Nobody wants that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach when they realize their vehicle was left exposed during severe weather and has hail dents across its body.
Not only does it affect the appearance of the car you were once proud of, but it can affect the resale value of your car and may even render it with a salvaged title and become uninsurable.
While car hail damage isn't something most people encounter frequently, there are states like Colorado and Texas where hailstorms are frequent. We look at hail damage and what it means for you and your vehicle.
Main Types of Damage Caused by Hail Stones
Unfortunately, hail damage may result in your car being labeled as totaled. A car hail damage total loss designation basically means your vehicle is no longer insurable, even if it is in perfect working order mechanically.
Hail of any size can cause unsightly damage to your vehicle, but it is hail measuring at least one inch in diameter (about the size of a golf ball) that does the most damage. Hail dents are the most common form of damage, but hailstones can also scrape against body panels and cause scratches and chips in the paintwork.
However, there is some good news depending on the extent of the damage; you can fix hail damage. A hail-damaged car with a salvage title for total loss can often be restored, and then the vehicle will be considered rebuilt.
These are the main types of damage you may face after a hailstorm:
Cosmetic Damage with Intact Paint:
This type of hail damage is minor and only causes small dents in your car's exterior. Since the paint isn't scratched, repairers can treat the damage with a paintless dent repair (PDR). Paintless dent repair is a specialized and meticulous process involving repairing dents to their original shape without any paint jobs or touch-ups. During the PDR process, the technician pushes out and massages each dent very precisely. Metal rods of various sizes and shapes work out the dents back into their original shape.
Cosmetic Damage with Scratched Paint:
This is when those icy balls cause more than just minor dings, they scratch your car's paint resulting in paint and body repair. Unfortunately, a simple fix with dent removal and paint touch-ups won't work. The exterior body panel will often need replacement at a repair shop, sending your cost of repairs upwards into thousands of dollars. This is known as conventional body repair. The affected body panels need a complete replacement, and an accurate paint job must match the factory finish.
Severe Damage with Intact Paint:
In this situation, the vehicle's mechanical systems have incurred damage, and the repair process is extensive. However, this type of damage doesn't affect the paint job, and the exterior can be treated with paintless dent removal. You will need to see a mechanic to address the mechanical damage.
Severe Damage with Scratched Paint:
This is the worst-case scenario with the most severe damage. Your vehicle will need mechanical repairs, dent removal, and a paint job. An auto body shop will most likely need to replace the affected exterior body panels.
How to Repair Hail Damage
Most hail-damaged vehicles are repairable depending on the extent of the damage. If you have an auto insurance policy, here is what you should do when faced with car repairs related to hailstorm damage:
Contact your auto insurance company and determine if your policy covers hail damage repair. Most comprehensive insurance includes cover for hail damage; however, every insurance agent handles insurance claims differently.
If your comprehensive coverage does include hail damage, then file a hail damage claim with your insurance provider.
Typically, you will need to get your car's hail damage appraised through your car insurance company's field inspection. Ensure the exterior of your vehicle is clean if you want an accurate estimate of the damage. A standard hail damage repair estimate typically takes between 30 to 45 minutes. The estimator will note any non-hail damage and exclude it from your insurance claim.
Your insurance agent will refer you to an accredited auto repair shop.
Make sure you pay your insurance payment and deductible.
After successful repair, ask the auto repair shop if they offer a warranty for the hail damage repair.
Some people choose to take a cash settlement from their insurance company and continue driving their vehicle, especially if it is only minor cosmetic damage. You will often notice people in hailstorm-prone areas, like Colorado and Texas, driving hail-damaged cars because of the high certainty of it happening again.
Other people choose to "rebuild" the vehicle, taking the title from total loss to rebuilt. This makes the car easier to sell if they want to part ways with their car.
Buying and Selling Hail-Damaged Cars
Even if an insurance company gave it a salvage title, many hail-damaged vehicles are still drivable. An insurance company might provide a hail-damaged car with a salvage title if the cost of repairs were higher than the vehicle's value. This means the car hail damage resulted in the vehicle being written off as a total loss. However, since the car is technically a totaled vehicle, its value doesn't accurately represent its drivability, leaving an opportunistic gap in the automotive market to buy and sell hail-damaged cars.
Buying a Hail-Damaged Car from a Dealership
If a dealer offers hail-damaged cars, you should ask them:
Why did you choose not to fix the damage?
The damage may be more severe than it looks.
How much will the repairs cost?
Even if you don't intend to repair the vehicle, it is good to know the typical repair costs. Bear in mind that the salespeople may give you an exaggeratedly low figure since they want you to buy the vehicle.
Will you repair the damage as a condition sale?
If the dealer agrees to do this, that's a good sign. Some dealers have in-house dent repair specialists they can assign to your car, though most of these specialists don't have the paintless damage repair experience necessary to fix dozens of hail dents.
Do you offer a warranty or money-back guarantee on the vehicle?
If the dealer doesn't provide a good warranty or money-back guarantee, that may suggest the damage is worse than it looks. If the damaged car has a salvage title, you should assume the prospective repair costs are a significant fraction of the car's market value.
Some states have special "hail" designations on salvage titles to distinguish hail damage as less severe than damage from accidents or floods.
Things To Consider When Buying A Hail-Damaged Car
If a hail-damaged vehicle is cheaper to purchase than a car with a clean title and you plan on financing the vehicle, then ensure your lender covers hail-damaged cars.
Take care to scrutinize the car before finalizing your purchase to avoid unwanted surprises later.
Take your time to finalize your decision and do extensive research. Conduct an electronic background check on the vehicle to pull up any undisclosed damage. You can research a car's history report by entering the automobile's vehicle identification number into Carfax, AutoCheck, or similar websites.
Ask your insurance agent if the hail damage puts your comprehensive insurance at risk. Your agent may give you coverage for the current damage but not future damage from hail, so you may have to take extra care to protect your car in the future.
Selling a Hail-Damaged Car
If you forego the hail damage repairs and decide to sell your vehicle, then you have a few options available.
- Sell your vehicle privately through Craigslist.
- Strip it down to part it out.
- Sell it to a junkyard.
- Sell it to a network of car buyers specializing in purchasing damaged vehicles.
If you have a salvaged title for your hail-damaged vehicle, then understand that buyers will use that as a bargaining tool to knock you down in price drastically. Ensure you get some quotations on the expected cost to repair before a potential buyer tries knocking your price down lower than it should be.