About 15 percent of California drivers do not have insurance and face serious legal and financial consequences if they’re ever in an accident.

Without insurance, drivers can be held liable for the damages and injuries they cause. There’s also a risk of fines from law enforcement and increased insurance costs later on. Since having a car is essential to getting around California, it’s important to maintain at least the state minimum required coverage. 

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive to purchase an insurance policy that meets your needs. Based on internal Insurify data, the average cost of car insurance in California in 2021 is $256 per month, but comparison shopping often yields rates better than that for drivers. With Insurify, you can compare customized insurance quotes from multiple insurance providers in one place, so it’ll be easy to identify the best deal. You’ll just need to answer some questions about your vehicle and driving record to get started. 

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Minimum Car Insurance Requirements in California 

According to California law, there are four ways you can demonstrate financial responsibility with the Department of Motor Vehicles. The following fulfill California’s financial responsibility requirements:

  • Maintaining an active motor vehicle liability insurance policy
  • A $35,000 cash deposit with the DMV
  • A surety bond for $35,000 from a licensed CA business
  • A self-insurance certificate from the DMV

It’s generally easiest and cheapest to purchase a California car insurance policy, but you’ll need to make sure it meets the minimum requirements. All California drivers are required to have:

You’ll need to show proof of car insurance coverage when you get your vehicle registration, if you are involved in a collision, or if you are pulled over by a police officer. 

Bodily injury liability coverage helps pay for injuries to or death of another driver or their passengers in a car accident that you cause. Property damage liability coverage helps pay for repairs to their vehicle or property. Neither type of coverage will pay for your injuries or damages to your vehicle. 

Is state minimum car insurance enough in California?

If you only purchase the minimum liability insurance in California, you could face expensive repairs to your own vehicle and unaffordable medical bills if you are at fault in an accident. That’s because the state minimum liability insurance only pays for the other party’s injuries and damages. If you would be in financial trouble if your car was totaled, you should definitely purchase comprehensive and collision coverage. And if you have a loan or a lease, you’ll need to purchase them anyway. 

Collision coverage pays for repairs to your own vehicle, even if you cause the accident. If your car is stolen, vandalized, or damaged by something other than a car, comprehensive coverage can help pay to repair or replace your vehicle. 

You may also want to purchase uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, which can kick in to pay for damages to your car or injuries incurred by you or your passengers if you are hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver. And if you have a high deductible on your health insurance plan, you should consider medical payments coverage as well. This will cover your medical expenses regardless of who is at fault in the accident. 

What is the penalty for driving without car insurance in California?

Driving without auto insurance coverage in California has legal consequences if you are caught by law enforcement. You could lose your driver’s license, and your vehicle could be impounded if you cannot provide proof of insurance. Uninsured drivers also face fines as follows:

  • First offense: $100–$200 fine plus $260–$520 in penalty assessment fees
  • Second offense: $200–$500 fine plus $520–$1,300 in penalty assessment fees

If you can’t show proof of insurance after an accident, your license will be suspended for one year, and your car could be impounded until you pay fees associated with storage and towing. It’s important to follow California’s insurance laws and avoid any lapses in coverage so that you don’t lose your driving privileges.

Minimum Requirements in California for SR-22 and FR-44 Policies

If your license is suspended for driving without insurance in California, you’ll need to have an SR-22 on file for three years. This certificate is provided to the DMV by your insurance company as proof you have a policy meeting the state minimum requirements. Because an SR-22 designates you as a high-risk driver, an SR-22 policy will have a higher premium. 

There are no additional requirements for getting an SR-22 policy, but you do need to carry California’s state minimum coverage and pay a filing fee. Don’t let your insurance policy lapse, or the clock will reset on your SR-22.

SR-22 insurance can be expensive, as many car insurance companies don’t want to assume the risk of insuring a high-risk driver. That doesn’t mean you’re entirely out of options! Insurify can help you compare up to 20 car insurance quotes at a time—whether you require an SR-22 or not! 

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Additional Coverage California Drivers Should Consider

In addition to uninsured motorist coverage and MedPay, California drivers may want to consider emergency roadside assistance coverage, which can help pay for things like flat tires and towing. 

Policyholders should also consider whether the minimum amount of liability coverage is really enough; what if you cause an accident that leads to expensive medical bills or repairs for the other driver? The average bodily injury liability loss was more than $18,000 in 2019, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Since the state minimum coverage only has a limit of $15,000 per person, it may not be sufficient to protect your finances. You could face a personal injury lawsuit for medical bills above and beyond what your insurance policy pays. 

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California Minimum Car Insurance FAQ

Is car insurance mandatory in California?

Car insurance is mandatory for all private passenger vehicles in California unless you can demonstrate financial responsibility in another way. At a minimum, you’ll need $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident in bodily injury liability coverage and $5,000 in property damage liability coverage to stay legal on the road.

In what situations do drivers in California have the right to sue?

Since California is an at-fault or tort state, you have the right to sue another driver for any damages and injuries they cause above what their liability insurance pays out.

Are there alternative proofs of financial responsibility in California?

Yes. You can make a $35,000 cash deposit with the DMV, get a $35,000 surety bond from a company licensed to do business in the state, or apply for a certificate of self-insurance.

What if I can’t afford car insurance in California?

If you are a low-income resident, you may qualify for California’s Low-Cost Automobile Insurance Program. You can check your eligibility and your rate online or find an insurance agent to answer your questions. If you don’t qualify for the program, you could still save hundreds just by comparing auto policies from multiple insurers with Insurify. It’s quick and easy to get personalized quotes from up to 20 insurance companies and find an affordable policy that meets your needs.

Updated March 9, 2021

Lindsay Frankel is a Denver-based personal finance writer for Insurify. Her work has been featured in publications such as LendingTree and FinanceBuzz. When she's not writing, you can find her enjoying the great outdoors with her rescue pup, playing music, or listening to audiobooks.