Best Cheap Car Insurance in San Francisco, CA

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Contributor, Benzinga
June 2, 2021

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Compared to some other states, California's pretty strict in regard to auto insurance. For example, you must have valid insurance documentation when you're driving -- no matter if you own it or not. So when you're renting a car, make sure it's insured. Read on to find out about cheap car insurance in San Francisco, California.

Car Insurance in San Francisco by the Numbers

  • Average number of vehicles per household: 2
  • Minimum state insurance requirements: $15,000 per person or $30,000 per accident in bodily injury liability with the latter to be split between the victims; $5000 property damage liability
  • The average rate with a clean driving record: $1,518

California Car Insurance Laws Explained

You need to show financial responsibility for your vehicle in any state of the U.S. in order to legally drive. This is achieved by paying for auto liability coverage, which covers the costs of medical care and property damage caused to those who aren't at fault in an accident.

Although car insurance in California can be expensive, low-income drivers get some relief if they meet certain requirements. Drivers with low income in California can apply for California's Low-Cost Automobile Insurance Program. It lowers the normal liability limits to the following:

  • $10,000 per injured or deceased person.
  • $20,000 per accident where people were injured or killed.
  • $3,000 per accident for property damage to the non-at-fault party.

If you do not meet the eligibility guidelines, you must insure your vehicle with a provider of your choosing. 

There is also the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan (CAARP) for high-risk drivers who are unable to obtain regular liability coverage. Yes, insurance companies can refuse to insure you. But not if you’re in CAARP since all licensed insurance companies in California have to accept CAARP participants. To graduate from this program, you need to keep a clean driving record for three years.

Car Insurance Rates per Vehicle Type

People with modern sports cars get penalized by higher premiums because such cars are more prone to reckless driving and the resultant damage and liability. California is famous for its auto theft instances, which is the highest in the country, so this decision by the insurance companies would appear to make sense.

Bigger vehicles like SUVs and trucks would have higher insurance rates as they can cause more damage in a crash. Newer cars can still receive discounts on insurance if they are built for driver and passenger safety, like the new models of Toyota 4Runners.

San Francisco is at the top of the list for hybrid car owners in the entire country. The entire state of California loves hybrid and electric cars, spurred on by generous federal and state incentives. They are eco-friendly and have many gadgets which attract tech-savvy people and those who care for the environment. The most common models are the Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf, and Tesla (various models).

Car Insurance Rates by Insurance Credit Score

Living in the Golden State comes with many perks. One of them is that the credit score of insurance policy owners does not affect the insurance rates. In California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts insurance providers are not permitted to use your credit score to determine insurance rates, including for auto insurance.

How do they determine the rates then? They use your driving record as a major determinant of risk, alongside the make and model of your vehicle as covered previously, annual mileage, overnight location, recent at-fault accidents, and more.

This means that even if your credit score is poor, it technically will not make a difference when you decide to insure your car. You should still get a quote and find out which insurance providers are the most affordable. 

Car Insurance Rates for Drivers with a Clean Record

So, if the driving record is the biggest factor when it comes to insurance rate calculation, having a clean record should be a priority. This means not picking up any tickets for speeding, DUI, or leaving the scene of an accident. If you’re not a repeat offender, you can always hire a lawyer and go to court and get the ticket reduced to a moving violation.

The state minimum insurance covers the liability of operating your vehicle. The mandated limits are low in California, so it might make sense to pay more for higher limits if you are able to. If not, the other party can come after your assets after they’ve maxed out the insurance coverage.

Like all states, California requires liability coverage, which is used to cover the damage caused to the party who is not at fault in a traffic accident. Full coverage includes additional protection, namely collision, and comprehensive coverage. 

Check out some of the best deals for safe drivers in San Francisco here.

Insurance AgencyState Minimum InsuranceStandard CoverageFull Coverage
State Farm$3,793$4,273$4,541

Insurance Rates with Driving Infractions

Besides the high count of auto theft, California also experiences many traffic accidents. There were 23 fatalities in San Francisco in 2018 as a result of traffic accidents.

However, causing accidents is not the only way to dirty up your driving record. Picking up multiple tickets for less serious rule-breaking can add up. Besides paying the tickets, your car insurance rate can skyrocket. If you are in need of high-risk insurance, there are a few companies that specifically cater to drivers with multiple traffic infractions. 

Refrain from distractions while driving, such as texting or listening to music with your headphones on. Those things are prohibited in California.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs is never a good idea. With San Francisco being the home of Uber, you can easily call a ridesharing app or take public transportation.

The rates for drivers who have a record of irresponsible driving are much higher than for those with a clean record. The differences can be as high as 100%. However, every insurance company has different policies and their rates vary.

Insurance Agency At-Fault Accident Speed Violation DUI
State Farm$3,576$3,480$6,755

Best Auto Insurance Providers in San Francisco

Picking the right auto insurance provider can be difficult because there are so many options to choose from.

You will be in the right hands no matter which of these you pick. Bear in mind that they all have different rates and offer different benefits. Look them up and decide which one fits your personal preference the most.

Best For
  • Drivers with consistently good driving habits

1. Best Overall: Progressive

Progressive offers some great rates for all types of coverage, be it minimum or full coverage. Besides being affordable, they have built a good reputation over the years thanks to their service quality.

The tables above tell us that Progressive offers good rates for drivers with a clean record, but they also do not punish the ones who only have a few minor infractions. If you fall into the latter category, Progressive might be even more appealing to you.

Progressive offers very low rates by California’s standards. An easy application process that allows you to add vehicles, home, renters, and more within minutes. With Progressive, the difference between minimum coverage insurance and a full coverage rate is only $500 on average.

This is a great value because full coverage includes physical damage coverage. That means that you also get collision coverage, which covers any damage to your vehicle in the case of colliding with a person or an object, even if you’re at fault.

And you can also opt for comprehensive coverage which covers repair costs of all non-collision damages, such as theft, natural disasters, and vandalism.

Best For
  • Active military members

2. Best for Military and Military Families: USAA

USAA is the cheapest option for car insurance in San Francisco, with Progressive right behind. However, you should note that the United Services Automobile Association is a group of companies that provide insurance and other financial services for service members of the United States Armed Forces and their family members.

Anyone who is a current member or a retired member honorably discharged from the U.S. military can apply for USAA membership. Relatives of military personnel can apply too, so the membership is not exclusive as you might think. USAA provides a great service, and it shows because it’s the top-ranked insurance provider in the entire country.

Root Insurance
Best For
  • Infrequent drivers

3. Best for Safe Drivers: Root

Root is a unique new car insurance provider that offers policies based on your driving habits. You’ll install an app on your phone that monitors your speed, how often you make sudden turns and stops and mileage.

Then, the app creates a custom quote for you based on how well you drive.

Root doesn’t offer policies to everyone — the company avoids reckless drivers and those who have a long history of driving infractions so the company can keep premiums low. You may be able to save more when you switch to Root.

Find the Best Coverage for You and Your Family

Driving laws in California are not as strict as some other states, but you need to have liability coverage at all times, no matter what vehicle you are driving. It does not matter if it’s a rental; the rental car company will require you to buy insurance unless you have a current policy.

Be careful and drive safely. Insurance rates go way higher if you have any driving infractions, not to mention the damage you or your car can suffer in an accident.

The best way to get covered is to learn more about car insurance so you know which policy makes the most sense for you and your vehicles.

Want to learn more about finding the best affordable insurance? Check out Benzinga's guides to the best homeowners insurance in California, the best cheap life insurance and the best affordable health insurance companies.