Best Car Insurance in California: Guide to The Golden State

If you’re going back to Cali, you need auto coverage that fits your budget and lifestyle.

byRyan TronierMay 31, 2022 12:07 PM
Best Car Insurance in California: Guide to The Golden State
Share

This article may include references to products or services where The Drive has an affiliate relationship with the providing company. The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.

Whether speeding past stately palm trees in Santa Monica or driving through the hills of San Francisco, the best car insurance in California should meet your needs and fit your budget. Life in The Golden State has many benefits, but unfortunately, traffic, gas prices, and paying 60 percent more for auto coverage than the rest of the country aren’t among them. So if you’re looking to save money on car insurance in California, we’ve rounded up providers that blend quality protection and low premiums with a little bit of sunshine.

Best Car Insurance Companies in California

Best Value: Progressive

Best for Minimum Coverage: Geico

Best for Full Coverage: Mercury Insurance 

Best for Good Driving Records: Wawanesa

Best for Poor Driving Records: The General

Best for Military Families: USAA

Insurance Companies We Recommend for Car Insurance in California

Best Value: Progressive

Pros

  • Usage-based insurance available
  • Savings with multiple discounts
  • Quotes available online, by phone, and in person

Cons

  • Premiums higher depending on how you buy
  • Not always the cheapest option

Takeaway

  • California drivers who prioritize quality auto insurance at a sensible price should know about Progressive. While its pricing is often in the middle of the pack, perks like complimentary pet coverage and multiple money-saving discounts win this carrier the top spot for best car insurance in California.


Insuring your car with one of the largest underwriters in the country doesn’t always mean you’ll get the best deal. However, Progressive has a reputation for providing quality insurance at a respectable price. In addition to standard policies, Progressive offers gap coverage that pays up to 25 percent above your car’s value when it’s totaled. It will also insure custom parts and after-market upgrades. And those who purchase a collision policy will receive free pet injury insurance that covers veterinarian bills when your furry friend is hurt in a car accident.

Policyholders who opt for add-on options will pay more, but this provider’s many discounts help keep insurance costs low. Progressive awards discounts for smart account management, and you’ll save money when you go paperless, pay in full, enroll in autopay, sign documents digitally, and purchase your policy online. Homeowners also get a discount — as do parents who add a teen driver to their policy. Even full-time students are rewarded with savings when they maintain a “B” average or leave their cars at home when they go off to school.

Progressive’s pay-as-you-go program, Snapshot, personalizes your rate based on how much you drive each billing cycle. It’s potentially a good way to save money for those who drive infrequently, but need to maintain an insured vehicle. Additionally, Progressive’s Name Your Price Tool will try to align your budget with a low-cost policy. 

Progressive boasts above-average rankings for customer satisfaction in J.D. Power surveys, and it has fewer complaints than one would expect from such a large underwriter, according to the NAIC

Best for Minimum Coverage: Geico

Pros

  • Low-cost coverage
  • Savings with multiple discounts
  • Quotes available online, by phone, and in person

Cons

  • Has complaints listed with NAIC
  • Few local agents

Takeaway

  • Californians searching for low-cost car insurance may find what they’re looking for with Geico. This carrier is well-known for providing cheap insurance rates, especially for budget-conscious owners who want only minimum coverage for their vehicles.

Geico is one of the nation’s largest insurance companies, and it’s acknowledged by many for providing affordable car insurance. Besides offering Californians initially competitive rates on liability-only coverage, motorists may save even more money with Geico’s many discounts. You’ll enjoy price reductions for having good driving habits, like using a seat belt, driving defensively, and maintaining an unblemished motor vehicle record for five or more years. 

Similarly, your car’s features will also earn discounts when it's equipped with an airbag, anti-lock brakes, daytime running lights, or an anti-theft system. Geico also discounts policyholders who are military service members, Federal employees, senior drivers, and those who are affiliated with partnering organizations — including alumni associations, professional networks, and more. It’s these money-saving opportunities that drive down the cost of liability insurance for California drivers.

However, Geico isn’t just for drivers who are only interested in minimum coverage. In fact, those in the market for full coverage or add-on protections may save money on their policies, too. Geico’s mechanical breakdown coverage will pay to repair all parts of a new car that is less than 15 months old and with fewer than 15,000 miles. This policy can be renewed for up to seven years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. Geico will also keep your car running smoothly with its roadside assistance that pays for towing, winching, battery jumpstarts, tire changes, lockout services, and fuel delivery.

J.D. Power and Associates has awarded Geico with high marks for customer satisfaction, but the provider has more complaints than one would like to see, according to the NAIC.

