California drivers are used to being on the road, but which California residents face the highest costs associated with driving? Out-of-pocket expenses for driving — including costs such as gas prices, auto loan debt and car insurance — can add up quickly.
According to ValuePenguin's latest study, cities in Southern California — especially near Los Angeles and the surrounding metropolitan area — are the most expensive to be a driver. Of the 55 California cities we analyzed, the 10 most expensive were all in the greater Los Angeles region.
The most expensive cities in California to be a driver
1. Rancho Cucamonga
Index score = 100.0
Rancho Cucamonga, which is just shy of an hour west of Los Angeles, is the most expensive city in California to be a driver. Among all the California cities analyzed, Rancho Cucamonga was in the top 10 for the average auto loan debt held by drivers, and for daily miles traveled by vehicle. Long commuting distances combined with high gas prices and high car insurance premiums propelled Rancho Cucamonga to the top spot on our index.
Index score = 92.6
Glendale, a city just north of Los Angeles, is the second most expensive city for driving in California. In fact, Glendale has the highest auto insurance cost in California and the fifth most expensive gas prices among cities analyzed. Glendale residents pay an average of $2,645 for car insurance each year and $3.29 per gallon of gas. However, Glendale residents have less auto loan debt, which puts it just behind Rancho Cucamonga in our driving affordability index.
Index score = 91.5
On the northern end of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Palmdale took the third spot for least affordable driving in California. Like Glendale, Palmdale was in the top five most expensive cities in the state for both gas costs and auto insurance, though still below average for personal auto loan debt.
Index score = 90.5
Ontario, California, which sits just south of Rancho Cucamonga, was not far behind the top three cities for driving affordability. While the average cost of gas is $3.07 per gallon,, Ontario is in the top five California cities for the number of vehicle miles driven each day. Plus, Ontario was ranked 10th most expensive city for car insurance costs in California, with local residents paying $1,963 a year, on average.
5. Thousand Oaks
Index score = 89.4
While Thousand Oaks residents pay less for car insurance than other Los Angeles-area drivers — at an average of $1,832 per year — they have the second most expensive gas prices in the state, the second highest personal auto loan debt, and second highest number of daily vehicle miles traveled. Drivers in Thousand Oaks typically pay $3.33 per gallon of gas and have an average $20,318 of outstanding auto debt.
The most affordable cities for California drivers
The most affordable cities in California tend to have cheaper gas costs, shorter commutes, lower car insurance premiums and less outstanding auto loan debt.
Fresno, Sunnyvale and Sacramento took the top three spots, and by comparison to the Los Angeles area, they each benefit from being less densely populated and more spread out. Gas stations in more sparsely populated cities, for example, typically have lower overhead costs for land or real estate, which allows them to charge less for gas. Lower population density also tends to correlate to fewer car accidents, and therefore cheaper car insurance rates.
Most affordable California cities for driving
California cities with the highest gas costs
While many California cities have daily commuters, the cost of driving varies widely throughout the state. Factors such as high gas prices, when combined with higher average miles traveled each day, can cause drivers to head to the pump more, and make the cost of commuting multiply even faster.
Mission Viejo, next to Laguna Hills in Orange County, has the highest average gas price in California, with local residents paying $3.41 per gallon. Notably, Palmdale, Thousand Oaks and Glendale are in the top five for gas prices in California and also in the top five spots on our overall driving affordability index.
Livermore, which saw the highest number of daily vehicle miles traveled, is in the East Bay, or east of San Francisco. Some residents may have to drive to S.F.for work (45 miles each way), which includes paying a bridge toll, or to San Jose (34 miles each away) or other parts of the Bay Area. By comparison, Thousand Oaks and Rancho Cucamonga were not far behind Livermore in daily commuting distances.
California cities with the most personal auto loan debt
Across all California cities, the average auto loan debt owed by drivers is $19,602. But in some California cities, residents have more outstanding debt on their vehicles, adding to the overall costs associated with driving.
Mission Viejo residents have the largest amount of outstanding auto debt. While drivers in this city have the most auto debt and pay the highest gas prices in the state, local car insurance costs are well below average. Thousand Oaks was also in the top five for personal auto loan debt and the top five overall most expensive cities to be a driver.
California cities with the most auto debt
Average auto debt
Where car insurance is unaffordable in California
Based on criteria used by the U.S. Treasury Department, car insurance is considered "unaffordable" in areas where annual premiums are greater than 2% of household income. By that standard, almost half of all California cities in our study have unaffordable car insurance rates.
San Bernardino topped the list, with nearly 5% of household income in this city going toward car insurance premiums — more than double the affordability benchmark set by the Treasury Department. Los Angeles was second in this category, with residents spending 4.34% of their annual incomes on auto insurance. Los Angeles is also in the top 10 most expensive California cities to be a driver, along with Glendale.
The cities with the largest proportion of income spent on car insurance costs are listed below.
California cities with unaffordable car insurance costs
Household income (HHI)
Annual car insurance premium
Auto insurance as a percentage of HHI
All California drivers must carry car insurance that meets the state's minimum liability coverage requirements.
Minimum limits in California
|Bodily injury (BI) liability||$15,000 per person/$30,000 per accident|
|Property damage (PD) liability||$5,000 per accident|
Complete index of California cities from least to most affordable for driving
Auto loan debt
Auto insurance cost
Commute time (in minutes)
Index (out of 100)
|1||Rancho Cucamonga, CA||$3.15||$19,841||$1,896||81.7%||32.6||23.1||26.0%||100.0|
|5||Thousand Oaks, CA||$3.33||$20,318||$1,832||79.6%||26.3||29.1||25.4%||89.4|
|8||Moreno Valley, CA||$3.13||$19,025||$1,920||79.0%||35.1||23.1||27.5%||81.0|
|9||Los Angeles, CA||$3.15||$19,202||$2,535||69.4%||31.4||22.3||31.7%||78.8|
|11||Garden Grove, CA||$3.05||$19,393||$1,951||79.4%||28.4||22.3||28.7%||75.1|
We identified the most expensive cities for driving in California by collecting demographic information and driving data from the U.S. Census Bureau for the most recent year available. Data was also collected from the Department of Transportation, GasBuddy and proprietary sources, and our analysis also used insurance rate data from Quadrant Information Services. These rates were publicly sourced from insurer filings and should be used for comparative purposes only — your own quotes may be different.
For index calculations, we ranked cities based on the following criteria:
- Gas prices
- Outstanding auto debt
- Car insurance premiums
- Percentage of workers driving to work
- Commute length
- Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per day per capita
- Housing costs as a percentage of household income
These calculations were equal-weighted and normalized to determine final rankings.