driving laws go without saying, the statistics tell us otherwise. SmartFinancial encourages you to avoid all non-driving activities while driving. The more serious offenses could fall under California’s Three Strikes Law (see our FAQ for more information). Keep yourself, your passengers and other drivers safe by limiting your road activities strictly to driving while driving.

Do it because it’s your social responsibility, and because Oprah said so! Take the “no phone zone” or #itcanwait pledge and share this information with your social networks.

Driving Green

With more than 394,608 miles of scenic road to cover, there is a large amount of driving being done in California. Here’s how you can do your part to “drive green.”

Car Insurance Laws

Being a Minimalist

You like to keep it simple, and so do we! Just don’t go too minimalist and skip the auto insurance altogether (see our FAQ for more information). In California, you are legally required to obtain something called liability insurance.* This is for your protection if you are deemed “at fault” in an accident that causes injury and lost wages to another driver or passengers in another vehicle. Liability coverage pays up to the amounts listed below. It also pays for damages to the other driver’s vehicle. Trust us, you’d want this coverage even if it wasn’t legally required!

Since California is a “fault” or “tort” state, your carrier will pay for accident damages only once you are found responsible for causing the accident. You can also be sued by the other driver if found at fault. Consider this: $5,000 is the maximum payment for property damage but you collide with a $25,000 vehicle. If you are found at fault, you are on the hook for any damages beyond $5,000. Between this and the high cost of medical care, we recommend you carry more than the minimum required coverage!

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$ 15,000
Bodily injury coverage per person

Max. payment for a single person that you injure in an auto accident.

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$ 30,000
Bodily injury coverage per accident

Max. payment for all injuries that you cause in an accident when more than one person is hurt.

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$ 5,000
Property damage per accident

Max. payment for damaged property in an accident caused by you.

Maximizing your Return on Investment

While not legally required, drivers can also elect to carry full coverage insurance. For more information, read the SmartFinancial blog 10 Things to Consider when Shopping for a New Auto Insurance Policy.

Optional coverage in California

  • Comprehensive
  • Collision
  • Loan/Lease Payoff
  • Medical and Funeral Services
  • Rental Car Reimbursement
  • Roadside Assistance
  • Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury
  • Uninsured Motorist Property Damage
  • Windshield Replacement

* The California Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program is for those who cannot afford liability insurance coverage. To find out if you are eligilble, visit or call 866-602-8861.

California car insurance companies

USAA (military only)
State Farm
The Hartford
21st Century
Liberty Mutual

*In order of consumer rating as documented in the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Auto Insurance Study,  which examined five key customer service areas: interaction, policy offerings, price, billing process and policy information, and claims. USAA is an insurance provider open only to U.S. military personnel and their families, and therefore, is not included in the rankings.

Car Safety for California Kids

California Car Seat Regulations

A child passenger restraint system is the most important part of safely transporting kids; thousands are injured or killed each year due to improper restraint.

California law requires that all children under 2 years of age use a Federally approved rear-facing car seat until they are either 40 pounds or 40 inches tall. From this point up to the age of 8, all children must be properly secured in an appropriately rated forward-facing car seat or belt-positioning booster seat. At 8, or at 4 feet 9 inches tall, kids may graduate to the vehicle’s factory-installed seat belts.

Always adhere to the size limits set by the car or booster seat’s manufacturer. Find more safety information on the California Highway Patrol website.

Leaving Children Unattended in a Vehicle

Under California law, a parent or other caregiver may not leave a child 6 or younger in a vehicle without the supervision of someone 12 or older if there are potentially dangerous conditions or if the engine is running or keys are in the ignition.

Young children who are left alone in a car, SUV, van, or truck can get hurt or targeted by a stranger. There’s also the risk of dehydration, heatstroke, brain damage, and death due to hyperthermia. Vehicle interiors get dangerously hot quickly on warm or hot days, and even on mild days if they’re parked in direct sunlight; cracking windows doesn’t help. Note that these risks apply to pets, as well.

Car Insurance FAQ

Will my credit score be used to obtain car insurance in California?

No! The use of credit is common in most states, but not in California, Massachusetts and or Hawaii. In the Golden State, your car insurance rate is primarily determined by your driving record and annual mileage (there may be other factors, such as number of years licensed). Your location can come into play in other states but Proposition 103, passed by California voters in 1988, eliminated rating factors such as race and zip code (among other things).

Is there a good-driver discount law in California?

Props again to Prop 103 for creating good-driver discount laws! This proposition has saved California’s households $8,625 per family since it was passed, thanks to the 20% premium roll-back for qualifying policyholders. To qualify, US or Canadian drivers now living in California who have been driving for at least three years must not have: been “at fault” in an accident, received more than one point on his/her driving record, attended traffic school more than once for a traffic violation.

Can I use my digital insurance card in California?

Yes! Thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown and law Assembly Bill 170, getting pulled over in California is slightly less panicky since you don’t have to locate the hard copy of your insurance card for the officer. BUT, be mindful of unlocking your phone to access your digital insurance card before the officer has determined whether you were cell-phoning and driving!

What is uninsured motorist coverage and is it required in California?

Uninsured motorist coverage protects you from damage caused by other drivers without insurance and hit-and-runs. It is an optional coverage!

What happens if I don’t have insurance or my coverage lapses?

Unlike most states, in California, you will not incur a price penalty on your insurance premiums once covered again, but liability insurance is a minimum requirement in your state (and most others).

What are California's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) percentages limits under the driving under the influence (DUI) laws?

It is illegal for an individual to operate a motor vehicle in California with the following BAC percentages:

.08%+ @ 21 years old or older
.04%+ for commercial vehicle drivers
.01%+ @ < 21 years old

What are the chemical test refusal penalties in California?

According to California’s implied consent law, you are only required to take a breath or blood test upon being arrested. However, if you are not arrested and refuse the test, the officer may identify additional probable causes for driving under the influence and arrest you, thus forcing you into taking the test.

Younger than 21 years old vs. 21 years or older

  • First Offense: Suspended for 1 year vs. same penalty
  • Second Offense: Revoked for 2 years vs. revoked for 2 years
  • Third Offense: Revoked for 3 years vs. revoked for 3 years

For more information on California’s implied consent law, refer to California Vehicle Code Section 23612.

What are the consequences of being convicted of a DUI in California?

If convicted of a DUI, say goodbye to being financially savvy, and quite possibly, to your freedom. If arrested, you’ll face varying degrees of jail time, fines, driver’s license suspensions, community service, DUI school and reinstatement requirements. The financial obligations extend beyond the DUI ticket to court costs, attorney fees, higher insurance rates, SR-22 filing and the installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) to serve as a breathalyzer test each time you start your vehicle.

What does California’s Three Strikes Law state?

According to Proposition 184 (California’s Three Strikes Law), “the law requires that a person who is convicted of a felony and who previously has been convicted of one or more violent or serious felonies be sentenced to state prison.” If convicted upon a “third strike,” the sentence is a life term with the possibility of parole after 25 years. We know you’ll concur, there is no text message, sandwich or other distraction worth the life of another person, and your own freedom.

What is uninsured motorist coverage and is it required in California?

Uninsured motorist coverage protects you from damage caused by other drivers without insurance and hit-and-runs. It is an optional coverage!

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