Auto Insurance

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Automobile insurance is a way to protect yourself and your vehicle in case of an accident. Automobile insurance can also protect you from property damage and theft. It helps pay for the injuries and damage that can happen when you own and drive a car or other motor vehicle.

Your motor vehicle may be an auto, truck, van, motorcycle, or another kind of private passenger vehicle.

California Law

Your auto policy is a legal document, and it is important that you understand it.


California law requires that owners and operators of automobiles comply with the financial responsibility laws. It is illegal in California to drive without insurance.

You must show financial responsibility for any vehicle that you own, in case of injury to other people or damage to their property. Most people show financial responsibility by buying auto liability insurance. California law states, "All drivers and all owners of a motor vehicle shall at all times be able to establish financial responsibility and shall at all times carry in the vehicle evidence of the form of financial responsibility in effect for the vehicle."

If you do not have auto liability insurance, you can be fined, your license may be suspended, and your vehicle could be impounded.

Your Auto Policy

Your auto insurance policy is a contract between you and your insurance company. It explains:

  • Your costs.

  • Your coverages-the different things your policy covers.

  • Your exclusions-the things your policy does not cover.


Compare Policies

Auto policies can vary a lot. Discuss your insurance needs openly with your agent, broker, or insurance company. They can help you, but it is your responsibility to choose the insurance that is best for you.

You should always get several quotes. A quote is an estimate of your premium cost. Compare quotes before you buy a policy.


Know Your Policy

It is important to be familiar with your auto policy before you need it. Read it carefully. The Declarations page is a useful summary of your policy.

  • Call your agent, broker, or insurance company if you do not understand something in your policy.

  • Tell your agent, broker, or insurance company if you sell or buy a car or have new drivers in your household. 

  • Read your policy before you allow others to drive your car. Some drivers might be excluded from your policy. This means that the policy will not cover accidents when they are driving.

Introduction to Auto Insurance

Auto Insurance Costs


A premium is the amount you pay to the insurance company to buy your auto policy. The premium covers the term or length of the policy. The term can be 6 months or 1 year. Most insurance companies allow you to pay the premium in installments. Ask if there is an extra fee for doing this.



Some kinds of coverage have deductibles. A deductible is the amount you must pay before the insurance company pays anything on a claim. You usually pay a lower premium if you choose a higher deductible.

Example: Let's say that your Comprehensive coverage has a $500 deductible. If a storm causes $1,500 of damage to your car, you must pay the first $500. Then your Comprehensive coverage pays the rest-$1,000.



Each kind of coverage has its own limits. The limit is the total amount the insurance company will pay for a single accident or claim. The insurance company will not pay any costs above the limits.

Example: Let's say that your auto liability coverage has a $50,000/$100,000 limit on bodily injury for one accident. In this case, your insurance will not pay more than $50,000 for one person. It will not pay more than $100,000 for one accident. 

Do I pay a fee to my agent or broker?

Agents are paid by insurance companies, not by you. If you work with a broker, you will usually pay a broker's fee. See Working with an Agent or a Broker, below.

Do all insurance companies have the same costs?

No. Costs vary, even in the same area. When you shop for auto insurance you should compare costs and coverage from several companies. See Shopping for Auto Insurance below.

I cannot afford my premiums. What can I do?

California has a Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program for good drivers who are income eligible.

Liability Coverage and California Law

Liability coverage helps pay for injuries or damage to others when you are responsible. If you own and drive a vehicle, you must follow the financial responsibility laws in the state Vehicle Code. The most common way to do this is to buy auto liability coverage.Liability coverage does not pay for injuries to you or the people in your family. You can buy medical payments coverage for you and your family (see Other Kinds of Insurance, below).

Minimum Liability Coverage

By law, the limits below are the minimum insurance limits for a standard auto policy. You must have this much coverage.


Minimum Bodily Injury Liability Limits

  • $15,000 for the death or injury of any one person. If one person is injured in the accident, your coverage pays up to $15,000.

