The Most Expensive Cities in California to be a Driver

The Most Expensive Cities in California to be a Driver

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, 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 cost of auto loan debt and for daily vehicle miles traveled. Long commuting distances combined with high gas costs and high car insurance premiums propelled Rancho Cucamonga to the top of our index.

2. Glendale

Index score = 92.6

Glendale, just north of Los Angeles, was the second most expensive city for driving in California. In fact, Glendale had the highest California auto insurance costs and the fifth most expensive gas prices among cities analyzed. Glendale residents pay $2,645 on average for car insurance each year and $3.29 per gallon of gas. However, Glendale residents have less auto loan debt, keeping it just behind Rancho Cucamonga in our driving affordability index.

3. Palmdale

Index score = 91.5

Palmdale, also part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, took the third spot for least affordable driving in California. Like in Glendale, Palmdale was in the top five most expensive cities for both gas costs and auto insurance, though still below average for personal auto loan debt.

4. Ontario

Index score = 90.5

Ontario, adjacent to Rancho Cucamonga, was not far behind its local peers in driving affordability. While Ontario drivers typically pay only $3.07 per gallon of gas, they are in the top five among California cities for daily vehicle miles traveled, upping their net costs. Further, Ontario was ranked as 10th most expensive for car insurance costs, with local residents paying $1,963 on average annually.

5. Thousand Oaks

Index score = 89.4

While Thousand Oaks residents typically pay less for car insurance ($1,832) than other Los Angeles-area drivers, they have the second most expensive gas prices, second highest personal auto loan debt in the state and second highest number of daily vehicle miles traveled. Thousand Oaks residents typically pay $3.33 per gallon of gas and have $20,318 of auto debt outstanding, on average.

This image shows a table of the most expensive cities for driving in California.

The most affordable cities for California drivers

The most affordable cities in California tended to have cheaper gas costs, shorter commuting distances, lower car insurance premiums and less outstanding auto loan debt.

Fresno, Sunnyvale and Sacramento took the top three spots and may benefit from being in less densely populated areas. Gas stations in less densely populated areas, for example, typically have less expensive overhead costs for land or real estate, and can thereby charge less for gas. Additionally, lower population density typically correlates to fewer car accidents, and therefore cheaper car insurance rates.

Most affordable California cities for driving

This image shows a table of the most affordable cities for driving in California.

California cities with the highest gas costs

While all California cities have many daily commuters, the costs of driving vary in each city. Factors such as gas costs and total miles traveled influence driving affordability because local drivers must pay for gas more frequently, at greater cost, and it also adds more miles to the car's odometer.

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 for our overall driving affordability index.

Livermore, which saw the highest number of daily vehicle miles traveled, is in the East Bay. Some residents may have to drive to San Francisco (45 miles away), San Jose (34 miles away) or other parts of the Bay Area for work. Thousand Oaks and Rancho Cucamonga were not far behind Livermore in daily commuting distances and also in our top five for driving affordability index.

This image shows a table of the cities in California with the highest gas prices and daily vehicle miles traveled.

California cities with the most personal auto loan debt

It's common for drivers to finance their car purchase, and across all California cities, the average personal auto loan debt is $19,602. But in some California cities, residents have more outstanding auto loan debt, adding to their overall costs associated with driving.

Mission Viejo residents have the largest amount of outstanding auto debt. While Mission Viejo had the most auto debt and highest gas prices in the state, local car insurance costs were well below average. Thousand Oaks was in the top five for personal auto loan debt and also in the top five overall most expensive cities to be a driver.

California cities with the most auto debt

Average auto debt
1Mission Viejo$20,332
2Thousand Oaks$20,318
5Santa Clarita$19,930

Where car insurance is unaffordable in California

Almost half of all California cities analyzed in our study were considered to have unaffordable car insurance rates, based on criteria from the U.S. Treasury Department. Specifically, the Treasury's Federal Insurance Office categorizes car insurance as "unaffordable" in areas where annual premiums are greater than 2% of household income.

San Bernardino topped the list, as nearly 5% of household income in this city goes to car insurance costs — more than double the benchmark set by the Treasury for affordability. Los Angeles was second in this category, with residents spending 4.34% of their annual income on auto insurance. Glendale and Los Angeles were both in the top 10 most expensive California cities to be a driver.

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
1San Bernardino$43,136$2,0654.79%
2Los Angeles$58,385$2,5354.34%

All California drivers must carry car insurance that meets the state's minimum liability coverage requirements.

Required coverage
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
Drove alone
Commute time (in minutes)
Daily VMT
Index (out of 100)
1Rancho Cucamonga, CA$3.15$19,841$1,89681.7%32.623.126.0%100.0
2Glendale, CA$3.29$19,243$2,64577.1%28.622.331.4%92.6
3Palmdale, CA$3.33$19,091$2,13775.8%42.522.328.4%91.5
4Ontario, CA$3.07$19,483$1,96378.6%31.323.129.0%90.5
5Thousand Oaks, CA$3.33$20,318$1,83279.6%26.329.125.4%89.4
6Fontana, CA$3.07$19,666$1,94578.1%33.722.327.0%88.4
7Corona, CA$3.15$19,514$1,84578.2%36.922.327.3%88.4
8Moreno Valley, CA$3.13$19,025$1,92079.0%
9Los Angeles, CA$3.15$19,202$2,53569.4%31.422.331.7%78.8
10Fullerton, CA$3.05$19,628$1,89079.1%30.222.327.5%77.2
11Garden Grove, CA$3.05$19,393$1,95179.4%28.422.328.7%75.1
12Irvine, CA$3.33$19,632$1,81876.6%25.622.327.7%73.0
Show All Rows


To identify the most expensive cities for driving in California, we collected demographic and driving data for the most recent year available from the U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Transportation, GasBuddy and proprietary sources. ValuePenguin's 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 by gas prices, outstanding auto debt, car insurance premiums, the percentage of workers driving to work, commute length, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per day per capita, and housing costs as a percentage of household income. These calculations were equal-weighted and normalized to determine final rankings.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.