California Minimum Car Insurance Requirements, Penalties and Other Auto Insurance Laws

California laws on car insurance require drivers to show proof of financial responsibility, which you should keep in your car at all times. The penalty for having no insurance in California can range from fines to having your vehicle impounded.

The minimum car insurance requirement in California is 15/30/5 liability coverage. Low-income drivers can find low-cost policies from California’s Automobile Assigned Risk Plan. Being a tort state, you’ll be obligated to pay the other driver’s expenses for injuries and repairs, so having higher limits than the state’s minimums will provide more protection on the road.

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What Is the Minimum Car Insurance Requirement in California?

If you’re wondering how much car insurance you need in California, the state’s Department of Insurance gives the minimum allowable coverage limit. The minimum car insurance requirement in California is 15/30/5. It means your policy should have at least the following:

  • $15,000 for bodily injury per person
  • $30,000 for bodily injury per accident
  • $5,000 for property damage per accident

Having car insurance provides you with protection while on the road, especially if you get into an accident. Driving without insurance is also illegal in California. Your inability to show proof of insurance during a traffic stop may result in various penalties. These may range from being fined to having your license suspended or worse.

If you’re a low-income driver, you can acquire low-cost insurance under the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan (CAARP). The minimum coverage requirement is 10/20/30. This means:

  • $10,000 for bodily injury per person
  • $20,000 for bodily injury per accident
  • $3,000 for property damage per accident
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What Does This Minimum Coverage Mean?

Since California is an at-fault state, it means you’re liable for the other driver’s expenses from medical bills or property repairs if you cause an accident. A policy meeting California’s minimum car insurance requirement of 15/30/5 means that your provider helps cover medical expenses up to $30,000 for all individuals who sustained injuries in an accident, with a cap of $15,000 per person. They also help with costs from property damage up to $5,000.

Realistically, being at fault for an accident may result in expenses much higher than what a policy meeting California’s minimum car insurance requirement covers. It means you’ll have to cover the remaining amount out of your pocket, which could severely deplete your savings.

A low-cost policy from CAARP follows the same format. Having 10/20/3 liability limits means you’re protected against costs up to $20,000 from injuries sustained in an accident with a $10,000 cap for each person. Property damages up to $3,000 are also covered.

How Much Does the Minimum Car Insurance Cost in California?

Car insurance in California costs, on average, $1,429 per year. California is one of the few states that prevent carriers from using credit scores to calculate rates. They use other factors, such as your age, driving experience, driving history and where you live to set premiums.

It’s best to compare quotes from several providers since they offer different rates for policies with similar coverages. Progressive offers the most affordable liability-only policy meeting California’s minimum car insurance requirements for $481 per year.

Cheapest Minimum Liability Car Insurance in California

Cheapest Minimum Car Insurance in California
  • Company
    Annually
    Monthly
  • 1.
    $481
    $40
  • 2.
    $483
    $40
  • 3.
    CSAA
    $505
    $42
  • 4.
    $521
    $43
  • 5.
    $570
    $48

These prices are only estimates based on rates for an average California driver and should not be used to compare insurance prices.

The rates above are for a 40-year-old driver residing in California with good credit standing and a clean record driving a 2010 Toyota Camry. All premiums are for policies meeting California’s minimum car insurance requirements of 15/30/5.

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What Is the Minimum Car Insurance Requirement in California While Leasing a Car?

It's the lender, not the state, that determines insurance requirements for car leases in California. Even if your policy’s limits meet California’s minimum car insurance requirements, it may not be enough for your leasing company.

Most lenders would require you to carry full coverage car insurance with increased liability limits of at least 100/300/50. If you want to know the specific requirements of your leasing company, it's best to get in touch with them directly. This way you’ll know detailed information about topics like insurance requirements and payment terms.

When determining how much car insurance you need in California, the minimum liability requirements aren’t the only thing you should consider. MoneyGeek recommends increasing your limits to at least 50/100/50. It may increase your rate, but it provides you more protection on the road.

Although car insurance is required in California, around 16.6% of its drivers remain uninsured. The likelihood of getting into a collision with an uninsured driver is relatively high — if they are at fault, they have no coverage to pay your damages. It makes purchasing uninsured motorist insurance a good investment despite not being included in California’s car insurance requirements.

Penalties for Driving Without Car Insurance in California

You need car insurance in California if you want to drive legally on the state’s roads and highways. Failure to show proof of financial responsibility may result in various penalties such as:

  • Fines of $100–200 plus penalty assessments for the first offense
  • Fines of $200–500 plus penalty assessments for subsequent offenses
  • The possibility of vehicle impoundment
  • License suspension of four years if after a collision (may be reinstated after one year if you provide proof of insurance to the DMV)

To get your license reinstated, you’ll have to purchase SR-22 insurance and hold it for an average of three years. Filing for an SR-22 tells insurers you’re a high-risk driver and will result in higher annual premiums.

Frequently Asked Questions About Car Insurance in California

Learn More About Car Insurance

About the Author


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Mark Fitzpatrick is a senior content manager with MoneyGeek specializing in insurance. Mark has years of experience analyzing the insurance market and creating original research and content. He graduated from Boston College with a Bachelor of Arts and Johns Hopkins University with a Master of Arts.


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