Car Insurance in British Columbia: Everything You Need to Know
British Columbia’s public auto insurance system has been in the news many times over the last few years, thanks to B.C.’s reputation for being the most expensive place in Canada to insure a car or truck.
The province’s Autoplan insurance regime is administered by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), a provincial Crown corporation created in 1973 to sell insurance policies through its own network of brokers. Every driver in B.C. must purchase a basic insurance package from ICBC, which includes coverage for third-party liability, accident benefits, vehicle damage, underinsured motorist protection, and inverse liability coverage.
Optional coverages are also available, which you can buy from ICBC or from a private insurer, a process we’ll discuss later on in this article.
For now, read on to learn all you need to know about insuring a vehicle in British Columbia.
How much is car insurance for new drivers in B.C.?
In September 2019, Global News interviewed a 20-year-old student named Emily Nelson who paid $5,000 for a used car, and then got a bill for nearly $6,000 for her first year of insurance coverage through ICBC.
A month later, the Vancouver Province newspaper wrote about 18-year-old Izabella Bryant, who bought a used car for a little more than $10,000, and then discovered her insurance would cost $5,300. Those annual premiums add up to monthly insurance costs of $400 to $500.
While those are extreme examples of what it can cost a new driver to insure a vehicle in B.C., RateLab.ca’s latest data puts the average annual premium for a first-time car buyer at $3,194 – or nearly $270 per month – which is the second-highest rate in Canada after Ontario.
As in other Canadian provinces and territories, your insurance premiums will go down over time as you accumulate driving experience and maintain a clean driving record free of at-fault claims and traffic tickets.
How much is car insurance in B.C. for more experienced drivers?
According to a 2020 study by accounting firm MNP, the average annual auto insurance premium in B.C. that year was $1,832. In 2021, that figure was closer to $1,900, according to a 604now.com article about ICBC changes aimed at reducing auto insurance costs. At those annual prices, your monthly premium would be between $150 and $160 a month.
The ICBC was created as a non-profit entity, but that changed in 2010 when the provincial government began demanding annual transfer payments from the Crown corporation, starting with nearly $800 million from a reserve fund the ICBC had accumulated to help cover the costs of paying out insurance claims.
According to a 2018 study by the Fraser Institute, ICBC was on track to lose more than $1 billion in 2017/2018, which the institute partly blamed on that 2010 decision. While the ICBC has a monopoly on the compulsory coverage every driver must carry, that report suggests some of the required elements make auto insurance unnecessarily expensive. You can read the institute’s full report here.
If you’re thinking of buying a new vehicle, you can get an insurance estimate using the ICBC’s online tool, but only if you already have an Autoplan insurance policy.
No matter how long you’ve been driving, ICBC offers a 10 percent discount if you drive less than 5,000 km in a year. And starting in 2023, if you drive less than 10,000 km per year and meet a few other conditions, you could save anywhere between 5 and 15 percent annually.
Private car insurance in B.C.
Once you’ve registered your vehicle and secured basic insurance through the ICBC, you can purchase additional auto insurance coverage from a private insurer.
First, you should think about what kind of optional coverages you want or need. Here are some questions the Insurance Council of B.C. (the regulatory body that oversees the province’s insurance industry) suggests asking when shopping for optional auto insurance.
Collision coverage will pay for repairs, towing, and storage required as a result of a crash for which you were at fault. Another common type of coverage is comprehensive, which will look after damage not caused by a crash, like theft, vandalism, fire, falling/flying objects, lightning, hail, or hitting an animal while driving. Specified perils coverage is similar, but covers fewer types of incidents at a lower cost.
According to InsureBC.ca, other optional coverages include extended third-party liability, extended underinsured motorist protection, loss of use, rental vehicle coverage, and new vehicle protection.
While you can ask for quotes for the coverage you want from individual insurance companies, it may be easier to work with an insurance broker who can get quotes for you from multiple insurers, which you can compare to help you choose the policy that best suits your needs and budget.
According to the Insurance Council of B.C., only a licenced insurance agent or salesperson can legally sell you insurance coverage. If you have doubts about someone who purports to be an agent, salesperson, or broker, check if they’re listed in the council’s licensee directory here.
This includes car dealerships: Any dealer can sell you third-party warranty insurance for mechanical problems, but a dealer can only sell auto insurance if they are licenced by the council.
How do you renew B.C. insurance online?
The first step to renewing your ICBC policy online is to visit the corporation’s renewals page. You’ll be asked to log in using either a B.C. Services Card or the Verified.Me app.
Generally, you should be able to renew a personal policy online if it’s due for renewal in 44 days or less and you don’t need to make any changes to your coverage. There is no grace period for renewing your auto insurance before the expiry date; if you miss the deadline and your policy expires, you will not be covered.
During the online renewal process, you can also make changes, such as adding drivers to your policy or updating your address.
If you have optional insurance coverage with a private insurer, you will have to renew that policy separately. However, if you work with an insurance broker, they can renew your ICBC and private insurance policies at the same time.
Other common B.C. car insurance questions answered:
Can I insure a car without a license in B.C.?
Yes. According to the ICBC, you can buy insurance without a driver’s licence if you depend on others to do the driving.
Is there GST and PST on car insurance in B.C.?
Yes. Auto insurance is not exempted from B.C.’s 7 percent provincial sales tax (PST) or the 5 percent federal Goods and Services Tax (GST), so a total of 12 per cent sales tax will be added to your insurance premiums.
How much is collector car insurance in B.C.?
The cost of collector vehicle insurance in B.C. depends on a variety of factors, including the driver and the vehicle itself, but according to this article, insuring a collector car can cost as little as $300 per year. Part of the reason it’s relatively inexpensive is that a collector vehicle can only be driven for pleasure, not to get to and from work or school.
Generally, a vehicle must be at least 25 years old to qualify for the ICBC’s Collector Motor Vehicle Program. However, a car or truck between 15 and 25 years old may be eligible if fewer than 1,500 examples of it were produced worldwide during the same model year, or if the vehicle’s make has been defunct for at least five years.
Whichever age-related requirement your vehicle meets, it must also be in “exceedingly” good condition that “conforms to the original manufacturer’s specifications.”
How much is temporary / one-day car insurance in B.C.?
Single-day auto insurance is available through the ICBC’s temporary operation permit (TOP) program, which allows you to purchase coverage for up to 15 days if you need to move a car from one location to another, or you’re test-driving a vehicle you want to buy.
According to Kami Insurance in Vancouver, single-day insurance starts at $27 per day for liability coverage only, or $44 with collision and comprehensive coverage. If you go for the maximum 15-day period, your premium would be $210 for liability, and $314 with collision and comprehensive.