California Car Insurance Laws: Everything You Need to Know

By Randy Luton | Last Updated: 06/19/2024

The auto insurance requirements in California are simple and direct. It is mandatory for every driver in California to buy car insurance. In addition, all drivers must carry proof of insurance coverage when driving. Those who use a motor vehicle without enough insurance coverage are at danger and may face severe fines.

In accordance with California car insurance laws, drivers must carry a specified level of financial obligation of their choice and maintain proof of insurance in their vehicles. When queried by a law enforcement official, drivers are obliged by law to provide proof of insurance.

What are the minimum requirements for auto insurance in California?

The majority of drivers obtain vehicle insurance to satisfy their financial responsibility obligation. All drivers are required by car insurance laws in California to have at least the minimum coverage level for liability insurance in CA to protect themselves and others on the roadway, which includes:

Coverage Type Amount
Bodily Injury Per Person$15,000
Bodily Injury Per Accident$30,000
Property Damage Per Accident$5,000

Auto insurance requirements in California are lower than those of the majority of states. This indicates that having the basic minimum coverage is unlikely to provide enough protection.

Even minor to severe injuries might rapidly deplete your physical injury limitations if you need emergency treatment. Adding additional coverage or boosting your present limits may be prudent if your objective is to be completely covered.

Alternative Types of Financial Responsibility

As per California car insurance laws, drivers may opt out of the state’s minimum insurance requirements if they utilize an authorized “alternative kind of financial responsibility,” which is basically another method of showing you can pay for damages you cause in an auto accident:

  • Cash Deposit: Drivers have the option of making a $35,000 cash deposit into a savings account and submitting the account details to the DMV. If you want to do so, the state will monitor your account and deduct funds straight from it if you are at fault in an auto accident. If the account balance falls below $35,000, you will be in breach of the law, just as if you let your auto insurance expire.
  • Certificate of self-insurance from the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles): Individuals with more than 25 automobiles registered in their name may get a certificate of self-insurance from the DMV stating that they can pay medical expenses, repair costs, property damage, and bodily injury liability charges. If you choose to seek self-insurance, you will be required to submit evidence to the state that you can afford to cover these expenses in the case of an accident for which you are at blame.
  • Surety bond: You may acquire a $35,000 surety bond that assures you’ll pay both bodily injury and property damage charges if you cause an automobile accident. If you are unable to pay these expenses, the surety firm will do so on your behalf and request reimbursement later. The California Department of Insurance maintains a list of registered surety businesses that issue surety bonds to drivers who prefer this form of coverage over California liability insurance.

These other sorts of financial responsibilities might be a good idea for individuals who possess a large quantity of property that requires insurance, such as a fleet of automobiles, or who are wealthy and can always pay for losses out of pocket.

However, most individuals do not have $35,000 or more put aside for an accident, therefore the great majority of California drivers are better off obtaining regular auto insurance as opposed to self-insuring.

California is an at-fault state

Yes, auto insurance laws in California say that it is an at-fault state. This implies that fault must be determined throughout the insurance procedure. If you have collision and comprehensive coverage on your insurance, your coverage will continue to pay for your car’s damage in the event of an accident.

This is often a quick procedure since police records and citations issued shortly after an accident are used to assess liability. As necessary, insurance plans may perform a more comprehensive inquiry. No matter the kind of state you reside in, collision insurance may save you a great deal of trouble.

If you’ve been injured as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian in an automobile accident in California, auto insurance laws allow you to initiate one or more of the following actions to claim compensation for your loss, including medical costs, lost income, damage to property, and “pain and suffering”:

  • Seek coverage under your own insurance
  • Seek a third-party claim via the negligent motorist’s liability insurance
  • File a claim for damages against the irresponsible driver

With car insurance laws in California, you may submit a claim with the other party’s insurance company if you feel they are at fault. In California, the insurance of the people involved in an accident assesses liability. They investigate the collision’s circumstances to establish who was at fault. In some instances, the fault might really be ascribed to both parties.

Grace Period offered by California auto insurance laws

In this era of same-day auto insurance; some people look out for grace periods on new vehicles. The grace period for new car insurance in California is 30 days, which is the amount of time you have after acquiring a vehicle to purchase insurance and present evidence of current coverage to the California DMV.

If you currently have California liability insurance, you have up to 45 days to either add your vehicle to it or terminate it and get new coverage. This grace period solely applies to car registration. To prevent receiving a penalty if you are stopped over or paying out-of-pocket for damage in an at-fault collision, you must have auto insurance coverage if you are driving the vehicle.

Cost of Car Insurance in California

The typical cost for car insurance in California averages around $1,807, with a minimum coverage option at $624. Factors like age, driving history, vehicle type, and coverage choices influence rates. While the state mandates a minimum, many opt for added coverage for enhanced protection. Rates can differ significantly between providers, so it’s wise to shop around and compare quotes from multiple insurers.

Penalties for Driving without Car Insurance in California

The following fines are applicable if you are found driving without insurance:

OffenseAmount of Penalties/Fine
First Offense$100 to $200 fine
Second Offense$200 to $500 fine
Other PenaltiesYour license and registration may be suspended, and you may be compelled to submit an SR-22 certificate to the state.
As per California car insurance law 2024, drivers who do not have the minimum required coverage can be fined up to $1,000 and/or have their license suspended.

