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Minimum California Car Insurance Requirements Explained: Liability, Collision and Property Damage

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If you’re a driver in California you’re legally required to carry a minimum amount of insurance coverage. This requirement is consistent across moss states — with only the specific limits varying based on your region. If you get behind the wheel in the Golden State, you’re expected to have at least 15/30/5 in coverage. This article breaks down the exact law, stipulations, exemptions and other relevant details.

Minimum Car Insurance Requirements in California

The law (referred to as the “financial responsibilities law”) requires all California drivers carry at least the following car insurance:
  • $15,000 for injury/death to one person.
  • $30,000 for injury/death to more than one person.
  • $5,000 for damage to property.
These limits are put in place to cover both the driver, and others on the road. The state wants to ensure that, should you get into an accident where you’re at fault, you have the appropriate funds to cover any damage you cause. The same protection is afforded to you. If someone gets into an accident with you and you sue them, insurance ensures you will see your payday.
Note that there is a difference between the minimum amount of coverage you’re required to carry and how much you SHOULD carry. We always advise readers to take stock of how much they can reasonably afford. You should asses your total assets and net worth and try to carry enough liability coverage to cover that. For example, if your total net worth is $100,000 see if you can comfortably afford $100,000 in liability coverage.
Why? Carrying on with the above example, imagine you only got $30,000 in coverage and you’re worth $100,000. If you get into an accident, get sued and the judge rules against you, you may be liable for more than $30,000. In that case, you’ll end up paying out of pocket. If a you carried more insurance, it could provide you more funds to pay your fines.

Alternatives to Carrying Insurance in California

California law does allow you to get other minimum amounts of proof to demonstrate you can take on financial risk yourself. If you meet certain criteria, you can get away without having to pay for insurance. While allowable, we advise against doing so because, once again, it exposes your finances to a lawsuit.
So, what are those alternatives to minimum car insurance coverage?
  • A DMV issued self-insurance certificate
  • Proof of a cash deposit of $35,000 with the DMV
  • A surety bond for $35,000 from a licensed business in California

Commercial Car Insurance Requirements for California

If you operate a vehicle for commercial reasons, you are required to carry commercial car insurance with different limits. Therefore, if you drive for Uber or Lyft or operate a trucking business, you should know that different limits will apply to you. Below is a breakout of what California expects from commercial drivers:
Vehicle LoadMinimum Commercial Car Insurance Requirements (California)
1-7 Passengers$750,000
8-15 Passengers$1,500,000
16+ Passengers$5,000,000
Less than 10,000 lbs. in property (no passengers)$300,000 liability
More than 10,000 lbs. in property (no passengers)$750,000 single limit
Household goods (no passengers)250/500/100 or $600,000 CSL
Intrastate motor carriers petroleum/waste petroleum products$500/1,000/200 (other than property being transported) or $1.2 million CSL
Hazardous substance carriers$5 million or $1 million CSL depending on substance (Federal Regulation)

What are the Penalties for Driving Without Minimum Insurance Coverage in California?

We recommend checking our out full guide in the penalties for driving without insurance. However, if you’re after just a quick summary, the following table breaks down the consequences of getting caught. In short, you may face a fine over $700, your vehicle may be impounded, and you might lose driving privileges for some period of time.
OffenseFinesAdditional Penalties
1st$100-$200 plus penalty assessmentsVehicle may be impounded.
2nd$200-$500 plus penalty assessmentsVehicle may be impounded.
1st + Collision$100-$200 plus penalty assessmentsMandatory one-year suspension of license. Driver must maintain SR-22 and proof of financial responsibility for 3 years after license being reinstated. Vehicle may be impounded.
2nd + Collision$200-$500 plus penalty assessmentsLicense may be suspended for up to 4 years. Driver must maintain SR-22 and proof of financial responsibility for 3 years after license being reinstated. Vehicle may be impounded.

Frequently Asked Questions About California’s Car Insurance Requirements

As always, we listen to the most burning questions readers have about any topic we cover. For quick access, below you’ll find the most frequently asked questions regarding car insurance requirements.

Does California require collision insurance? Collision and comprehensive insurance are optional in California.
What type of insurance is required in California? You are required to carry property damage liability insurance. This covers damage done to other people’s property.
Do you need insurance to register a vehicle in California? Yes. If you want to register a vehicle in California, you need to have insurance.
What is the minimum amount of liability insurance coverage required in California? $15,000 per person, $30,000 per accident and $5,000.
What are sr22 insurance requirements in California? An SR22 is a certificate of insurance. An auto insurer will file it with the California DMV office in order to confirm that you meet the state’s minimum requirements for liability coverage. You are required to obtain an SR22 if you wish to reinstate your license following a DMV suspension or revocation.
How do I obtain a DMV-issued self-insurance certificate? If you wish to put down a security deposit or obtain self-insurance, contact the DMV Financial Responsibility Unit at (917) 657 – 6520. To insure yourself through a surety bond, contact the Department of Insurance at or by calling 1-800-927-4357.