  • A total of $30,000 for the death or injury of more than one person in any one accident. If 2 or more people are injured, the coverage pays up to $30,000. The coverage will not pay more. The injured people share the money.

  • This coverage applies to injuries that you cause to someone else.


Minimum Property Damage Liability Limits

  • $5,000 for damage to the property of other people.

  • This pays for damage you cause to someone else's car, or to objects and structures that your car hits.


You must buy liability coverage

Driving without insurance is illegal. Also, you must have liability coverage to register your car. Your insurance company tells the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) if you buy auto insurance or if you stop paying your premium.


What happens if I do not have liability coverage?

If you do not show proof of insurance when asked, you will get a ticket. If you do not have any insurance, your license may be suspended and your vehicle could be impounded. Remember, driving is a privilege, not a right.


How do I prove that I have liability coverage?

Your insurance company will send you a card to show proof of insurance. It lists the insured vehicles and the name of the policy owner. It also shows the policy number and the dates the policy starts and ends. Keep this card in your car.


What if I cause an accident that costs more than my liability limit?

You can be sued for additional costs. It is possible that you could lose your savings and even your house.


Should I get higher limits than the law requires?

You may want higher liability limits than the law requires. In general, the more assets you have, the more you could lose in a lawsuit. You should discuss your situation with your agent, broker, insurance company, or financial advisor.


Are there other ways to show financial responsibility besides buying insurance?

Yes, there are several ways to show financial responsibility. For more information, go to the DMV website at

Other Kinds of Coverage

These are other common types of coverage. You may not need all of them.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UMC) /Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM)

This covers you if you are in an accident with a driver who does not have any liability insurance, or is underinsured.

The insurance company must offer you this coverage. If you choose not to buy it, you must sign a form, called a waiver. The form says you were offered the coverage and turned it down.

  • Uninsured motorist bodily injury (UMBI): This pays for injuries to you and any person in your car when there is an accident with an uninsured driver who is at fault. The limits are the same as your liability coverage limits.

  • Underinsured motorist (UIM): This covers limited costs for bodily injury if you are in an accident with a driver who does not have enough insurance to pay for damages.

  • Uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD): This pays for the damage to your car from an accident with an uninsured driver who is at fault. The limit is $3,500. This only pays if the uninsured driver is identified. You may not need it if you have collision coverage.


Medical Payments Coverage

This covers the cost of medical expenses if you or your passengers are injured. This coverage can pay for immediate medical care, no matter who is at fault.

  • The minimum limit you can buy is $1,000 for each person injured. You can ask for higher limits of coverage.


Physical Damage Coverage

  • Collision covers damage to your car caused by physical contact with another vehicle or an object, such as a tree, rock, guardrail, building, or person.

  • Comprehensive covers damage to your car caused by something other than a collision. For example, comprehensive can cover damage from fire, theft, vandalism, windstorm, flood, falling objects, etc. It does not cover mechanical breakdown, normal wear and tear, or maintenance.


Collision and Comprehensive coverage provide compensation based on the market value of your car. If the value is low, you may not choose these.


Additional Kinds of Coverage (Endorsements and Riders)

  • You can buy insurance for extra equipment, such as stereos, CD players, custom wheels, navigation systems, and cell phones that are permanently installed.

  • You can buy insurance for towing and road service.

  • You can buy rental reimbursement insurance for renting a car when your car is being repaired after a covered accident.


If you have a car loan:


If you have a loan, you usually need to insure your car. If you do not buy insurance, the loan company may buy it and charge you. It usually costs less if you get your own Collision and Comprehensive coverage.


Auto insurance does not pay off your loan if your car is damaged and its market value is less than what you owe. Auto dealers and lenders may offer Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP) insurance for this purpose.

Coverage Summary

Type of Coverage
Do you have to buy this coverage?

Liability Coverage is for accidents that are your fault.

  • Bodily injury liability pays for bodily injury you cause someone else.

  • Property damage liability pays for property damage you cause someone else.

California law requires you to have this coverage (see the section under Liability Coverage and California Law).

