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.
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
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
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.
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
Having car insurance is a requirement in California. California’s insurance laws state that you need to show financial responsibility for all vehicles you own. You also need to carry proof of insurance in your car at all times.
You don’t need car insurance in California to get your vehicle registered. However, the DMV will require the following documents from you:
Title and registration application form
Verification of vehicle form
Emission test results
Proof of inspection
If you recently transferred and registered your car in another state, you’ll have to present its out-of-state title and registration.
At the very least, your policy should meet California’s minimum car insurance requirement of 15/30/5 liability coverage. It means that should you be at fault in an accident, your insurance provider can help you cover expenses up to $30,000 for injuries the other party may have sustained, with maximum coverage of $15,000 per person. They also help with costs from property damage up to $5,000.
When you allow a person to drive your car, you are also, in essence, lending them your insurance. If they cause an accident while behind the wheel of your vehicle, your insurance provider will still provide coverage for any damage they may have caused.
You can purchase car insurance in California even if you don’t have a license. This possibility is beneficial, especially if you have a medical condition that prevents you from being behind the wheel but still want to own a car. Another situation where it's an advantage is if you have a permanent chauffeur who drives you from location to location.
It’s typically more challenging to get insurance if the state revoked your license due to a violation.
California is an at-fault state. It means that if you cause an accident, you are obligated to cover the other party’s expenses from injuries and property damage.
No, personal injury protection is not part of California’s minimum car insurance requirements. It is an additional type of coverage that you can choose to purchase with your policy and is referred to in California as MedPay. It covers the cost of medical expenses if you or your passengers are injured, regardless of who was at fault.
Similar to PIP, California’s minimum insurance requirements do not require you to purchase uninsured motorist insurance. That said, California currently ranks 10th in states with the most uninsured drivers. Purchasing uninsured motorist insurance may increase your premium, but it also provides you more protection.
You may file a diminished value claim in California as long as it is within three years of when the accident occurred. If you were at fault, it is not valid. What caused the damage is another limitation — it must be because of a collision if you want to file for diminished value compensation.
If you have a DUI on your driving record, it may result in several things. You’ll need to file for an SR-22, which tags you as a high-risk driver. It also causes your annual rate to increase significantly as car insurance providers consider you riskier to insure. For example, a driver with a clean record pays an average of $1,429 per year for car insurance in California. In comparison, if you have a DUI, your premium becomes $4,075 on average.
Some states require drivers to complete a pre-insurance inspection before allowing them to purchase insurance. Car insurance companies use this information to prevent fraudulent claims by having records of a car’s condition before it suffered any damage. CARCO refers to the primary company that does the data collection and report generation. They also take care of forwarding it to the insurance provider. There are only five states that require CARCO — California is not one of them.
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.