Rental Car Liability in California, Explained

California requires you to meet the minimum liability coverage when you rent a car. If your personal auto policy isn’t enough, purchase additional insurance.
Written by Jessica Gibson
Reviewed by Pat Roache
When you’re renting a car in
, you’ve already got a lot on your mind—which vehicle to rent, where to pick it up, how long you need it—you get the idea! Before you head off with the keys, check your
car insurance
coverage to see if you meet the state’s requirements for auto insurance.
  • You are required to carry liability coverage when renting a car in California.
  • Liability insurance may be included in your rental agreement and total costs already.
  • Ask your insurance company to add liability insurance, purchase it from the rental car company, or see if your credit card company has the coverage options you need.

Do you need rental car liability insurance in California?

In most states, rental companies provide the state-required minimum liability insurance coverage as part of their standard contract—but not in California. You must have
liability coverage
that meets the requirements outlined in
California car insurance laws
when you rent a car in California.
Read through your personal insurance policy to see if you’ve got the coverage you need. Here’s the minimum required:
Remember, this is just the bare minimum, and you may want even more liability insurance to adequately cover another party’s damages after an accident. Additional coverage, like
collision insurance
, is also recommended since it protects you and your vehicle.
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How much does rental car liability insurance cost?

California has the lowest liability limit of any state, so you have enough liability to drive in California if you have car insurance that meets out-of-state requirements.
If you don’t have a policy in your own state, however, then you’ll likely need to purchase
rental car insurance
. Expect to pay between $30 and $94 per day for this coverage. The exact price depends on the location and how much insurance you buy.
The rental company will probably offer you several insurance options in addition to basic liability. These include:
  • Collision coverage waiver: A collision damage waiver might appear as a loss damage waiver (LDW, LLDW, or CDW), and it takes care of damage to the rental car. Rental car companies typically charge between $10 and $30 a day for the waiver.
  • Personal accident insurance: This insurance covers the costs to treat the injuries of anyone in the rental car during an accident. It typically costs $3 to $9 a day.
  • Personal effects coverage: Enjoy peace of mind that your personal items, like valuable cameras or technology, are covered up to a set dollar limit if they’re stolen from your rental car. The coverage costs around $1 to $6 a day.
MORE: How to avoid being unfairly charged for rental car damage

Where to get rental car insurance in California

If you don’t have an auto insurance policy of your own, then you can buy the necessary insurance from your car rental company. Sometimes, they even include insurance in the cost of renting the vehicle, so check the terms of your rental agreement before purchasing additional coverage. 
Your credit card company is an overlooked source for rental car insurance. If you’ve got a credit card that boasts great travel discounts, you might have perks like additional insurance or roadside assistance if you use it to pay for your rental! Read through your credit card policy so you know what rental insurance you may already have.
If you frequently rent a car but don’t own one, it may be worth shopping for
non-owner’s car insurance
. This is available from a variety of providers for around $200 to $500 per year, but it’s up to you to
compare car insurance quotes online
to find the best rates for your preferred level of coverage.
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If you’re pulled over in your rental vehicle, and you can’t show proof of insurance that meets the minimum liability, there are hefty fines for
driving without insurance in California
. You’ll get a $100 to $200 fine, with a possible penalty assessment of $260 to $520—and that’s just if it’s your first offense! If it’s your second offense, expect to get a $200 to $500 fine, with a penalty assessment of $520 to $1,300.
It’s against state law to drive any car in California without liability coverage on your auto insurance policy. That means you won’t need to buy rental car insurance as long as you have a car insurance policy that meets the minimum liability coverage.
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