Best for Full Coverage: Mercury Insurance

Pros

  • Low-cost coverage
  • Savings with multiple discounts

Cons

  • Quotes not available online
  • Has complaints listed with NAIC

Takeaway

  • California drivers who want more than liability-only coverage have a lot to like with Mercury Insurance. This underwriter is noted for providing cheaper-than-average rates for full coverage in The Golden State.

Mercury is a no-frills auto insurance provider operating in California and a handful of other states. In addition to the standard coverages one expects to see, Mercury also provides 24/7 roadside assistance, rental car reimbursement, and ride-hailing insurance — which is a nice bonus for California gig workers who rideshare with their vehicles. 

If you’re on the hunt for affordable full coverage insurance, Mercury could be your cheapest option. You may be able to save even more with MercuryGO and RealDrive, which are the provider's usage- and behavior-based programs that use an app to track both the number of miles driven and your driving habits. Motorists who drive safely and don’t log too many miles stand to save upwards of 10 percent on their premiums.

Moreover, Mercury also offers customers the chance to further cut costs with multiple discounts. Policyholders with good account management practices will earn discounts for enrolling in autopay, paying in-full, and signing documents digitally. Both good drivers and good students get rewarded with savings, too — as do those who insure multiple cars, install an anti-theft device, and bundle their homeowner’s or renter’s insurance with Mercury. 

Mercury was recognized for providing Californians with excellent customer satisfaction in the most recent J.D. Power survey, but it has more complaints than expected with the NAIC.

Best for Good Driving Records: Wawanesa

Pros

  • Low-cost coverage for good drivers

Cons

  • Drivers with multiple traffic violations ineligible
  • Fewer discounts than most

Takeaway

  • Responsible drivers in California who are chasing cheap car insurance may find a friend in Wawanesa. This local insurance provider specializes in low-cost coverage for those with clean driving records, but its high volume of complaints may cause some to think twice.

Wawanesa exclusively underwrites insurance policies for experienced drivers in California and Oregon. Because of this specialization, Wawanesa often undercuts the insurance rates of its larger competitors. This is especially true for good drivers with no more than one at-fault accident or moving violation in the past three years. Indeed, Wawanesa prioritizes experience and only those who’ve carried a driver's license for three or more years are eligible for its coverage.

This local underwriter provides all of the usual auto protections, but it also offers add-ons like roadside assistance and rental car reimbursement. Plus, Wawanesa will also insure after-market upgrades including custom carpeting, furnishing, stereo equipment, rims and tires, paint jobs, engine accessories, and anti-theft systems. It provides peace of mind for owners of wheelchair-accessible vehicles, custom or vintage cars, and other types of specialized automobiles.

Drivers over the age of 55 who take an approved defensive driving course can earn a discount, as do those who renew their policies, maintain a good driving history, and insure multiple vehicles. Aside from these several savings opportunities, Wawanesa doesn’t offer as many discounts as its competitors do.

Although it has an above-average number of complaints lodged with the NAIC, Wawanesa is accredited by the Better Business Bureau, where it maintains an A+ ranking.

Best for Poor Driving Records: The General

Pros

  • Coverage for high-risk drivers
  • Provides SR-22 filings

Cons

  • High volume of complaints with the NAIC
  • Few discounts available 

Takeaway

  • If at-fault accidents and moving violations have sent your car insurance premiums through the roof, you may find relief with The General. Yet those with a good driving record will probably find lower rates elsewhere.

Drivers with insurance lapses or multiple infractions on their driving records will often see their rates soar, and Californians with a DUI are lucky to find a provider at all. Essentially, the more risk you carry as a motorist, the more likely you are to pay extra for coverage. The question is just how much extra.

The General is a non-standard insurance provider that specializes in underwriting auto insurance for high-risk drivers. Even those with more than two at-fault accidents in the past three years or a DUI-related suspension may still qualify for coverage with The General. 

Keep in mind that this is not budget insurance. Rather this is second-chance auto insurance for those with few options. Still, when it comes to high-premium auto insurance for repeat offenders, The General’s pricing is competitive. It will even provide SR-22 forms for motorists who need to submit proof of insurance to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. 

The General has a troubling amount of complaints with the NAIC, but this may be par for the course considering its clientele. For what it’s worth, The General does maintain a superior A+ rating with AM Best, despite its volume of complaints.

Best for Military Households: USAA

Pros

  • Low-cost coverage
  • Coverage available to children, spouses, and former spouses of military service personnel

Cons

  • Coverage not available to the general public

Takeaway

  • Although the general public isn’t eligible for auto coverage through USAA, veterans, active-duty military personnel, and their families will likely find the cheapest car insurance with this government-backed provider. 