Before the state can restore your driver’s license, you must submit an SR-22 to demonstrate that you have a minimum auto insurance in California requirements. This is normally only required for those who have committed major offenses, like driving under the influence or driving without insurance.

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California’s Low-Cost Auto Insurance Program (CLCA)

Car insurance laws in California confine this policy to low-income California drivers with valid driver’s licenses, therefore not all state residents are eligible. Those who qualify have access to reasonable minimum auto insurance in California requirements, allowing them to meet their financial obligations and comply with the law. It is essential to remember, however, that the coverage may not be enough to pay losses if the drivers cause a severe collision.

Under the California Low Cost Auto Insurance program, California drivers with low incomes may get insurance at an inexpensive cost.

Coverage TypeAmount
Bodily InjuryUp to $15,000 per person or $30,000 per claim in an at-fault accident
Property DamageUp to $5,000 to cover property damage caused by your car
Uninsured Motorist Bodily InjuryOptional coverage of up to $15,000 for injuries caused to the other vehicle involved in the accident and up to $30,000 per accident
Medical PaymentsOptional coverage that pays up to $2,500 per person per accident for medical expenses related to an accident

Eligibility for California Low Cost Auto Insurance

According to the car laws in California, it is reserved only for people living below the federal poverty line and in need of inexpensive vehicle insurance. Since this is not a standard insurance policy, coverage options are limited and qualifying auto insurance requirements in California are rigorous. In addition, just a few insurance firms are licensed to offer this coverage, yet buyers have little choice in the matter.

To qualify for this program, you must fulfil household and income requirements, as well as driving record and car restrictions. These include:

  • Minimum of 16 years of age
  • A California driver’s license that is valid
  • Vehicle with a maximum value of $25,000
  • All family vehicles covered by CLCA
  • Below 250 percent of the federal poverty threshold for annual family income
  • One accident and one ticket during the prior three years.
  • Maximum of two vehicles and two policies per individual.

Additional Auto Insurance Coverage Options in California

  • Comprehensive Coverage: Coverage for non-collision incidents such as theft, vandalism, and natural disasters.
  • Collision Coverage: Covers damage to your car from collisions, regardless of who is at fault.
  • Loan/Lease Payoff: This Gap insurance is essential if you owe more on your car loan or lease than the vehicle’s current market value. It covers the “gap” between the two in case of total loss.
  • Medical Payments: Assists with medical expenses for you and your passengers after an accident.
  • Rental Car Reimbursement: Provides a rental car while your vehicle is being repaired.
  • Roadside Assistance : Offers help like towing, flat tire changes, and lock-out services.
  • Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist: Covers costs if you’re in an accident caused by a driver without insurance or insufficient insurance.

Proof of Insurance Requirements in California

It is mandatory for California drivers to carry proof of insurance in their vehicles at all times. This proof can be in the form of an insurance ID card or a digital version on a smartphone. It must be presented during traffic stops, at the scene of an accident, or when renewing vehicle registration.

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How to apply for CLCA?

The application procedure for the CLCA insurance program differs from that of purchasing other insurance plans. You are unable to compare quotations or choose a supplier. To establish your eligibility, you must visit the CLCA website and complete the questionnaire, or contact a CLCA representative.

The enrolling procedure is basic. You just need to click the “Apply Now” button on the website, pick an agent, and provide the necessary information. People are encouraged to call the California Department of Insurance hotline in the event of concerns or disagreements.

Customer’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Is auto insurance mandatory in California?

    Automobile insurance is required in California. In accordance with car insurance laws in California, you must demonstrate financial responsibility for every car you possess. Additionally, you must always have evidence of insurance in your vehicle.

  • What are the minimal California auto insurance requirements?

    Minimum auto insurance requirements in California are $15,000 per person in bodily injury liability coverage, $30,000 per accident in bodily injury liability coverage, and $5,000 in property damage coverage.

  • What does it mean for California to be a no-fault state?

    It implies that if you cause an accident, you are responsible for the other party’s medical and property damage expenditures.

  • Who qualifies for CLCA insurance coverage?

    Only California drivers living below the federal poverty threshold qualify for this program. If a household has more than one vehicle, all of them must be insured under the CLCA program.

  • In California, what form of insurance is required?

    California drivers just needed to have California Liability insurance. Both bodily injury and property damage liability coverage is necessary.

  • When you are not at fault, how does California car insurance work?

    In California, if you are not at fault in an accident, the at-fault driver’s insurance is typically responsible for covering your damages. However, if the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured, your own uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage can kick in to cover your losses.

  • How does not having liability coverage affect me?

    Driving without liability coverage in California is illegal. If caught, you could face fines, suspension of your driver’s license, and your vehicle could be impounded. Additionally, if you’re in an accident without liability coverage, you could be held personally responsible for the damages.

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  • Visited the website of DMV to understand car insurance requirements in California.

Editorial Guidelines: The above is meant as general information to help you understand the different aspects of auto insurance. This information does not refer to any specific auto insurance policy. Coverages and other features vary between insurers, vary by state, and are not available in all states. References to costs of coverages/repair, average or typical premiums, amounts of losses, deductibles, etc., are indicative and may not apply to your situation. We encourage you to speak to our insurance representative and to read your policy contract to fully understand your coverages.

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Randy Luton is the Founder and CEO of RateForce. He is passionate about InsurTech services and has in-depth knowledge about the auto insurance sector of the USA.