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Automobile Insurance Information Guide
(Revised February 2016)
Introduction to Auto Insurance
Auto insurance helps pay for the injuries and damage that can happen when you own and drive a car or other motor vehicle.
This brochure can help you compare policies and make informed decisions when you buy auto insurance. It can help you understand your auto policy. Your policy is a legal document, and it is important that you understand it.
Your motor vehicle may be an auto, truck, van, motorcycle, or another kind of private passenger vehicle.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
California has a Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program for good drivers who are income eligible. See our CLCA page.
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 www.dmv.ca.gov.
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.
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.
Physical Damage Coverage
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)
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.