The Best California Auto Insurance Companies
The best California auto insurance companies should cover more than just the occasional fender-bender, so we’ve pulled together a list of the top five in the Golden State. We compared discounts, financial strength ratings, and quotes in order to help you find the best coverage for your needs. California is known for its low insurance limits for auto insurance, but opting for more coverage is always a smart decision. Our top picks for the best auto insurance put you a step ahead, and offer great, affordable coverage. These national providers are all known for excellent coverage, customer service, and competitive pricing, meaning you don’t have to empty your pockets for sub-par service.
While it’s true that California has some of the lowest minimums for auto insurance in the nation (only Florida requires less), it’s always a smart idea to pay for more coverage. Armed only with California’s minimums, you’re at high risk for having to pay out of pocket after an accident — either for someone else’s medical bills and damaged property if you’re at fault or for your own if you’re hit by an uninsured driver (which roughly one in six California drivers are). Because of this, we recommend comparing quotes from multiple companies below to see which offers you the best quote for the highest coverage.
The 5 Best Auto Insurance Companies in California
The Best California Auto Insurance Companies: Summed Up
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How We Found the Best California Auto Insurance Companies
We started by identifying California’s five biggest auto insurers by market share and compared their financial strength, coverage options, and customer service, using methodology similar to that in our review on the best car insurance providers. Then we checked J.D. Power and Consumer Reports to see how each company’s customers scored it, both on overall satisfaction and on their claims experiences.
Next, we looked at the California Department of Insurance’s “Justified Complaint Ratio” for each company in 2018 (the most recent year with data available). Justified complaints are those that “require … corrective action be taken against the insurer, or [lead] to insurer compromise, or other remedy for the complainant” — so a lower number is better. Finally, we collected quotes from each company, taking note of coverage and discount offers.
Cheapest Car Insurance Companies in California
Average Annual Premium by Company
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Quadrant car insurance rate data as of 07/01/2019.
Top 3 Cheapest Companies
- GEICO: $836
- Wawanesa Insurance: $881
- 21st Century: $956
Top 3 Most Expensive Companies
- Alliance United: $1,312
- State Farm: $1,267
- Farmers Insurance: $1,259
The cheapest auto insurance companies in California are GEICO, Wawanesa Insurance, and 21st Century. California rates can go fairly high in part due to quirks within the laws for underwriting in the state. Two factors, gender and credit score, are by law not allowed to be considered when someone is applying for insurance in the state. This means fewer variables are being considered when an agent is calculating a rate. California also consistently leads the nation in vehicles stolen per year. Partly it’s a function of the state’s large size, but international shipping ports and a border with Mexico also make it easier for thieves to offload stolen cars before law enforcement finds them. Southern Californians should be especially wary, since more than half of all the state’s thefts occur in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. You’re also at higher risk if you drive a Honda Civic or Accord, the top two models stolen in California in 2017.
AAA is technically a federation of regional motor clubs across the United States, but it’s also one of California’s largest insurers thanks to a reciprocal inter-insurance exchange known as the Auto Exchange Club Group. Its Consumer Reports “Reader Score” puts it head and shoulders above every other top pick except for USAA. Additionally, both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports readers gave AAA high ratings across the board for claims handling.
AAA offers a pretty standard range of discounts, including multi-policy discounts for bundling things like auto and home insurance. And because it’s technically a “reciprocal inter-insurance exchange” rather than a single corporation, AAA customers are also eligible for dividends (a discretionary sum out of the company’s surplus). In 2018, policyholders received an average of $186 just for insuring with AAA.
State Farm is the provider of choice for 13.7% of California’s insured drivers — more than any other company. Those customers are fairly satisfied, with the company earning a stellar four out of five rating from J.D. Power and a high score from Consumer Reports. State Farm also has one of the lowest complaint ratios of our top picks.
When it comes to pricing, State Farm was middle of the pack. It does seem to offer more discounts for teen drivers than other companies and has several discounts for good drivers, so it’s still worth getting a quote. We liked the in-depth info on coverage types and options we found on State Farm’s website, and there’s no denying the company’s elite financial strength.
Among California’s biggest insurers, Allstate is about average in financial strength but offers some of the most expensive quotes, cheaper only than Farmers. It ranks about average in claims satisfaction and had one of the highest Justified Complaint ratios in 2018 of every provider we looked at. We found its website to be harder to navigate than others, too — big on eye-catching graphics, it takes longer to find information on relevant coverages and discounts.
Still, Allstate is a reputable name, and if you have a new car, it offers something none of the other companies on this list do: a “gap” coverage designed to negate the effects of depreciation if your car is totaled in the first year. But even if you drive an old clunker, saving on car insurance is all about comparing individualized quotes. Since there’s always the chance Allstate will offer you a great rate for your situation, it’s smart to grab a quote from it.
