A flood short-circuits and washes away your car and leaves it as a write-off. The car’s destroyed if a tornado picks it up and drops it in a cornfield somewhere in the Midwest. Even a small fire can be the kiss of death for a car. So, why is it sometimes OK to buy hail-damaged cars?
As natural disasters or phenomenons go, hail often produces physical damage only skin-deep on a car. Damage doesn’t go beyond the pockmarks on the paint or smashed glass and plastic. Virtually any car suffering hail damage is still drivable and mechanically sound. But even if you can buy hail-damaged vehicles, is it a good idea?
What is hail damage?
According to Merriam-Webster, hail is “precipitation in the form of small balls or lumps consisting of concentric layers of clear ice and compact snow.” Or, ice chunks falling from the sky that make you run for cover. Unfortunately, a car left outside in a hailstorm is likely to have damage.
The usual types of hail damage include cracked glass and dents in your car’s metal surfaces. In extreme cases, broken windows can lead to water damage inside the car. It all depends on hailstone size. Hailstones less than an inch in diameter can reach speeds between 9 and 25 miles per hour, while one- to two-inch hailstones in a severe storm can reach a fall speed of 25 to 40 miles per hour. The largest hailstones can be up to four inches in diameter and reach more than 100 miles per hour.
Although small, hail can do mighty damage. The amount of damage is directly related to the size of the hailstone. For instance:
- Golf-ball-sized hail is likely to leave significant dents in your car’s sheet metal.
- Hailstones the size of a baseball can smash your windshield.
- When hail reaches softball size, it can drive a hole straight through a car roof.
Even dime- and quarter-sized hail can ding your car, and a bunch of dents could result in a massive repair bill.
Why are hail-damaged vehicles different?
A flooded or totalled car usually can be repaired, but you rarely see cars that suffered that kind of damage for sale. Why are sellers willing to fix and sell hail-damaged cars while avoiding the other types of damage?
With rare exceptions, hail damage is cosmetic. A car with a huge dent on the hood, roof or fender still drives the same. If a window or the windshield gets smashed by hailstones, that can impede your vision but doesn’t render the car unsafe. Replace the windshield and you can probably travel without worry.
Because dealers want to profit as much as possible, it certainly helps that hail doesn’t have to be mentioned on a vehicle history report. The dealer can pay bottom dollar for hail-damaged vehicles, then have a paintless dent repair tech fix the car and resell it with a clean title for substantial markup.
Once repaired, aside from the occasional ding the tech missed, there may be no indication the car was ever in a hailstorm.
In many cases, a dealership may sell the car at a discount in a hail sale, where they pass along the savings to you and let you deal with the hail damage if you want to. You could potentially drive the car for years without fixing the dents.
How much does hail damage devalue a car?
A hail-damaged car will be sold at a discounted price. Otherwise, why wouldn’t you just buy a new, undamaged model? How much does the value drop due to the pockmarks on the panels?
Most dealerships sell hail-damaged cars at a discount roughly equal to the reimbursement they’ll receive from their insurance company. The average cost of a hail-damage repair is around $2,500, accumulating in small amounts based on size.
- Small dents cost around $30 to $45 each to repair.
- Medium-sized dents are approximately $45 to $55 each.
- Large dents are often $75 or more.
At an average rate of $45 per dent, that assumes around 55 dents on the car. Cars with more dents will have higher repair costs—thus their discount should be higher.
What happens if the whole car lot gets pounded by hailstones in a severe storm? In that situation, the dealership probably gets the typical insurance claim of $2,500 but would pay a tech a wholesale rate to fix each car. That’s great for the dealer because they can fix the car for cheaper, collect the whole insurance payout and sell the car for a slight discount.
What to look for in a hail damage car
Getting a good deal on a new or used hail-damaged car is possible. But there are potential pitfalls you should watch out for, in addition to hidden damage that might make the car purchase less of a deal than you think.
Search for signs the interior was damaged by water
Like a flood-damaged car, a car that’s been in a hailstorm could have interior damage from water if the windshield or windows broke. The glass can be replaced, and you might never know about water getting inside unless you look for rusty bolts on seat tracks, surface rust on metal under the dash or a musty odor from sitting water.
Inspect for hail dents on body lines
Some dents can’t be completely erased with dent repair, such as those on the edge of a hood, near a panel crease or on a body line or ridge. If you intend to repair hail damage, look for dents on these areas. They will need a body shop repair to correct it. This could help negotiate a deeper discount, though.