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage is for accidents when the other driver is at fault and does not have insurance or does not have enough insurance.

  • Bodily injury coverage pays medical expenses for you and passengers

  • Property damage coverage pays the cost of repairs to your car not covered by collision coverage up to $3,500. You may not need this if you have collision coverage.

You must be offered this coverage, but you can choose not to buy it.       
Medical Payments Coverage pays limited medical expenses for people injured in the car you are driving when you have an accident, whether or not you are at fault.
You must be offered this coverage.

Physical Damage Coverage pays the cost of repairs or replacement of your car, minus your deductible.

  • Collision covers damage to your car from an accident with another car or a physical object, such as a tree, rock, guardrail, building or person.

  • Comprehensive covers damage to your car from events other than a collision, such as theft, fire, or vandalism.

This coverage is required by lenders or leasing companies.

Additional Kinds of Coverage

  • Towing and road service.

  • Rental reimbursement pays for car rental when your own car is being repaired after a covered accident.

You can choose to buy these coverages. They are not required.

Shopping for Auto Insurance

Auto insurance costs and coverage vary. You should always get several quotes. A quote is an estimate of your premium amount.

An agent or broker can help you figure out your insurance needs, get quotes, compare policies, and get the best discounts. Keep notes of your conversations. If you want, have a trusted family member or friend with you.

Compare policies:

  1. Use the worksheet [below] to decide what kinds of coverage you want.

  2. Ask for each insurance company's quote in writing.

  3. Compare quotes.

  4. Ask for the complete name of the insurance company that will issue each policy.



Make sure the company is licensed to do business in California.

Check the company's record for paying claims and customer service. Go to "consumer complaint study."


Save money on your policy:

  • Ask about multi-car discounts, for insuring several cars.

  • Ask about mature driver and good driver discounts.

  • Ask about discounts for airbags, anti-theft devices, or other features.

  • Ask about payment installment plans and if there are service fees.

  • Ask about higher deductibles for comprehensive and collision coverage. This will lower your premium.

  • Think about dropping comprehensive and/or collision coverage on an older car.

  • If you do not have collision coverage, ask about uninsured motorist property damage coverage.

How Much Insurance Do I Need

Liability Coverage--Bodily Injury Limits

Limit for each Person/Limit for each Accident

  • $15,000/$30,000 (minimum required by law)

  • $25,000/$50,000

  • $50,000/$100,000

  • $100,000/$300,000

  • $250,000/$500,000

  • Other:


Liability Coverage--Property Damage Limits

  • $5,000 (minimum required by law)

  • $10,000

  • $25,000

  • $50,000

  • $100,000


Uninsured Motorist--Bodily Injury

These limits are usually the same as your Liability Coverage--Bodily Injury Limits


Uninsured Motorist--Property Damage

The limit is $3,500.


Underinsured Motorist--Bodily Injury

These limits are usually the same as your Liability Coverage--Bodily Injury Limits.


Medical Payments Coverage Limit per person injured

  • $500

  • $1,000

  • $2,500

  • $5,000

  • $10,000

  • $25,000

  • $50,000

  • $75,000

  • $100,000

Physical Damage Coverage


Most common deductibles

Vehicle 1
Vehicle 2
Vehicle 3
  • $100

  • $200

  • $500

  • $100

  • $200

  • $500

  • $100

  • $200

  • $500


Most common deductibles

  • $200

  • $500

  • $1,000

  • ______

  • $200

  • $500

  • $1,000

  • ______

  • $200

  • $500

  • $1,000

  • ______

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  1. This is for informational purposes only.

  2. The actual terms of an insurance policy and related law prevail over the information provided here. 

  3. In the case of a dispute, the insurance policy is controlling and a court of law will rely on the policy as it is written to resolve the dispute.

  4. The policy is the only document that describes what the insurance company will pay.

  5. The information contained here does not create rights or obligations on the part of the insured, the insurer, the agent, the broker, or the state.

  6. This information is not intended to be a substitute for the actual insurance policy.

Info and facts provided by California Department of Insurance*


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