Most Popular Cars in California: How Does the State Compare?


california cars

Californians are proud of their state and tend to think of it as rather exceptional compared to the rest of the Union. In many ways, they’re not wrong. California has the largest population at 39.37 million, and also the largest gross domestic product (GDP). At $3.14 trillion, California’s GDP rivals most countries in the world, beating out even the United Kingdom ($3.12 trillion), India ($3.4 trillion) and many others.

It’s actually far easier to count the number of countries with greater GDPs than California, namely the rest of the US, China, Japan and Germany. At least some Californians might then be forgiven for thinking their state is truly exceptional. This tends to extend to their attitude on cars, too. The national US image is one of the pickup truck, the gas-guzzling SUV and the muscle car. Does California conform to that? This is what we will explore in today’s article.

Popular Car Models in California Vs. Rest of the US

It may surprise you to learn that actually the most popular cars in California reflect at least 60 percent of the nationwide top 10. Perhaps California is therefore not quite as out of sync with the rest of America as people think!

Six models that appear in California’s top 10 most commonly owned vehicles according to data from EverQuote also appear in the nationwide top 10, though not necessarily in the same order:

  • Toyota Camry (#1 in California and the US)
  • Honda Civic (#2 in California, #5 in the US)
  • Toyota Corolla (#4 in California and the US)
  • Honda Accord (#5 in California, #3 in the US)
  • Nissan Altima (#6 in California, #2 in the US)
  • Hyundai Sonata (#8 in California, #6 in the US)
RankIn CaliforniaNationwide
1Toyota CamryToyota Camry
2Honda CivicNissan Altima
3Toyota PriusHonda Accord
4Toyota CorollaToyota Corolla
5Honda AccordHonda civic
6Nissan AltimaHyundai Sonata
7Nissan SentraChevrolet Silverado
8Hyundai SonataFord F150
9Hyundai ElantraFord Fusion
10Nissan VersaChevrolet Malibu

Where Does California Differ from the Rest of the Country?

There are four models that set California apart from the rest of the country, namely:

  • Toyota Prius (#3 in California)
  • Nissan Sentra (#7 in California)
  • Hyundai Elantra (#9 in California)
  • Nissan Versa (#10 in California)

What makes these cars particularly popular in California? The nationwide alternate four include vehicles like the Chevrolet Silverado and the Ford F-150. Here we see some key differences between Californians and other American drivers.

1. Californians Like Fuel-Efficient Cars

According to information from AAA published on in March 2021, Californians on average pay more for gas than in any other state. The average gallon in Cali now costs $3.68. The state is closely followed in its high costs by Hawaii, Washington and Nevada, all of which are also now north of $3 a gallon.

All the cars in California’s top 10 are fuel efficient sedans or hatchbacks. There is no room in the budget to fuel a fantastic-looking but fuel-inefficient Ford F-150 or Chevy Silverado.

2. Environmental Factors

Besides being more fuel efficient, the top cars in California are also relatively clean, with many hybrid options such as the Toyota Prius and Hyundai Elantra. Japanese models aren’t just well built and efficient, but in general they’re cleaner than the average American or European brand of car.

California has some of the strictest emissions standards in the entire country, if not the strictest rules. In order to avoid penalty fees, Californians need to favor cars that will be able to meet these emissions standards for years to come.

3. Financial Factors

Gas isn’t the only thing that’s expensive in California. California’s registration costs are about $30 above the national average at $86, although it is still far cheaper than the national leader for registration fees, Florida ($225). On top of that, U.S. News and World Report have already ranked California as the 5th most expensive state in which to own a car (behind Missouri, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Louisiana). Here are some of the average costs that Californians will face on their vehicles, all of which are far above the national average:

  • Sales tax $3,313
  • Repair costs $403
  • Gas $1,147
  • Insurance $1,743

Even with some nationally low fees such as title fee ($18) and vehicle property tax ($249), it all still adds up to more than $14,000 a year when you put all the various costs of car ownership together. With annual costs that high, Californians need to do everything they can to keep costs low. They can do that with fuel-efficient and reliable cars that don’t produce smog, thus keeping all related fees as low as possible.

Conclusion: Californians are Careful Car Buyers

In California, a state that is generally more expensive to live in, the purchase of a car has to be made a lot more thoughtfully than many mid-western states where car ownership is a lot cheaper. This makes those in Cali a little more cautious when it comes to getting new car deals.

If you want to be sure to buy your new car in Southern California at the best-possible rate, then you should work with us here at CarBevy. You nominate the price you can afford, and we will connect you with our network of trusted local car dealerships. It’s easy! Learn more by getting in touch with us today.

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