Look for cracked paint
This is hard to detect without close inspection. Impact from hail can crack the paint, or the tech could potentially crack the paint while massaging a dent out. A crack exposes metal underneath that will eventually corrode.
Search for a vehicle history record
If an insurer reports hail damage on the vehicle history, it can significantly impact the car’s resale value because it shows an expensive insurance claim on the car. That can affect the value by as much as 30%.
Look for warranty exclusions
Although a car manufacturer can’t void your warranty for an insurance claim or physical repairs, they can limit the scope of warranty available. They may not cover repairs directly associated with hail.
Questions to ask before you buy hail-damaged cars
If a car meets your expectations—you don’t find any hidden issues and the documentation lines up—the potential remains for the purchase to go sideways. There’s nothing worse than signing on the dotted line, only to later discover something that bites you. Here are some questions you should consider before sealing the deal.
Why didn’t the dealership fix the dents?
Being wary of a dealership selling you a car with unrepaired hail damage could be for good reason. Rather than offer you a discount, why didn’t they just fix the dents and sell the car in good condition?
The dealership could be hiding something like irreparable dents on creases. But in situations when most of the cars on the lot were damaged, the dealership may believe repairing each car would take too much time. The longer a car sits on the lot, the more money dealers have to pay in interest, so it’s better to sell it fast at a discount.
Can I get car insurance for a hail-damaged car?
When you finance a car, the lender typically requires that you carry full coverage for the duration of the loan. But can you get full insurance from your provider for a car with preexisting hail damage? Many insurers won’t provide collision and comprehensive car insurance if you have hail damage because there’s potential to make a fraudulent insurance claim and the initial valuation is lower than a comparable undamaged car.
Select insurers like Esurance, Infinity and Progressive may offer a full coverage policy with preexisting damage. Others won’t. You may be required to fully repair the hail damage before getting car insurance.
Will I be able to finance the car?
Unless you’re using dealer-arranged financing, getting a car loan could be difficult. Car values already depreciate at a rapid pace, and a lender sees hail damage as a strike against eligibility for financing. Of course, a large down payment helps improve the loan-to-value amount and increases your odds of getting a loan.
Am I buying the car because it’s a good deal or because it’s a good fit?
Saving thousands of dollars on a car always sounds like a fantastic plan. Think about the sales interaction, though. Did the salesperson guide you to this car, or are you looking for this make and model? Sometimes a good deal seems like the way to go, but ensuring the car you’re buying fits your lifestyle is always more important. Otherwise, you could be driving a sports car home when you should be getting a minivan.
Is the deal better than the diminished resale value?
At an average cost of $2,500 to repair hail damage, you’re likely going to get at least that amount of a discount on the vehicle. But think about the resale value as well, particularly for a used car. If you sold the same car tomorrow, would you sell it for the same amount? Because even minor damage can affect resale value by up to one-third, you could be buying a car that you think is an awesome deal but isn’t worth what you pay.
Should I fix hail damage?
Do you need to fix a hail-damaged car? Windshields covered in bull’s-eyes have to be repaired, along with any other safety-related equipment, including mirrors, windshield wipers and lights. But what about dents?
If you proceed with the purchase, your insurance company may require you to fix the damage before they’ll issue a policy with collision and comprehensive coverage. There are other reasons to repair hail damage. If one or more of the dents cracked the paint, repairs could fix the problem before rust forms underneath. From a vanity standpoint, wouldn’t you have more pride in your car if you repaired the hail damage?
If the dents are relatively minor, having them fixed could be as little as $30 per dent. Maybe you only have 25 dents—that’s $750 to potentially make your car look good as new. Keep in mind extensive damage and dents that can’t be fixed by PDR need a body shop’s deft touch, and between a panel repair or replacement and paint, the cost could be $2,500 per panel that needs attention.
Should you buy a car with hail damage?
If you’re keen on saving some money and don’t mind dealing with a few unsightly dents and dings, a hail-damaged car can potentially be a good buy. You might be limited on options to finance the car, so be prepared to pay in full or secure a lender who doesn’t mind financing a car with diminished value.
Texas, Colorado, Nebraska and Minnesota are popular states for hail-damaged cars for sale after the summer storm season. Buying from a reputable dealership will provide a little extra security during your purchase.
As with any purchase when you aren’t buying brand new, buyer beware.