California car insurance buyer's guide

California car insurance buyer’s guide

Information on California auto insurance can be hard to find, so we’ve gathered up everything you need to know in one place, including required coverages, penalties for driving uninsured, ticket and point information, and even how to save money. If you’re looking for specific information, click the links below to go straight to a section.

Required car insurance coverages

Bodily injury liabilityProperty damage liability
$15,000 per person
$30,000 per accident
$5,000 per accident
In English, that means in the event of an accident, your insurance will pay a maximum  of $15,000 for one person’s medical bills, and if more than one person is injured, the most they will pay is $30,000. Your insurance will also only pay $5,000 towards property damage, so anything more than a fender bender will likely leave you paying out of pocket. California is an at-fault state, which means there are no restrictions on accident-related lawsuits.

To give an example, imagine you rear-end a car with two people and both are injured. Their $10,000 car is totaled, and the medical bills are $4,000 for the first person and $26,000 for the second. How much would you have to pay? If you have California’s minimum liability limits, the answer would be $16,000. Even though you’re covered up to $30,000 total, remember that the most they’ll pay for one person’s injuries is $15,000, so you’re on the hook for the remaining $11,000. Your property damage liability coverage tops out at $5,000, so you’d also owe the $5,000 difference in value.

You should also note that minimum coverage only pays for other people’s damages, so without buying additional insurance, you’ll be on the hook for your own. Comprehensive and collision insurance, which cover physical damages to your vehicle, aren’t mandated by law, but are required by lending companies if your vehicle is leased or financed.

Optional coverages

bodily injury
property damage
Medical payments
$15,000 per person
$30,000 per accident
$3,500 per accident$500 minimum
$25,000 maximum
Like comprehensive and collision, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage isn’t mandatory, but is highly recommended, since about 15 percent of California drivers are uninsured. If the person who hits you doesn’t have insurance, recovering damages can be a nightmare, but with UI/UM, your property damage and injuries are covered up to the policy limits. Medical payments insurance, which covers the medical bills of you and your passengers regardless of fault, is also optional but highly recommended. Other types of optional coverage include towing and roadside assistance and rental reimbursement, which covers the cost of a rental car while yours is being repaired after an accident. Your agent will be able to explain the options further and help find the coverages that work best for your situation.