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Hail An Expensive Problem For Drivers, Insurers

By Aaron Crowe

Hail Storm

If you’re stuck in a car during a hailstorm and can’t get to an overpass or somewhere else to seek cover, there aren’t many options if you want to avoid damage to your car.

“When hail comes and you hear that ‘ping’ on the window, you just pray that the storm passes by and you don’t get hailed on,” says Michael Siciliano, co-founder of what he calls the Hail Protector, an airbag that makes a car look like the bouncy part of a playhouse jumper at a child’s birthday party.

There were 7,031 major hailstorms in 2012, with most happening in March, April and May in Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina and Oklahoma. Hail causes $1 billion in damage to crops and property each year, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

That gives Siciliano and makers of padded covers or hail blankets plenty of business as hailstorm insurance claims averaged $3,118 from 2008 to 2011, according to the Highway Loss and Data Institute.

Marsha Jaramillo of Deltona, Fla., knows how damaging a hailstorm can be to a car. Jaramillo’s Nissan Sentra was hit by heavy hail in 1991 in Fern Park, Fla., causing the car to be deemed totaled by her insurance company. She got about $3,000 and was allowed to keep the car, which had body damage.

Since the Sentra didn’t suffer any mechanical damage, Jaramillo continued driving it until she traded it for another used can in 1995.

Comprehensive coverage in an auto insurance policy is meant to cover hail damage, and also covers such things as vandalism and theft. Minor hail damage, however, often isn’t worth claiming because repair costs don’t exceed the deductible. Major hail damage can total a car.

If you own the car outright and don’t have a loan outstanding on it, and get a check from an insurer for hail damage, you can keep the money and choose not to have it repaired, as Jaramillo did. The damaged car, however, may be difficult to insure for comprehensive and collision coverage.

Insurance claims for hail damage shouldn’t affect rates because they’re natural events that are out of a policy holder’s control.

HailProtector.com

For drivers in hail-prone states who can’t get home and in a garage fast enough when a hailstorm is approaching, there aren’t many options, says, Siciliano, the Hail Protector’s inventor.

“All people could do was pray a lot or try to find cover,” he says.

Siciliano, who lives in North Texas, where hailstorms are plentiful, says he came up with the idea for the product when he saw an inflatable waterslide his daughter was using that had a constant airflow. His product expands like a balloon, with a constant airflow powered by batteries (one hour), car cigarette lighter (three hours) or continuously through an electrical outlet.

“I knew if it was too bulky, people wouldn’t use it,” he says. “So if it was just air, it would be easier to use.”

Selling for $300 to $400, depending on the size of the vehicle, the device has a cinch cord at the bottom to tie around the wheels and under the car so it doesn’t blow away in a storm, and inflates in five minutes. Hailstones bounce off the polyester material, which absorbs most of the energy of the hailstones, Siciliano says.

The Hail Protector comes with a lifetime subscription for severe weather alerts via smartphone or email, and gives hailstorm warnings of up to an hour. The National Weather Service provides the same alerts for free.

Whatever method you use to protect your car if you live in a hail-prone state, a little prayer as a storm passes overhead couldn’t hurt.

Aaron Crowe is a journalist who covers auto insurance for CheapCarInsurance.net.