Established in 1922 to provide low-cost coverage to military households, the United States Automobile Association (USAA) is technically not an insurance underwriter. Instead, USAA has contracted Progressive to handle its policies. The good news is that eligible Californians will beat Progressive’s lowest price point by 5 percent. It’s one of many ways Uncle Sam thanks those who honorably serve their country.

USAA claims that its members save an average of $725 on their auto insurance when transferring their policy from another underwriter. Besides offering savings for policy bundling and smart account management, this provider also discounts the premiums of motorists with a good driving record and those who complete a defensive driving course. Californians can also use the USAA SafePilot App to further discount their premiums based on driving frequency and behavior.

USAA offers the standard protections one would expect from an auto insurer, and its several add-on options are nothing you wouldn’t find from similar nationwide providers. Still, its focus on military families makes it a top contender for eligible drivers. It’s easy to see how USAA claims the top spot for customer satisfaction in the J.D. Power and Associates 2021 report.

Average Cost of Insurance in California

By most accounts, the average monthly cost of car insurance in California is generally around $50 for minimum coverage and $180 for full coverage — that’s $600 to $2,160, respectively, for an annual premium.

The cost of insuring a vehicle in California is 63 percent higher than the national average of $1,321, according to some sources. This dramatic difference in insurance rates between The Golden State and the rest of the country is presumably due to congested traffic and clogged motorways — both of which lead to a higher probability of accident claims.

In addition to its dense population, California is also geographically large. Hence, average estimates take into consideration the costs of insuring a vehicle in overpriced Beverly Hills and affordable Fresno — two cities that possess vastly different auto insurance risk profiles.

Keep in mind that the price of your premium will depend largely on the value of your car, your motor vehicle record and insurance claims history, and other cost variables that we discuss in detail below.

How to Save on Insurance

The best way to save money on car insurance is to comparison shop. Requesting quotes from three to five companies will undoubtedly yield both a highest and a lowest insurance rate.

Many owners assume prices are fairly consistent and will take the first insurance quote they get — but this is a common mistake. Insurance costs vary significantly between providers because each assesses risk differently. So comparison shopping will help you save hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, over the life of your policy. 

Plus, shopping your insurance rate with multiple providers gives you leverage to negotiate. While an insurance agent is under no obligation to negotiate with you, there’s nothing stopping you from asking one to beat your lowest quote.

Thankfully, there are additional money-saving strategies California motorists can use to reduce the cost of their premiums. Here are a few of the more effective techniques.

  • Increase your deductible. Your deductible is the amount of money you pay before your underwriter will pay for damages in a claim. When you raise your deductible from $250 to $1,000, you’ll have to pay more out-of-pocket after an accident, but you’ll also cut the price on your insurance premium.
  • Don’t pay for coverage you won’t use. Underwriters offer a selection of appealing coverages that those on a budget can forgo, such as disappearing deductibles, roadside assistance, gap coverage, and custom parts and equipment (CPE) coverage, to name a few.
  • Use a pay-as-you-go program. Many providers offer usage-based insurance that tracks your driving behavior through a telemetric device and only charges based on how much you drive. A few examples of usage-based programs are Progressive’s Snapshot, Allstate’s Drivewise, and State Farm’s Drive Safe & Save.
  • Take advantage of discounts. Discounts are price reductions insurance companies offer to encourage loyalty and reduce driver risk. Each carrier will have their own set menu of discounts, and policyholders can significantly reduce the cost of their premiums by qualifying for as many of them as possible. 

Common Insurance Discounts for California Drivers

The best car insurance companies in California will offer multiple discounts to help customers lower the cost of insurance premiums. While the titles, guidelines, and availability of these discounts vary by provider, here are common insurance discounts you’ll find in California.

  • Safe driver: Drivers with good driving records save money, and those with no at-fault accidents or motor vehicle violations will save even more.
  • Continuously-insured drivers: Motorists who have been insured for six months or more will be considered “continuously insured” and receive a modest discount. But those who have held this status for multiple years may receive even more savings.
  • Good student: Young drivers with good grades could get rewarded with lower premiums. Typically, a grade-point average of a “B” or better will qualify for these types of discounts.
  • Safety features: Providers discount vehicles with safety features, like anti-lock brakes and daytime running lights. Similarly, policyholders who install anti-theft devices may also earn a discount.
  • Payments and billing: Those with good account-management skills can potentially enjoy discounts for enrolling in paperless billing, setting up automatic payments, and paying their premiums in full.

