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Car hail damage - what you need to know

Hail damage can look minor, but repair costs can run in to the tens of thousands of dollars. (image credit: Brett Sullivan)

As the climate seemingly becomes more unpredictable, so too do the storms that lash our country - and in recent times, hail storms seen in Australia have been some of the worst on record. 

The bad news is plenty of property has been damaged in these storms, including tens of thousands of cars over recent years.

There are questions you might want to know the answers to, like what do you do if you have a hail damage car? Should you be looking for hail damage repair specialists? Or if you’re a DIY guy, you might want to know how to fix hail damage.

Or maybe you are wondering “how much hail damage to write off a car?”, or maybe whether you should be shopping at a hail damage car auction. We’ll cover that off soon. But first, let’s get through some basics.

Hail - what is it?

Hail occurs when water freezes in the upper regions of storm clouds. There are different types of hail damage, and that comes down to the type and size of the hailstones. Commonly, hail is between 5mm and 20mm in size, but occasionally hailstones can measure as big as 150mm - or as big as a grapefruit!

So how big does the hail have to be do cause damage to a car? That’s a hard question to answer. Any car left out in the weather is susceptible to damage, and hailstorms often produce varied sizes and shapes of hailstones. Typically, the bigger the hail the higher the chance of damage - that makes perfect sense. 

Hail damage to cars can be severe - so much so that it can lead the car to be declared a total loss, or a write off. Remember, hail doesn’t just affect cars: it can be deadly to animals and humans, and can also damage homes, buildings, crops and property.

Hail damage car repairs - what do you do?

PDR specialist Simon Booth says customers need to be wary of dodgy hail repairers. (image credit: Brett Sullivan) PDR specialist Simon Booth says customers need to be wary of dodgy hail repairers. (image credit: Brett Sullivan)

If you’re unfortunate enough to have left your car out in a hail storm - be it in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth or anywhere else in the country - there’s one thing you need to know. You need to have comprehensive insurance for anything to be done to help you out. 

That’s right - there’s no specific ‘hail damage car insurance’, but according to an NRMA Insurance spokesperson, comprehensive cover is the only way to go.

"Customers can claim for loss or damage to their vehicle that is caused by hailstorms (with comprehensive insurance cover). If you only purchased third party coverage only on your car insurance policy, you would not be covered for a hail damage claim,” the spokesperson said. “We encourage consumers speak to their insurer to make sure they have the right level of cover for their needs.”

One common question that owners of hail-damaged cars have is “how much damage is required before a car is considered a write-off?” It’s a good question, but the answer varies case by case.

“If there's considerable damage to a car or the repairs cost more than its value, a car may be written off,” said the NRMA Insurance spokesperson we asked. 

Whether your car is damaged enough to be considered a write-off will be determined by an assessor. You might have a few dents on the car roof, bonnet and boot - but while some damage may look minor, the costs to repair it can be high.

When your car is assessed, a cost estimate will be provided to the insurer, which will be compared against the value of the car. Your car insurer will help you find the best place to get your car assessed and repaired.

If you are comprehensively insured and you haven’t advised your insurer about hail damage to your car, then get to it! Undeclared damage can cause big issues if you’re involved in a car accident and try to make a claim.

“We encourage our customers with vehicles that have been damaged by a hail storm to contact us to lodge their claim. Once a claim is lodged we can help customers through the assessment and repair process,” the NRMA Insurance spokesperson told us.

"We partner with Specialist Hail Repairers who are trained to fix all types of hail related damage. They use both Paintless Dent Repair (PDR) and conventional methods to repair damage caused by hail. PDR is an innovative repair process that removes dents by easing the dented area back to its original shape without damaging the paintwork,” the spokesperson said.

You can read our PDR story here, where we looked at the different methods of repair for this type of work. It isn’t just dent puller systems - these workers are typically experts in their field, and the two PDR experts we spoke to both had decades of experience.

“Hail is seasonal, so it will dissipate. In saying that, those two big storms that went through Sydney - it’ll dribble in over the next two or three years,” said Simon Booth from Dent Garage. 

Mr Booth said that owners should be wary of “dodgy hail repairers”, where insurance companies may bring in repairers from other countries. He alleged some of those repairers may not be licensed to do the work. Rules vary state by state.

“Different countries have different standards,” he said. “Europeans are renowned for being the benchmark, with the US not far behind, while workers from China are less expensive and their work apparently shows it.”

If you have hail damage on your car but don’t have comprehensive car insurance you can still have your car repaired - just be prepared for it to be an expensive bill. Hail damage PDR can run into the tens of thousands of dollars if the damage is significant. 

Other repair shops may want to fill the dents and repaint the car, but that’s an inferior option in almost all cases. 

How can you protect your car from hail damage?

According to our NRMA Insurance contact, summer is the peak season for hail damage. They offered a few tips to try to prevent hail damage:

  • If possible, avoid driving in severe weather
  • If you’re stuck driving in an intense storm, pull over to the side of the road when and where it is safe to do so
  • Do not drive through floodwater - even a small amount of floodwater can make a car lose control and float like a boat
  • Make sure your car insurance is up to date

What about buying a car with hail damage, or selling a car with hail damage?

There's more than meets the eye when it comes to most hail damage - small dents may not be noticeable. (image credit: Brett Sullivan) There's more than meets the eye when it comes to most hail damage - small dents may not be noticeable. (image credit: Brett Sullivan)

If you’re considering buying a car with hail damage, you should first check with the relevant road authority in your state to check if the car can be registered. In Victoria it would be VicRoads, in NSW the RMS. There’s no point spending money on a car that can’t be registered, as some written-off cars aren’t allowed to be road registered again.

Also, check if you’ll be able to insure the car - some insurers won’t allow you to take out cover on a car if there is existing damage - be it by hail, accident or any other means. This varies case by case.

“NRMA Insurance customers may be able to take out a policy with pre-existing damage (including hail damage) to a registered vehicle, however in the instance of a claim, the policy would not cover any prior damage or damage as a result of previous hail damage,” a spokesperson told us. 

Often you’ll see hail damage car auctions selling lots of vehicles affected by storm scars. Make sure to see the car in person before bidding, as photos can only show so much.

If you’re selling a car with hail damage, it’s best to let people know about the damage. Be upfront, but also be realistic, because repairs can be expensive and the value of your car will be adversely affected if the damage is extensive. 

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