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Car Hail Damage - What to Know Before Buying

By Autolist Staff | December 4, 2018

Cars damaged from hailstorms are tempting to buy, as they often come with deep discounts. Plus, hail damage tends to be superficial, affecting only the body panels and glass, leaving the vehicle's key functions intact. If you just need a way to get to work every day, a dimpled roof, trunk and hood may not matter. Before you seek out hail damaged cars for sale, though, you should take the following risks and drawbacks into account.

Why Dealers Sell Cars With Hail Damage

Before selling cars, dealers prefer to fix any damage they can, as doing so makes each vehicle more likely to find a buyer. Paintless damage repair specialists often fix hail damage at wholesale rates, which is perfect for a dealer who has numerous vehicles that were damaged in a storm.

Sometimes, however, the cost of repairs exceeds the expected profit from selling the hail-damaged cars as-is, so the dealer opts not to fix the vehicles. In addition, hail damage can't always be repaired paintless, such as when the paint is stretched or cracked. In rare cases, damage may even extend to the car's functionality.

Although dealerships have insurance, they still have to pay deductibles on claims like any ordinary owner, and they may not find these worth the cost if their bottom line suffers. As such, a dealer may sell hail-damaged cars as they are.

What to Know at the Dealership

If a dealer has hail-damaged cars on offer, you should ask them why they chose not to fix the damage. After all, maybe the damage is more severe than it looks. Ask the dealer how much the repairs would cost, even if you don't intend to get them.

Although the salespeople may give you an exaggeratedly low figure -- since they want you to buy the vehicle -- the number should give you a clue about how severe the damage truly is. You might even ask the dealer to repair the damage as a condition of your buying the car. 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.

Additionally, if the dealer doesn't offer a reasonable 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 large 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.

Other Considerations When You Buy

If you buy a hail-damaged car, keep in mind that its resale value might be impacted. Although an undamaged vehicle may cost more initially, its eventual resale value might make it the more financially sensible option.

If you plan to finance your vehicle purchase, make sure your lender covers hail-damaged cars.

Take care to inspect the car carefully before making a purchase, to avoid unwanted surprises later. Running the car through an electronic background check may pull up undisclosed damage as well. Just plug the automobile's vehicle identification number into Carfax, AutoCheck or a similar site.

You should also 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 going forward, such as by keeping it in the garage when not in use. If the hail damage remains undocumented, your insurance may deduct the hail damage from any future accident claim. For example, if a fender bender results in a $2,000 claim, you may only receive $500 if you have $1,500 in unreported hail damage.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying

Before plunking down hard-earned money for a hail-damaged car, it pays to ask yourself: Who is getting the most out the deal, you or the dealer?

If a hailstorm damaged the dealer's entire inventory, they may have little choice but to sell the cars without repairs to recoup as much money as possible, especially they don't have undamaged cars to pick up the sales slack. Thus, the dealer might be more desperate than you, which works in your favor. You might even be in a position to haggle. Moreover, ask yourself how you would sell your damaged car to someone in the future. Would you use the same techniques the dealer is using on you? Try to see through those techniques to the true value of the car.

Hail-damaged vehicles can be a good option for a first car. If you just need basic transportation, a series of dents won't matter. Students, folks who don't drive much and people on a tight budget can all benefit from hail sales. Still, you should know what you're signing up for, especially if you can't afford another car anytime soon. Hail-damaged cars can be costly to repair and you may not know how deep the damage goes just by scrutinizing the vehicle on a lot.

Fixing the Car

As of 2018, the average cost to repair a hail-damaged car is $2,500, though this figure varies widely from shop to shop. Individual dents can cost anywhere from $30 to $80 to repair, depending on their size. It's a good idea to keep these figures in mind when mulling over a hail-damaged car. You might even want to consult an automotive technician or paintless damage repair company before purchasing since they might give you a different repair estimate than the dealer's.

Sometimes when customers purchase damaged cars, the dealer refers them to a specialist that it claims can repair the damage for a low price. Instead of taking the dealer at its word, research the specialist. Check the Better Business Bureau for complaints, and read any online customer reviews you can find. If the specialist has been around a long time, has a good reputation and good reviews and ratings, you're in a good position to trust the referral.