How to Meet California Minimum Insurance Requirements

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California minimum insurance: yellow lines on the road

If you’re driving a car in California, you need to be sure to meet California’s minimum insurance requirements. All states have minimum car insurance requirements that you must buy to operate a vehicle on the road, and California is no exception.

While the minimum coverage may meet the local law requirements, you may want to go above and beyond the minimum requirements. More robust coverage can help protect yourself, your family, and everyone else on the road. We’ll cover what the California requirements are, how much coverage you need, and how to select a policy that works for you.

California Minimum Insurance Requirements

The State of California requires at least the following coverages:

  • $15,000 for injury/death to one person
  • $30,000 for injury/death to more than one person
  • $5,000 for damage to property

Liability insurance compensates a person other than the policyholder for personal injury and/or property damage. To meet California minimum insurance requirements, you’ll need to purchase $15,000 in bodily injury liability per person, $30,000 in bodily injury liability per accident, and $5,000 in property damage liability per accident.

Aside from liability insurance, California has no other auto insurance requirements. This means that you don’t necessarily have to include optional coverage like comprehensive or collision insurance as a part of your insurance policy.


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Why Minimum Coverage is Not Enough

California minimum insurance: couple driving through California using their convertible

While meeting California minimum insurance coverage requirements is a good first step, it’s not usually a good idea to stick with these minimums. Low coverage amounts and missing coverage types could mean that you’re on the hook for a hefty bill if you do get into a car accident.

If you have a property damage liability limit of only $5,000, you may need to pay additional repair costs out of pocket. These costs can really add up, especially if you’re in a severe accident. For example, on a BMW 5 Series, the front bumper cover alone can cost $600. A single headlamp for that same car is $250. Similarly, if you rear-end a Maserati Levante, you could have $5,000 in just the bumper and liftgate cost before it gets to a custom shop, where they charge $300 an hour for labor.

Low bodily injury coverage amounts can also cost you a pretty penny in the event of an accident. The bodily injury liability minimum requirement is $15,000 per person, but in California, the average cost of a single night in a hospital is between $2,100 and $3,500. That’s just to rent the room. Medicine, pain relievers, surgeries, procedures, and everything else are all extra. If someone is severely injured, the cost of the first night in the ER, including the ambulance ride, can easily cost more than $15,000.

Once your auto insurance coverage runs out, you’re on the hook for the rest of the costs. In a worst-case scenario, you could spend years working to pay off someone else’s car repairs or medical bills.

Recommended Insurance Coverage in California

If meeting the state minimum requirements isn’t enough, then how much insurance do California drivers really need? We break down common types of car insurance, along with how much you should consider purchasing.

Liability Insurance

Unless you have an extremely high net worth, a good rule of thumb is to purchase 100/300/100 liability coverage. That means $100,000 per person in bodily injury liability, $300,000 per accident in bodily injury liability, and $100,000 per accident in property damage liability.

If you have extensive assets, consider purchasing enough coverage to meet or exceed your net worth. In the event that you do get into an accident, you could be sued for the cost of medical expenses and other costs if they exceed your insurance coverage.

Uninsured Motorist or Underinsured Motorist Insurance

This type of insurance protects you if you get into an accident with another driver who is either uninsured or lacks adequate insurance coverage. It’s usually a good idea to match your underinsured motorist coverage and/or uninsured motorist coverage limits with your liability insurance coverage limits.

Collision Coverage

Collision coverage covers repairs for your own vehicle if you get into an accident. If you lease or finance your vehicle, your lender may require collision coverage. Even if it’s not required, it’s a wise option since it can save you a lot of money on car repairs. You should set your deductible as low as you can comfortably afford.

Comprehensive Coverage

Like collision coverage, comprehensive coverage may be required if you lease or finance your car but is otherwise optional. This type of coverage covers damage to your vehicle that isn’t the result of an accident. For example, if a tree falls on your car or is subject to vandalism, it could be covered by comprehensive insurance. Comprehensive insurance is also typically very affordable, which means it’s usually worth the extra cost for peace of mind.

Gap Insurance

The moment you drive your car off the lot, it begins to depreciate. Since comprehensive and collision coverage limits depend on the overall value of your vehicle, you could end up owing more money to your lender than your insurance policy will pay for if your car gets totaled. Gap insurance can bridge the gap, covering the difference between your auto loan and your insurance coverage limits. This coverage is generally a good idea if you owe more than your vehicle is worth.

How to Lower Your Auto Insurance Rates

Purchasing additional car insurance can be more expensive in the short term, but it offers your greater financial protection in the long run. If you’re looking to lower your rates while maintaining the appropriate coverage, here are a few tips to reduce your auto insurance premiums.

  • Drive responsibly: If you’re going to drink, don’t drive. Get an Uber or Lyft. There are a lot of life-saving reasons not to drive drunk, but let’s talk about your insurance. A DUI will have lasting financial consequences, and you’ll pay increased rates for years.
  • Avoid getting a traffic violation: If you’re looking to keep your premiums low, avoid speeding or other dangerous driving. Insurance companies will likely up your rates if you have any tickets or moving violations on your record.
  • Take care of your car: Some accidents happen because of car malfunctions. The best way to avoid this is to make sure that you keep your car in tip-top shape.
  • Ask about discounts: Be sure to ask your insurance agent about discounts. It’s smart to focus on the biggest possible discounts you’re eligible for, like a multi-policy or multi-vehicle discount.
  • Compare insurance rates: Shopping around for car insurance and comparing rates is one of the most effective ways to lower your car insurance costs. Experts recommend that you shop around regularly, generally every 6-12 months.

How to Find the Best California Auto Insurance

Car driving through a tree trunk tunnel

The best way to lower your California car insurance costs is to shop around and compare rates. This allows you to compare different insurance companies and ensures that you’re making an apples-to-apples comparison with the same amounts of coverage.

Compare.com makes it quick and easy to get personalized insurance quotes from multiple insurance providers. You can rest assured that you’ll get enough car insurance coverage to meet your needs at a rate that won’t break the bank. Compare car insurance rates using our free tool to get started!


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