Farmers has the second-largest market share in California, at 10.7%, and a decent standing in Consumer Reports’ and J.D. Power’s ratings. The company’s financial strength is a couple of notches lower than the others on this list, but it’s still sturdy enough to reliably pay out on claims.
Perhaps the biggest drawback for Farmers, at least in California, is its high premium prices. It was the most expensive provider on our list in three out of four driver profiles we ran (the exception being a middle-aged woman, for whom it was just a few bucks cheaper than Allstate). Still, it’s worth getting a quote from Farmers, since every person’s insurance profile is different.
USAA often makes our top picks list when we do a state-specific breakdown of auto insurance companies. However, it rarely makes it to the No. 1 spot, despite having exceedingly high customer satisfaction ratings and the highest financial strength rating. This is because, simply, USAA is not for everyone. In fact, you can only get coverage if you are an active duty military member, a veteran, or the spouse of a military service member. We couldn’t even get quotes due to this stipulation.
Despite the high bar to entry, however, USAA boasts an excellent track record in both claims handling and customer service. The discounts offered by the provider come pretty standard but, with a financial strength rating of A++, you at least know that your claim will get paid. If you’re eligible, then USAA is definitely worth considering.
Guide to California Auto Insurance
How to get auto insurance in California
If you are a current resident of California, then starting or renewing your policy should be as easy as reviewing and updating your documentation and getting a quote. If you are new to the state, you may have a bit more hassle ahead of you. Firstly you’ll want to shop around and get a reasonable price. The next step would be updating your documentation on your car, which includes your license, title, and license plate. California also requires an emissions test and weight evaluation, so be prepared to do that before you take a trip to the DMV.
California minimum liability
The minimum auto insurance limits for California are 15/30/5. This comes out to $15,000 for bodily injury protection for one person in an accident, $30,000 for more than one person in an accident, and $5,000 for any property damage incurred during an accident. These limits are some of the lowest in the country, and while that may seem like a good thing, the risks of not being covered are far too large to ignore. Some see low minimums as a benefit since they will be paying less for coverage, but that also means they are unprepared for total losses or loss of life in an accident.
Don’t settle for the minimum
The biggest pitfall when it comes to purchasing minimum coverage is simple; you will have to pay out of pocket. Taking the minimum limits means that you have no safety net in the event of a total loss, or even injury to yourself or others. One wrong accident with an expensive car could spell financial ruin. If these costs can’t be covered by the provider, because of lackluster coverage, that bill falls on you. It’s always a good decision to purchase more coverage and prepare for the future in any way you can.
Most important auto insurance laws in California
The most important set of laws for California drivers are the low minimum requirements and the “fault” status of California. Being an “at fault” state means that whoever is responsible for an accident will be required to pick up the bill. So if you’re underinsured and at fault, you are liable to hit coverage limits and start paying out of pocket without the insurance company to back you up. These two laws can spell danger for the underinsured, and make insurance costs far higher than any monthly premium.
Think about coverage for theft
While it’s a nightmare having your car stolen, it’s even worse if you don’t have comprehensive insurance, which reimburses you for non-accident claims such as theft. The additional premium isn’t cheap, but you can lessen the cost by selecting a high deductible (like $2,000). It’s no fun to pay, but it sure beats starting from scratch purchasing a replacement vehicle.
California Auto Insurance FAQ
As much as you can afford. Some people think they can get away with only insuring for the minimum cost, but that can backfire. Even if you’re the most careful and diligent driver, accidents can happen and, in most cases, the minimum coverage just isn’t enough. If you want to avoid having the cost of repairs and injuries coming out of your pocket, it pays to pay a little more when it comes to auto insurance.
Your premium cost depends largely on personal factors: your age, credit score, how much you drive, and the type of vehicle you’re insuring, among other things. But because different providers will charge the same individual more or less for the same coverage, the only way to nail down your cheapest rate is to compare tailored quotes. Still, there are many other important factors besides price, making our reviews of California’s top auto insurers a good place to begin your search.
Probably not. Although some customers have been told erroneously that an increased risk of fires helped drive up their premiums, California’s highly regulated insurance market makes that very unlikely. Nancy Kincaid, press secretary for the California Department of Insurance, says that “insurers have to use their losses and their projected losses to justify raising their rates,” and there just “hasn’t been a catastrophic loss of cars from wildfires.”
We worked with Quadrant Information Services to provide data on auto insurance rates by company and credit score. Quadrant makes this information available using rate data insurers are required to file with state Departments of Insurance. Rates are based on sample profiles created by Reviews.com for comparative purposes.