Essential Cost Variables for Insurance

As with everything, there are a host of variables that will affect the cost of your insurance, as no two people are exactly alike. With that in mind, here are the variables that’ll change the cost of your insurance. 

Age

Insurance carriers will use a policyholder’s age as a proxy for driving experience. Since young drivers and teen drivers both lack the practical knowledge of a more mature motorist, they often pay higher rates early on in their driving careers. 

Furthermore, multiple studies have shown that younger people are not only the cause of more accidents than their older counterparts, but that accidents involving young drivers are also more severe. In a recent report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 25 percent of young drivers had been involved in one or more crashes.

This increased risk translates into higher premiums. But the good news is that age-based rates begin to balance out around age 25 for most drivers, provided they maintain a clean driving record. Most motorists pay the least for car insurance between the ages of 40 to 60.

Gender, Credit Score, and Location

In other states, traits such as a motorist’s gender, ZIP code, and credit score are all used by insurance underwriters to estimate the risk a policyholder carries. As an example, men with bad credit who live in a congested city would pay higher insurance rates than women with good credit who reside in the suburbs. 

However, California has laws that prevent insurance providers from using any of these traits to determine how much you’ll pay for car insurance. 

Vehicle/Model

Providers use details about your car to evaluate insurance costs. They will look at the make and model of your vehicle, its accident rates, along with its age, value, and safety features to establish the cost of your premiums.

Some car models, including Subarus, Toyotas, and Hondas, are often cheaper to insure than other brands. Similarly, sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are also frequently more affordable to insure than pickup trucks and sports cars.

Type of Coverage

More so than any other cost variables, the type of coverage, its deductible, and its policy limits all have a pronounced impact on the cost of your insurance premiums. These are the standard types of car insurance policies you’ll find in California.

  • Liability: Liability is the minimum coverage required in California, and this policy protects you in two ways. Bodily injury liability covers someone else’s medical costs when you’re at fault in an accident, and property damage liability covers the damage to somebody else’s car also when you’re at fault. 
  • Comprehensive: Covers your vehicle from non-accident damage such as fire, theft, or vandalism.
  • Collision: Covers damage to your vehicle caused by an accident, regardless of fault.
  • Medical payments: Covers medical costs, funeral expenses, and loss of wages for both you and your passengers, regardless of fault.
  • Uninsured and underinsured motorist: Covers medical and property damage expenses when the at-fault motorist is inadequately insured.

FAQs

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q. How much is car insurance in California?

A. The average annual cost of car insurance in California is about $600 for minimum coverage and $2,160 for full coverage. This translates to $50 to $180 for those who prefer to pay their premiums monthly. Most estimates place the annual cost of insuring a car in California to be roughly 60 percent more than the national average.

Still, the cost of your insurance premium will be determined by variables such as your driving record, claims history, age, and the value and safety of your car. 

Q. Who has the cheapest car insurance in California?

A. The cheapest car insurance in California is typically Geico, Mercury, Wawanesa, and AAA NorCal. Many authorities ballpark minimum coverage costs for older drivers is between $32 to $46 per month with any of these providers. But these premiums can be as much as four times higher for teen drivers and those with a DUI.

Mercury may have the cheapest insurance rates for full coverage, and the company claims that its California customers save an average of $677 with their price points and discounts. Full coverage policies often include a blend of liability, collision, comprehensive, medical payments, and uninsured/underinsured motorist protections.

While California only requires drivers to carry liability to legally operate a car, full coverage is highly recommended for those who can afford it.

Q. How much coverage do you need in California?

A. California requires motorists to carry liability insurance to lawfully drive a car. The minimum coverage requirement is 15/30/5 for bodily injury liability and property damage liability. That pays $15,000 per passenger and $30,000 per accident for someone else’s medical costs when you are liable for a traffic accident. It also pays up to $5,000 to cover damage to their vehicle.

Bear in mind that if you purchased a vehicle with an auto loan, your loan servicer will most likely insist you carry full coverage until the balance is paid. Similarly, when you are leasing a car in California, the dealership or rental car company may require a liability policy of 100/300/100 that pays $100,000, $300,000, and $100,000, respectively.

Q. Is California a no-fault state?

A. No. California is an at-fault state, rather than a no-fault state. This means that the motorist who is assigned fault in a traffic accident is liable for paying medical and property damage expenses sustained by the victim. On the other hand, no-fault states require drivers to file claims directly through their providers after an accident, regardless of fault. This is why some states require personal injury protection (PIP) and others, like California, do not.

Our Methodology

To choose the best companies and products for this list, the team at The Drive looked at a large number of financial products from various providers. We focused on cost, product features and options, ease of use, customer service, and past customer ratings as the most important factors in our ratings.