Published: January 7, 2022Updated: March 11, 2022

Do You Need Insurance to Register a Car in California?

And what happens if you lack insurance?

Picture driving in California and you’ll probably think about a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, blasting music and soaking up the sun. But driving in California isn’t all tunes and sunshine. Before you drive, you’ll need both auto insurance and registration. We’ll take you through the requirements so you can drive down the coast worry-free.

Does California Require Proof of Insurance for Car Registration?

California car insurance registration proof
In California, you’ll need auto insurance to register a car.

Proof of Liability Insurance

You must carry proof of insurance in your car at all times, which you’ll need to provide when law enforcement requests it, when you renew your car registration, and when you’re involved in a traffic collision.

Vehicle Registration Suspensions

If the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) doesn’t have your proof of insurance, your registration will be suspended, meaning you won’t be able to drive or even park your car on public roadways until you submit your proof of insurance.

Insurance Requirements in California

So, what is the minimum car insurance required in California?

Minimum Coverage

Forty-eight states require auto insurance, including California. This is the minimum liability required in California:

  • $15,000 per person or $30,000 per accident for bodily injury liability
  • $5,000 for property damage liability1

Full Coverage

California’s insurance requirements are relatively minimal and don’t include collision and comprehensive coverage, medical payments coverage, or uninsured motorist coverage. We recommend getting full coverage for events like these:

  • Collisions with things other than cars, like potholes
  • Floods or fires
  • Collisions with uninsured or underinsured motorists
  • Hit-and-runs
  • Lost wages due to car accidents
  • Auto vandalism
  • Theft of entire car or parts of the car

What Happens if Your Insurance Expires?

Penalties for driving without insurance in California can include fines, driver’s license suspensions, or even vehicle impoundments.2 If you cancel your coverage, notify the California DMV and submit an affidavit of non-use to prevent your car registration from being suspended.

Cheap Car Insurance in California

Surprisingly, given that the cost of living in California is 33 percent higher than the rest of the country, California is one of the cheapest states for auto insurance.

DID YOU KNOW?

In California, transportation costs are 37 percent higher than the national average.3 Additionally, the average annual cost of auto insurance in California compared to the national average is $1,051.79—two percent less.4

Ways to Save

Take these steps to reduce the cost of auto insurance in California:

  1. Utilize any car insurance discounts your provider offers, such as accident-free or military discounts.
  2. Raise your deductible (but make sure you will be able to pay it if you get into an accident).
  3. Drop some insurance coverage. For example, if you have an older car, comprehensive and collision coverage may not be necessary.
  4. Compare car insurance quotes from multiple providers, using the same insurance information as your current policy.

California Car Registration Information

If you’re driving in California, getting car registration is a must after you secure an insurance policy.

Why You Need Car Registration

The state of California requires your vehicle to be registered, whether you’re driving, parking, or even standing on the highway.5

Who Needs Car Registration?

Every driver in California needs to have car registration along with auto insurance.

Documentation You’ll Need

Car insurance documentation
To register your vehicle with the DMV, you’ll need the following documents:

  • Applicable title transfer fees or use tax
  • Application for Title or Registration for new vehicles or California Certificate of Title for used vehicles registered in-state
  • Completed Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form
  • Declaration of Gross Vehicle Weight / Combined Gross Vehicle Weight form
  • Signature of seller/lienholder on Certificate of Title
  • Signature on Certificate of Title
  • Smog certification
  • Statement of Facts form
  • Use tax or other fees
  • Vehicle Emission System Statement form

For registration renewal, you’ll need the following:

  • License plate number
  • Last five digits of vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • Renewal notice confirming your current address
  • Payment information

NOTE

Registration fees depend on many factors, including your type of vehicle, its purchase price, where you live, and your car’s declared gross vehicle weight.

Recap

We’ve answered all of your California car insurance FAQs, but if you want to learn more about the state’s laws, read our guide to fines for texting and driving in California. It’s important to know not only your insurance and registration requirements, but also the laws about driving itself in order to stay safe and covered.

Citations

  1. INSURANCE REQUIREMENTS. California Department of Motor Vehicles. (2022).
    https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/vehicle-registration/insurance-requirements/

  2. Automobile Insurance Information Guide. California Department of Insurance. (2018, Feb).
    http://www.insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/105-type/95-guides/01-auto/auto101.cfm

  3. Cost of Living Data Series. Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. (2022).
    https://meric.mo.gov/data/cost-living-data-series

  4. 2018/2019 Auto Insurance Database Report. NAIC. (2022).
    https://content.naic.org/sites/default/files/publication-aut-pb-auto-insurance-database.pdf

  5. 2009 California Vehicle Code – Section 4000-4023 :: Article 1. Vehicles Subject To Registration. Justia. (2009).
    https://law.justia.com/codes/california/2009/veh/4000-4023.html